The role of the ESRC in funding

Economic and Social Research Council – ESRC – funding is the primary source for economic and social research in UK universities. This is a non-departmental public body funded by the UK government. The role of the ESRC is to support up to 4,000 research students in universities and research institutes. Presently it distributes a budget of around £200m per year.

ESRC is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), which brings together the UK’s seven research councils, Innovate UK and Research England to maximise the contribution of each council and create the best environment for research and innovation to flourish.

As part of fulfilling its mission, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) provides studentships for the support of full-time or part-time postgraduate study within accredited Doctoral Training Centres (DTCs), Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs) and Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs).

Studentships can only be held in Research Organisations (ROs) that have been given ESRC accreditation. Status is awarded to both single institutions and to consortium arrangements as per the application for accreditation.

The finances and length of time ESRC studentships may cover

ESRC studentships can cover tuition fees, maintenance grant and other expenses, depending on the student's situation and circumstances.
The ESRC will not normally support any full-time student for more than four years, or the part-time equivalent based on the student’s actual time commitment, except where ESRC have approved accreditation for a 2+3 award structure. Students who transfer between full- and part-time during their award will have their awards adjusted on a pro-rata basis.

What subjects do ESRC studentships support

There are seven Research Councils that provide support for postgraduate studies in the UK at this time. In brief, each of these bodies is responsible for providing postgraduate studentships for its own range of subject areas.

Research Organisations in receipt of Doctoral Training Grants from more than one council can use the funds from more than one grant to support interdisciplinary studentships. For any ESRC PhD funding or award, the discipline must in essence be social science in nature. The seven award-making bodies are:

  • Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
  • Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
  • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
  • Medical Research Council (MRC)
  • Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
  • Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)

Subject areas covered

The main disciplines and subject areas covered by the ESRC for studentships are within these overall broad headings:

Area and Development StudiesDemography
EconomicsEconomic and Social History
EducationEnvironmental Planning
Human GeographyLinguistics
Management and Business StudiesPolitical Science and International Studies
PsychologyScience and Technology Studies
Social AnthropologySocial Policy
Social WorkSocio-Legal Studies
SociologyStatistics, Methods and Computing

Typical course structures include:

  • +3 programme: funding for a three-year PhD (assumes that a student has already met the majority of the core training requirements or that the PhD focus is largely on more advanced training)
  • 1+3 programme: an integrated one year Master’s programme precedes the three-year PhD which will deliver the majority of the core training requirements
  • 2+2 programme: a longer Master’s programme followed by a shorter PhD programme
  • +4 programme: up to four years’ funding for a PhD which assumes that core and advanced training requirements can be met during the course of the programme
  • 2+3 programme: an extended Master’s for specialist training followed by a standard three-year PhD programme.

The actual length of a studentship will be based on the individual student’s requirements; however, this allocation must be in line with their accreditation. For example, if a student is following a four-year programme then, subject to length of funding criteria, they should be allocated four years of funding.

Doctoral Training Grants (DTGs)

The studentships allocated to Research Organisations are, in short, administered through Doctoral Training Grants (DTGs). In essence, a DTG is a grant providing funds for the training of research students leading to the award of a recognised qualification, usually a PhD.

The cost for 2022/23 uses the following figures:

  • Standard maintenance £17,668
  • Fees £4,596
  • Research training support grant £750
  • Overseas fieldwork £450
  • Total £23,464


All new UKRI studentships must be opened up to both home and international students. UKRI will normally limit the proportion of international students appointed each year through individual doctoral training programmes to 30 percent of the total. However the cap does not apply to associated studentships.

To be classed as a home student, candidates must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or
  • Have settled status or,
  • Have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements) or,
  • Have indefinite leave to remain or enter

If a candidate does not meet the criteria above, then they would be classed as an International student.
Both home and international students must be resident in the UK for the majority of their studies and any time spent overseas should be for the purposes of fieldwork/long-term attachment.

Find PhD and Masters research funding opportunities on Postgraduate Studentships