Economic and Social Research Council
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ESRC to review UK doctoral training in the social sciences

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is reviewing UK doctoral training in the social sciences to ensure the next generation of social scientists remain world-leading and contribute to research in a fast-changing landscape.

The review will comprehensively examine the UK social sciences PhD and will directly inform ESRC’s doctoral training strategy and the recommissioning of ESRC’s network of Doctoral Training Partnerships and Centres for Doctoral Training in 2022. The work will also contribute to wider discussions on the development of doctoral training across all research councils as part of the UK Research and Innovation Talent Strategy.

ESRC has extended the timeframe for the planned review until Spring 2021 in response to the disruption caused by the current COVID-19 outbreak. In addition, some aspects of the review will take place using video-conferencing.

ESRC has commissioned independent research consultants, CFE Research, to undertake the review, in partnership with academic experts at the University of York. The review will gather evidence from a range of sources and stakeholders to ensure a diversity of perspectives, adding to ESRC’s understanding of national and international doctoral education. 

As part of the review, ESRC will seek the views of students, graduates, Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and employers of social science doctoral graduates. The council will work with ten representative HEIs across the UK to administer a short survey to their current cohort of social science PhD students and recent graduates. The review will also include an open consultation complemented by regional workshops and interviews to gain the views of the breadth of stakeholders.

Chair of the Steering Group, Professor Kathy Rastle of Royal Holloway, University of London, said:

“The ESRC has launched this review to ensure that its PhD training is world leading, preparing graduates to contribute to society and the economy in a range of careers.

“The steering group brings together perspectives from across the social science community – students, academics, public sector bodies, and industry – to shape the review and interpret its findings.

“It is vital that we hear from a diverse range of stakeholders, and I encourage colleagues to engage with the review through the many channels available.”

ESRC’s Executive Chair, Professor Jennifer Rubin, said:

“The Economic and Social Research Council invests in research students to contribute to ensuring that UK social science remains world-leading.

“Our focus is on excellence: our aim is for ESRC PhD training to represent the state of the art internationally, recognised for its rigour and the quality of our graduates.

“The aim of this review is to ensure our training is fit for the future, continues to represent sector-leading practice and enhances the skills and capabilities needed by current and future employers.”

The ESRC is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues and is the largest single funder of social sciences doctoral students in the UK, with around 2,800 students currently supported.

Through such training and nurturing, ESRC trains students for careers within and beyond academia – valuing the contribution their skills can make to the economy and society through working in a range of public, private and voluntary organisations.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council  is also reviewing their doctoral education and ESRC is working alongside them where appropriate.


For media enquiries, contact the Press Team or Tamera Jones, 0734 202 5443

Notes for editors

  1. About the Review - ESRC has commissioned CFE Research working in partnership with the University of York to carry out a comprehensive examination of the UK’s social science PhD. The Review will answer two key questions:
    1. What skills are needed by social science PhD graduates to prepare them for careers both within and beyond academia?
    2. What are the optimum ways to develop these skills, while recognising the need to support a diverse and inclusive student population, and to safeguard student health and wellbeing?

  2. A Steering Group has been established to provide expert advice to the ESRC during the review and comprises members from across the sector and from major employers. A student representative is also included on the Steering Group. The Group is chaired by Professor Kathy Rastle from Royal Holloway, University of London who is a member of ESRC’s Strategic Advisory Network.
  3. Get engaged - In addition to a comprehensive evidence review and analysis of existing data, a crucial element of the review will involve gathering the perspectives of all stakeholders involved in doctoral education. It is essential to ensure that the views of students, graduates, supervisors, leading social scientists, funders and all major employer-types including the public, private and voluntary sectors are well-reflected.
  4. In parallel, EPSRC is also conducting a review of their support for doctoral education and plan to engage with a similar set of stakeholders (albeit that they will reflect different disciplinary interests). ESRC will work with EPSRC to ensure that its review activities are complementary, and information is shared where appropriate.
  5. Re-commissioning of ESRC’s network of Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs) and Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs). As the timeframe for the review has been extended in response to the disruption caused by COVID-19, ESRC has also extended their existing DTPs/CDTs for a further year. This will ensure the review is able fully inform the re-commissioning and that bidders have enough time to respond to any new requirements.
  6. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government. For more information visit.  The ESRC is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policy-makers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. 
  7. ESRC Delivery Plan 2016-20
  8. EPSRC announces review of support for doctoral education.
  9. UK Research and Innovation works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. We aim to maximise the contribution of each of our component parts, working individually and collectively. We work with our many partners to benefit everyone through knowledge, talent and ideas. Operating across the whole of the UK with a combined budget of more than £7 billion, UK Research and Innovation brings together the seven research councils, Innovate UK and Research England. 
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