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The first Doctoral Training Centres in the UK were funded in 2008 by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC); the precursors to these centres were the Engineering Doctorate Centres, which were introduced in 1992. An Engineering Doctorate is an engineering PhD with an industrial base and additional theoretical training, designed to meet the needs of engineers in industry. The success of the EngD opened the way for the DTCs.
Doctoral training in the UK has evolved significantly over the last decade, and the traditional model of individual project-based research has, to a large extent, been replaced by training at a Doctoral Training Centre (DTC) – which means that there has been a big increase in the centres themselves, and there are now over 70 Doctoral Training Centres in the UK, spread over 26 universities.
What Is a Doctoral Training Centre?
So what exactly is a Doctoral Training Centre? Professor Steve Gough, the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies at the Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences at the University of Bath explains, "Doctoral Training Centres – also known as Doctoral Training Partnerships or Centres for Doctoral Training – link PhD students to students and academics at other universities through shared supervision and events. Because Doctoral Training Centres are funded by UK Research Councils, they also position PhD research at the cutting edge of national and international issues. Doctoral Training Centres are top-quality, exciting and full of opportunity."
One of the most exciting aspects of Doctoral Training Centres is that they offer postgraduate students the opportunity to move away from individual research traditionally associated with PhD study. Instead students at Doctoral Training Centres enjoy working under a supervisor, functioning as part of a small multidisciplinary team of students organised into cohorts, and studying at a centre targeting a specific area of research.
Students at a DTC will start off their postgraduate course by attending seminars and lectures to reinforce their expertise in their fields, developing skills in research methodology and working effectively in multidisciplinary teams. In their second to fourth years, students engage in research projects, often working in teams.
Each Doctoral Training Centre concentrates on a particular area of research. For example one of the DTCs at the University of Bath focuses on sustainable chemical technologies . This means that research students need to identify the centre covering their field of interest. Information is available from the EPSRC, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), or from one of the other Research Councils in the UK.
European Doctoral Training Centres
In Europe, there are a number of Doctoral Training Centres, including the EIT ICT Doctoral School, based in France, and the courses tend to be taught in English. However the traditional method of project-based PhD training is still widely practised in Europe, even where there are Doctoral Training Centres. It's important to note that there is a variety of training methods and entrance requirements for different European universities; doctoral training in Europe is quite fragmented as compared to the UK.
Funding at Doctoral Training Centres
All placements at Doctoral Training Centres in the UK are fully funded for UK residents with settled status (unlimited right to remain in the UK) and who have been living in the UK for three years prior to the grant. Students from EU countries are able to obtain fees-only awards. Conditions may change from time to time and students should verify eligibility.
The DTC approach has affected traditional funding, as the four year DTC approach is inherently more expensive than the traditional three year PhD course. This means that for the same level of funding, there are fewer places available and as a consequence, funding for traditional PhDs (project studentships) has been reduced and few new places are available for fully funded placements. A number of academics have expressed concern at this cut in funding for traditional PhD training, as a number of universities have lost a large portion of their PhD funding.
However, industrial customers and funders are enthusiastic about the DTC approach and believe that the DTC PhD graduate is well suited to the modern multidisciplinary environment and more able to adapt to industrial and commercial environments.
Applications for student funding and placement are made to the respective Doctoral Training Centre and not to the Research Councils
The Future of Doctoral Training Centres
There have been ongoing reviews of the DTC program; an independent mid-term review was initiated in 2011, the purpose of which was to evaluate the success of each centre in terms of their original goals and objectives, both from a qualitative and quantitative point of view. Of particular interest was the need to establish to what extent Doctoral Training Centres had added value in comparison to standard doctorates, whether the program benefitted from its larger scale, what was the academic quality and relevance of the research, and how did the program enhance the expertise of students. One of the purposes of this review was to identify those centres which were achieving positive results, as well as those which were not making the grade, and to review future funding. The results of this review indicated that most of the centres are making good progress and that the approach was proving to be an effective way of training cohorts of students.
A further review was conducted in 2013, and the outcome of these reviews was positive, prompting the UK government to fully support the initiative and renew funding. As a result, £350 million was granted as funding for 72 EPSRC funded Doctoral Training Centres in the UK.
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