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.


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