Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Wellcome Trust are set to reduce funding for PhD programs for international students. 

The number of Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) will be reduced from 75 to around 40.  

This number was initially 115 four years ago. With this, there will be approximately 1,750 fewer studentships available over the five years beginning in 2024.  

Similarly, the funding amount had been reduced from £441 million in 2018  to roughly £324 million now that the UK’s doctoral education is under increasing pressure. The same goes for the Wellcome Trust as it has discontinued institutional PhD funding. This formed part of its research strategy to focus on longer grants for early- and mid-career scientists.  

 Why funding is being reduced: The reason for the cuts in funding for PhD programs may not be unconnected to the idea that the UK does not believe that funding foreign PhD students will ultimately contribute to solving the talent shortage in the UK economy. 

  • According to a university professor in the UK, “The problem with recruiting overseas PhD students is that it doesn’t solve the talent pipeline issue for the UK economy”. 
  • He stated further, “Most of these doctoral students will return to their home countries or go elsewhere after their PhD, so where are the highly trained scientists, engineers, and other researchers that we need going to come from?”. 

The impact of the cut on PhD funding: According to Sarah Spurgeon, head of UCL’s department of electronic and electrical engineering, the cut on funding for PhD raises concerns about Britain’s aspirations to be a science superpower. 

  • Given the government’s ambitions for science, technology, and innovation, there is just not enough money to do what we should be doing. We need to support the talent pipeline at all levels, including having a strong PhD community.”.  

Other funding awards soon to be available: To make up for the cuts, many UK universities are beginning to negotiate funding agreements with foreign governments and foundations to enrol more international doctoral students. 

 Wellcome Trust has also said that even though it no longer funds university PhD programs, postgraduate researchers can still apply for a PhD through its Discovery Awards, Early Career Awards, and PhD programs for health professionals. These awards are open until 2024.  

 Wellcome Trust is committing to funding PhD programs in areas where there is a significant lack of capacity or a market failure in a strategically important area. Hence, it is important for prospective PhD students, especially international students to focus on these areas to receive funding.