Review of EPSRC-funded Doctoral Education

A Review of the Literature

Published in: UK Research and Innovation website (2021)

Posted on RAND.org on August 16, 2022

by Cagla Stevenson, Camilla d'Angelo, Isabel Flanagan, Daniela Rodriguez-Rincon

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Doctoral education is a critical aspect in building the talent base that will deliver the UK Research and Development (R&D) Roadmap, as the skills acquired through doctoral training can be utilised in multiple sectors of the economy. STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) doctoral students are considered particularly valuable to "the new economy, which trades principally in knowledge" (Barnacle 2005). It is thought that STEM doctoral graduates enable the flow of knowledge across organisations and businesses and can apply their creative problem-solving skills to the development of innovation.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the main public funding body for engineering and physical sciences in the UK, funding approximately one third of all engineering and physical sciences doctoral students in the UK. The EPSRC has been innovative in its development of doctoral training, adapting its delivery models throughout the years to best meet the needs of doctoral students, as well as the changing research landscape. The EPSRC is undertaking a review of their investment in doctoral education.

To provide evidence for EPSRC's review, RAND Europe conducted a literature review of the currently available evidence on the value, skills and career outcomes of doctoral education in engineering and physical sciences, as well as novel approaches to doctoral education. The search resulted in 4,455 studies of which 114 were included in the review. The literature was limited to publications in English between 2011–2021, and included both academic and grey literature (e.g. policy reports). Analysis of the literature was also informed by scoping interviews with five experts in higher education policy.

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