Education - Postgraduate: Wise Councils Aim to Ease the Problem of Debt ; Government-Backed Research Agencies Are the Engines of Postgraduate Student Funding. Chris Brown Outlines the Options Available to Help Finance a Range of Further Studies
Brown, Chris, The Independent (London, England)
IN A school near you, pupils are coming face to face with men and women in white coats. Don't worry; the pupils are perfectly safe. These creatures from the laboratory have become "Researchers in Residence" - postgraduate engineering and science students visiting schools to open the eyes of boys and girls to the wonders of science.
The aim is to promote the study of science and engineering - an area whose popularity has declined. The schools get "real" scientists to bring a fresh perspective. The researchers get the chance to get out of the labs and learn communication skills. What's more, the students' costs are borne solely by their research funding council.
The Researchers in Residence scheme is just one way in which future students are being tempted into universities' science and engineering departments. And it helps existing students improve their employment chances after gaining the elusive PhD, demonstrating an increased flexibility to funding.
The engines of postgraduate funding are the government-funded research councils, which support research in a variety of disciplines. Postgrad funding is part of a range of responsibilities.
There are seven councils: Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB); Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC); Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC); Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC); Medical Research Council (MRC); Natural Environment Research Council (NERC); and the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC). Each offers studentships to individual students, but competition is intense and a place on a postgrad course does not automatically entitle the recipient to an award.
The ESRC invests more than pounds 46m a year in social science research, supporting up to 2,000 researchers in universities and higher education colleges. A variety of funding schemes is available to allow a flexible approach to postgraduate study. Examples include the "Programmes and Priority Networks", which brings together individual studies to co-ordinate scientific effort on selected topics. Meanwhile, the "Virtual Society" programme examines the role of technology in work and social relationships.
Grants are awarded to individual researchers and teams in response to proposals, while fellowships are awarded to social scientists after studying to conduct individual research under the ESRC's remit.
The EPSRC has allowed universities more control over PhD student funding. From October, new Doctoral Training Accounts (DTAs) will give EPSRC funding for PhD training to the universities rather than direct to students. It is hoped that DTAs will allow universities to attract students by offering higher stipends - above the EPSRC's minimum of pounds 7,500 from October - or to offer support for longer than the usual three years. The aim is to balance universities' desire to gain more students - and the resulting finance they gain from fees - with the need for high-quality training. …