Public sector research - core policy instruments - PhD studentships



Doctoral programmes play an essential role in the preparation of young researchers for careers in public sector research and industry. They also contribute to the training of highly-skilled workers in other employment occupations than research per se, both in the public and private sectors. Ensuring appropriate and sustainable funding of doctoral programmes and doctoral candidates through PhD studentships and other funding mechanisms is critical if people are to pursue such training.


Broadly, what activities and outcomes do PhD studentships seek to influence?

Research universities have the main responsibility of developing and delivering high quality doctoral programmes. Providing training in and through research is one of their main missions, both to prepare young researchers for careers in academia but also increasingly to train young highly-skilled workers for research and non-research careers in industry through inter-sectoral mobility. Doctoral students also directly contribute to the scientific record and occasionally to technological development. They may also be active in setting-up spin-off firms.


How do PhD studentships have an influence?

PhD studentships facilitate the training of new researchers. They have developed as a means of financially supporting students through the time of their studies, permitting them to focus on and complete their research in good time. Most research universities have limited resources to provide this sort of support on their own and have typically required doctoral students to work part-time – on teaching duties or research projects – to benefit from any available organisational funding. Such arrangements can slow the progress of doctoral students, however, and are, moreover, only available to a few students. They are inadequate in the face of a growing demand for doctorate holders, not only to fill research positions, but also to meet the demand for highly-skilled workers in non-academic sectors of employment. The growing availability of PhD studentships, granted by a range of government and non-government bodies, including public research funding organisations, industry and third sector organisations, has sought to fill the gap.


PhD studentships take different forms in OECD countries, including salaries, scholarships, fellowships, grants, and teaching assistantships. These forms are not mutually exclusive since different types of studentship can be used to fund doctoral students. Studentships can be awarded directly to students on a competitive basis or can be included as part of discretionary organisational funding to research universities.


What factors should be considered when implementing PhD studentships?

Several factors should be considered when implementing PhD studentships:

  • Attractiveness of academic careers: PhD studentships on their own will be insufficient incentive to attract young people to doctoral programmes. Career prospects will be a central concern for those looking to remain in research, while for those looking to work in other occupations, the value of holding a PhD will be a factor. The attractiveness of a research career will also be shaped by research performing organisations’ endowments, including research infrastructures, the funding available for conducting research, the presence of leading human resources and the perceived roles and status of such organisations. The competitiveness of salaries will also be an important consideration.
  • Appropriate and sustainable funding: PhD studentships should be sufficiently attractive to provide incentive to all suitably-qualified students to undertake doctoral studies. They should also be stable, covering the full duration of the doctoral programme and providing sufficient means to live and work in decent conditions.
  • Granting rights to doctoral students: PhD studentships can be particularly attractive for a wide range of students wishing to access doctoral education if they provide them with rights similar to those of workers, including social security and pensions.
  • Interactions with other policy instruments: PhD studentships are closely related to other core policy instruments, including post-doctoral fellowships that provide opportunities for academic career progression and inter-sectoral mobility schemes that encourage PhD students and other researchers to take temporary and/or part-time appointments outside of academia.


Further resources

Auriol, L. (2010), Careers of doctorate holders: employment and mobility patterns, STI Working Paper 2010/4, Paris: OECD. Available at:

European University Association (2007), Salzburg II Recommendations: European Universities Achievements since 2005 in Implementing the Salzburg Principles, Brussels: European University Association asbl.

European University Association (2007), Doctoral Programmes in Europe’s Universities: Achievements and Challenges, Brussels: European University Association asbl.

European University Association (2005), Doctoral Programmes for the European Knowledge Society: Report on the EUA Doctoral Programmes Project 2004-2005, Brussels: European University Association asbl.

Public sector research

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   Activities and outcomes

   Key actors

   Shaping factors

   Core policy instruments

Discretionary organisational funding

Competitive R&D project grants

Support for R&D infrastructures

Centres of excellence

Collaborative R&D platforms

Technology platforms

Cluster initiatives

Science and technology parks

University-industry linkage schemes

PhD studentships

Post-doctoral fellowships

Inter-sectoral mobility schemes

Risk capital measures in support of spin-offs

Entrepreneurship training schemes

Technology diffusion schemes

Innovation vouchers

Technology incubators




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