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                         FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS1

                       Please note that this is an evolving document

     It reflects some of the initial questions raised through consultation exercise held in
     early 2009 but will be supplemented with further questions as they arise, particular
                     during the preparation of institutional applications.

Introduction: Delivering Excellence

1.       Why is the ESRC revising its framework for delivering postgraduate

         The ESRC is committed to promoting excellence in postgraduate training
         provision in the UK to ensure that the very best postgraduate students are well
         supported and that they have access to world class training provision.

         In order to sustain this commitment to excellence, the Council undertook a
         fundamental review of its existing postgraduate training framework over the last
         two years to make certain that it remained fit for purpose. This included
         reviewing the current ‘recognition’ system for accrediting training, the 1+3/+3
         structure of training; the content of training set out in the ESRC Postgraduate
         Training Guidelines, and the allocation model used by the ESRC to distribute
         studentship awards.

         On the whole, the reviews highlighted the significant role the ESRC plays in
         enhancing postgraduate training across the UK social science community, but
         concluded that the overall framework in place to support postgraduate training
         provision should now be refreshed to ensure that the highest quality provision is
         being promoted. In response, the Council has developed this set of proposals for
         a new framework which seeks to enhance provision for postgraduate training by
         building upon the considerable strengths that already exist in the UK. We believe
         that we can optimise the exploitation of these strengths by encouraging
         collaboration within and across institutions where that serves to further enhance
         the quality of training and access to that training by the social science
         postgraduate population.

         The revisions present an opportunity for the ESRC to ensure that its framework
         for supporting postgraduate training underpins its broader strategic objectives
         aimed at addressing the major challenges to social science. It also places ESRC
         mechanisms for supporting postgraduate training in closer harmony with that of
         other Research Councils reducing complexity for institutions.

1 These FAQs are intended to be read with the strategy document, ‘ESRC Postgraduate training

Framework: A Strategy for Delivering Excellence’.

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2.     How did the ESRC consult key stakeholders on these proposals?

       The Council published a draft set of proposals for broad consultation with the
       social science community in January 2009. This document was available on the
       ESRC website inviting written responses. We also held 5 regional events across
       the UK and invited senior colleagues, such as Heads of Social Science Graduate
       Schools or equivalent at all UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), to consult
       them directly on the proposals.

       We are extremely grateful for the contributions made by the social science
       community to the consultation and the final proposals have been shaped in
       response to the contributions received.

The new infrastructure: a national network of Doctoral Training Centres and
Doctoral Training Units

3.     Why is accreditation for DTCs and DTUs at the institutional level?

       The intention with the move to institutional level accreditation is to facilitate
       more cohesive university wide structures for postgraduate training. This should
       enable institutions to build upon synergies that exist in the current provision, as
       well as deliver core training (e.g. basic research, research methods and
       transferable skills) in more effective ways through the sharing of expertise and
       good practice across a number of areas. It is also hoped that institutional level
       accreditation will enable institutions to open up advanced and specialist provision
       currently only available at individual department/school/faculty level.

4.     What are the key features of a Doctoral Training Centre?

       A Doctoral Training Centre (DTC) will offer high quality postgraduate training,
       within an environment which can demonstrate a world class research base, across
       a broad range of social science disciplines. The high quality training provision
       within a DTC will comprise training in core research and professional skills
       (research methods, transferable skills), as well as specialist discipline-specific and
       interdisciplinary training. A DTC will also be able to respond to national capacity
       building priorities and/or strategic research challenges identified by the ESRC.

5.     How does a DTU differ?

       A Doctoral Training Unit (DTU) will retain a focus on excellence in the
       provision of postgraduate training. However, such training will not be spread
       across a wide range of social science disciplines. It will instead be concentrated
       on one or more specific, world class, research areas. As a result, even a small
       specialist unit, with a single high quality training programme, can apply for DTU
       status. A DTU will provide training in core research and professional skills
       (research methods, transferable skills), as well as discipline-specific training. A
       DTU may offer interdisciplinary training where this is appropriate, but would not
       necessarily offer the same kind of specialist training as would be available in a

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6.     How many DTCs and DTUs are expected?

       It is expected that approximately 25 DTCs will be awarded under the revised
       framework. This figure is derived from evidence in the policy reviews which
       suggested that this is roughly the number of institutions across the UK which are
       able to provide excellent provision and critical mass across a breadth of social
       science fields and areas of interdisciplinary inquiry. Actual numbers of DTCs will
       depend on the quality of submissions from institutions. If excellent social
       science research training is demonstrated beyond 25 DTCs, we will seek to
       capture it under the revised framework.

       As DTUs are designed to capture smaller pockets of excellence in social science,
       there are no restrictions on the number of DTUs which will be awarded under
       the new framework. Again, the actual number of DTUs will depend on the
       quality of submissions from institutions.

7.     Does this mean that fewer institutions overall will host ESRC students?

       A specific aim of the revised framework is to create a co-ordinated national
       network of excellent postgraduate training in the social sciences. The crucial
       determinant in shaping the network is the excellence of the training provision
       delivered and the quality of the research base in which it is situated. It is not
       intended that this substantially alters the number of institutions which can host
       ESRC students but builds on the considerable strengths that already exist in these
       areas across the UK.

Collaboration across the DTC/DTU network

8.     Do DTCs/DTUs have to be based at a single institution?

       No. Whilst we do anticipate that many DTCs and DTUs will have a strong
       institutional base, we positively encourage collaboration between institutions to
       bring together expertise, facilities and resources which, in combination, provide
       greater strength and depth in training provision. As a result, the new framework
       will enable appropriate collaboration between institutions in the formation of
       DTCs and DTUs as a positive enabling factor in driving forward excellence in
       the provision of postgraduate training. As set out in the strategy document, there
       are a variety of examples for how inter-institutional collaboration might operate
       in practice.

9.     Is collaboration in the delivery of training a pre-requisite for gaining
       DTC/DTU status?

       No. The new framework allows collaborative DTCs and DTUs to sit alongside
       those based at a single institution. However, DTCs will be expected to offer
       some types of advanced and specialist training to students from outside the
       institution and to deliver them in a manner which encourages external
       participation. DTCs will be able to charge for access to such training provision.
       Likewise, institutions bidding for DTU status should demonstrate in their
       proposals how they intend to source specialist or advanced training (beyond the
       core skills training that they will provide) from regional or national provision

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       within the DTC/DTU network. Of course, it is recognised that successful
       collaborative arrangements make time to fully evolve within the network over
       term of its funding.

10.    What are the incentives for institutions to collaborate?

       Where there is demonstrable evidence within an application for a DTC that the
       standard of training has been enhanced by collaboration and this training is open
       to a broader population of postgraduate students, additional quota studentships
       will be made available.

11.    Can an institution be involved in more than one DTC/DTU?

       Yes, but the substantive part of the same training pathway cannot be included in
       more than one application. An example of this in practice could be where an
       institution has submitted an application for a DTU incorporating provision from
       a number of disciplines such as Sociology, Psychology, Human Geography,
       Politics and International Relations and Economic and Social History. In
       addition, the institution may be part of a regional consortia arrangement to
       deliver training in Economics which forms part of a DTC application led by
       another institution.

12.    Can existing consortia arrangements recognised by the ESRC be
       accommodated in the new framework?

       The ESRC recognises the importance of existing consortia arrangements and is
       not seeking to disincentivise such arrangements within the new framework. It is
       anticipated that existing collaborative infrastructure can be accommodated in the
       network – either through inclusion in a bid for a collaborative DTC or DTU or,
       provided that a discipline-specific consortia meets the criteria for a DTC, through
       applying for a DTC in its own right.

13.    Will the ESRC facilitate a match-making service for institutions seeking
       collaborative arrangements?

       No. Institutions will be expected to research and source their own proposed
       collaborative arrangements in preparation for submitting applications for
       DTC/DTU status.

14.    Will any attempt be made to ensure an even geographical spread of DTCs
       and DTUs across the UK?

       The leading criteria for determining DTC and DTU status will be their ability, as
       demonstrated at the application stage, to deliver how quality training. However,
       every effort will be made to ensure spread of training across the country to avoid
       gaps in provision. This is important both in terms of discipline specific training
       and access to more generic advanced or specialist training, such as forms of
       research methods. It is equally important in maintaining effective access to
       training for less mobile students.

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The allocation of studentship funding across and within DTC/DTUs

15.    How will studentship funding be allocated to DTC and DTUs?

       Each DTC will receive an annual quota of studentships out of a total of 400-450
       quota studentship awards per year. The allocation will be set for 5 years (i.e.
       2011/12 to 2015/16) with a review after the first three years.

       DTUs will not receive a quota allocation of studentships. Instead, each DTU will
       be able to apply for studentships through other mechanisms operated by the
       Council, including the annual open studentship competition, CASE and
       interdisciplinary competition, as well as applying for studentships linked ESRC to
       research grants and research centres. There are usually around 250 studentship
       awards made using these mechanisms each year. DTCs will also be eligible to
       participate in these competitions and receive grant/centre-linked studentships.

16.    How many studentships are likely to be allocated to an individual DTC
       and how is this determined?

       It is anticipated that each DTC will receive between 5 and 40 studentship awards
       per annum over 5 years. The allocation will be set for the first three years (i.e.
       2011/12 to 2013/14) and then reviewed, following which a DTC is guaranteed to
       receive at least 50% of their initial annual allocation.

       The actual number of studentships allocated to each DTC will be determined
       using an algorithm which draws upon the strength of the research environment
       in which the DTC is embedded and the quality of its postgraduate training
       provision. The allocation of studentships will also include a broad strategic steer
       for disciplinary/interdisciplinary areas in which the studentships should be
       distributed within that DTC. Such areas may focus on particularly high quality
       provision and/or in areas of strategic importance to the Council.

17.    What opportunities are there for institutions to use the allocation of
       studentships flexibly?

       Beyond the ‘steered’ allocation, there will be flexibility for the institution to
       allocate awards in line with their own local research and capacity building

       There are a number of explicit flexible uses of studentships under the new

       •   Recycling – an institution can use the remaining funding from a student who
           leaves during the course of their studies to support a replacement student. In
           such cases, the institution will be expected to use the funding towards a new
           studentship and to supplement the remaining funding as required to ensure
           that the new student has secure funding for the duration of their award. The
           institution would not be expected to replace the previous student with
           another taking on the same training programme or returning to the same
           discipline; rather, it would have flexibility to allocate the studentship to
           support the best student across its recognised training programmes.

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       •   Part-funding – an institution can co-sponsor studentships, either from their
           own funding or from public, private or third sector sources (as long as a
           minimum of 51% of the funding comes from the ESRC allocation).

       •   Different types of studentship award – an institution can choose what type of
           studentship to support through the DTC, including standard studentships of
           varying lengths, CASE studentships or even short-term internships as part of
           a studentship package;

       •   Different lengths of studentship awards – an institution can offer a number of
           postgraduate training programme of varying length, including +3, 1+3, 2+2,
           +4 and 2+3 depending on the needs of the particular disciplines or
           interdisciplinary areas;

       •   Varying stipend levels – an institution can offer a higher stipend to studentships
           in particular shortage areas;

       •   Different student requirements – it is hoped that the new framework will
           encourage institutions to ensure flexible provision to meet the needs of
           different students (e.g. mature students, part-time students).

       Institutions can be innovative in how they approach their allocation of funding
       and it is expected that evidence of how this might be achieved will be provided in
       their application.

18.    What are the limits to flexible use of studentship funding?

       There are a number of areas in which institutions are restricted in how they can
       use their studentship allocation:

       Flexibility between years
       Whilst there is flexibility within the allocation for each year of the DTC as
       described above, studentships cannot be moved between years. For example, if an
       institution does not recruit enough students to meet its allocation in Year 1, it
       cannot carry forward the funding to recruit extra students in Year 2. It will
       however have flexibility to use some remaining funding in Year 1 to provide
       other research training opportunities such as internships/placements.

       Non-accredited training pathways
       If particular areas of an application for a DTC are not deemed to be of sufficient
       quality at the application stage, they will not be accredited as part of DTC/DTU
       status. Institutions will therefore not be able to award ESRC studentships to
       these training programmes.

       Professional doctorates
       Whilst the new framework will accredit training pathways that lead to
       professional doctorates, institutions will not be able use their studentship
       allocation to provide funding for them.

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       Maternity and other payments
       The overall allocation of funding to each DTC will be calculated to cover
       supplements and additions to ESRC studentship awards, in addition to the fees
       and maintenance grants for individual students. Institutions will be expected to
       accommodate such payments within their allocation.

19.    Will DTCs have an advantage over DTUs in competition for open awards?

       No. Each individual studentship application to the open competitions will be
       judged on its own merits. It should make no difference whether the application
       is submitted by an institution with either DTC or DTU status.

20.    What will be the arrangements for applying for CASE studentships under
       the new framework?

       The revised framework could potentially provide more opportunities for CASE
       awards. Currently CASE studentships are available in the annual CASE
       competition (as well as through the recent Capacity Building Clusters in Business
       Research & Engagement and the Third Sector). The annual CASE competition
       will continue under the new framework.

       Applications for both DTCs and DTUs will need to set out their provision for
       supporting CASE studentships across the training programmes in their
       DTC/DTU. As long as this aspect of their accredited status is approved at the
       application stage, both DTCs and DTUs will be able to make applications for
       awards in the CASE competition.

       It is also envisaged that DTCs with accreditation for CASE will have the
       flexibility to award some CASE studentships out of their award allocation.

The content and delivery of training under the new framework

21.    How will the Postgraduate Training Guidelines change with the
       introduction of the new framework?

       The Postgraduate Training Guidelines, which currently set quality thresholds for
       certain types of training at ESRC recognised outlets, will be revised in
       preparation for the new framework. Within the new Guidelines, the following
       training will be identified as compulsory for all ESRC-funded students:

       •   Basic research skills;
       •   Research methods – both quantitative and qualitative;
       •   Transferable skills – including written and oral communication, research
           management, team working, personal effectiveness, knowledge transfer and
           impact, entrepreneurship, and leadership.

       However, the new Guidelines will not prescribe detailed discipline-specific
       training. Instead, institutions will responsible for determining the content and
       delivery of discipline-specific research skills. This allows institutions flexibility to
       develop appropriate training, including interdisciplinary training programmes,
       and deliver them at the point of most need during the studentship. For example,

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       within a +4 programme, institutions will be able to deliver core training
       requirements, along with advance training, throughout the course of the

22.    What additional expectations are placed upon DTCs in relation to
       delivering high quality postgraduate training?

       It is expected that DTCs will demonstrate that they can exceed the requirements
       set out in the revised guidelines providing advanced methodological and specialist
       discipline specific training. DTCs will also be expected to deliver innovative
       programmes and activities to support excellence in postgraduate training
       provision, including novel ways of integrating transferable skills training or
       fostering of an active postgraduate research environment.

23.    Do all DTCs/DTUs have to have an explicitly interdisciplinary focus?

       No, not necessarily. The ESRC is committed to ensuring high quality discipline-
       specific postgraduate training and institutions should retain this as their focus on
       compiling their DTC/DTU applications, whilst recognising the benefits which an
       interdisciplinary approach can bring to key research challenges in the social

24.    Are DTCs/DTUs being expected to redesign existing training provision?

       An important aim of the new framework is to build upon and extend excellent
       postgraduate training in the social sciences where it already exists. This includes
       training based across departments/schools/faculties as well as discipline-specific
       training within departments – both at Masters and more advanced levels – to draw
       upon the strengths of individual institutions. This means that some very high
       quality training courses may not change at all, others may be slightly or
       significantly re-designed, and there may also be completely new courses. The
       new framework offers a chance for institutions to review current arrangements
       and introduce innovation and change, including new collaborations, where such
       arrangements will be of benefit and are consistent with the aims of the new

25.    Is the ESRC expecting institutions to deliver the same common core
       training to all social science students?

       Not necessarily, as institutions will have flexibility to design and deliver core
       training (e.g. basic research, research methods and transferable skills) within the
       specifications set by the revised Postgraduate Training Guidelines. It is hoped
       that the DTC/DTU network will provide opportunities for sharing expertise in
       the delivery of such training between institutions.

Application process for DTC/DTU status

26.    What is the next stage in implementing the new framework?

       The next stage in implementing the framework will be the announcement of a
       peer-reviewed competition in July 2009 in which institutions will be able to

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       submit proposals to create DTCs and DTUs. Institutions will have until March
       2010 to submit applications, after which there will be peer review of applications.
       Decisions will be announced to institutions in late summer 2010 to allow for
       recruitment of students to start their studies under the new framework in
       October 2011.

27.     What is the decision making process for DTCs and DTUs?

       Institutions will be able to submit applications for DTC/DTU to be peer
       reviewed by a specially constituted college, who will make assessments based on a
       range of specific criteria. The ESRC Training and Development will play a key
       part in the peer review exercise and make final decisions regarding which
       institutions should achieve DTC or DTU status. It is the Board which will
       ultimately determine which applications are approved for DTC or DTU status.
       Following this process, the distribution of studentships to and within DTCs will be
       determined using an algorithm. A minority of awards will be held back and
       allocated through a strategic steer. The whole decision making process is
       expected to take approximately 12 months from July 2009.

28.    How will the peer review college be appointed?

       The peer review college will comprise a wide variety of representatives from the
       social science community. Some will be nominated by the ESRC and may have
       had past involvement in the Subject Area Panels convened for previous training
       recognition exercises. Learned Societies will also be invited to nominate
       individuals to join the peer review college.

29.    How much detail will be expected in my institution’s application for a

       A specially constituted working group, including members of the ESRC Training
       and Development Board and representation from the Office, are currently
       establishing the precise information that will be required as part of the
       application process and how it will be organised.

       The application will combine open narrative – including a description of the
       Centre/Unit and information on how it will be organised, the research
       environment in which it is embedded, as well as the organisation/
       content/delivery of postgraduate training – with metrics such as RAE data,
       numbers of students and number of PhDs awarded. We will provide a full
       checklist of what information should be included in the application when the call
       for proposals is announced in July 2009.

30.    Should my institution focus its energy on applying for a DTC or a DTU?

       Institutions will need to consider very carefully whether to submit an application
       for a DTC or a DTU. An institution will not be able to include the same
       substantial training pathways in more than one application during this exercise.
       The decision to submit either application should only be considered if the
       defining features of a DTC or DTU as set out in the strategy document can be
       clearly demonstrated. We have sought to provide as clear an indication as

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       possible as to the envisaged dimensions of a DTC and a DTU to assist with this
       decision. In considering DTCs/DTUs across more than one institution,
       applicants should consider the most appropriate collaborative arrangements to
       integrate the strengths of all collaborative partners with a strong core.

31.    If my institution applies for a DTC and is not successful, can the
       application be put forward for a DTU instead?

       It will be possible for applicants to state on the form whether or not they wish
       the application to be considered for DTU status if it is not successful as a DTC.
       The same provision will not be possible for unsuccessful DTU applications.

       Whether an unsuccessful DTC application is considered for a DTU will depend
       on the reasons why the application was unsuccessful for a DTC, as well as the
       balance of high quality provision presented in applications received for DTU
       status. It is for this reason that institutions are being urged to think very carefully
       about whether to apply for a DTC or a DTU.

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