Letter from EPSRC (spring 2011)

From: Dr Vivienne Blackstone (Mathematical Sciences Portfolio Manager, EPSRC)

To: Heads of Mathematical Sciences Departments

Cc: TCC directors

Date: Fri, 20 May 2011


Dear Heads of Mathematical Sciences and allied Departments,


The DTZ management review of the Taught Course Centres, commissioned by EPSRC last year, made several recommendations on best practice.  These have been discussed with TCC Directors.  Subsequently, the International Review commended the establishment of the taught course initiative and endorsed specific recommendations from the DTZ review.

EPSRC has agreed to provide further funding for the Taught Course Centres, in recognition of the success and value of the initiative and to enable the centres to move towards full sustainability over the next few years. 

EPSRC now seeks to implement a number of changes to taught course arrangements, to ensure that the benefits of broadening training are widely available to PhD students.  It requires that:

  • Broadening training through the TCCs should be mandatory for PhD students funded wholly or partly from EPSRC funds;
  • Students should undertake a minimum of 100 hours of such training on a variety of courses;
  • The courses undertaken should be designed to broaden a student’s knowledge and understanding of the mathematical sciences as a whole.  They should, by definition, not be directly related to the topic of the student’s PhD thesis;
  •  The students’ understanding should be tested by structured examination or assessment.

Heads of Department are asked to take and implement the spirit of these actions.  Exceptions are possible, for example, better qualified students may not need the full range of courses and some broadening training may be undertaken through activities outside the TCCs, if they can provide equivalent training.  These decisions are at the discretion of the department.  Recognised equivalents include the Cambridge Part III courses and some other postgraduate masters courses (but not, generally, MMath courses) together with masters-level studies within the CDTs.  Departments may be asked to justify other alternatives within the DTA application procedure.  It is nevertheless expected that the majority of broadening training will be undertaken through the TCCs and that the majority of students will undertake such training. Assessment arrangements should be agreed between the department and the relevant TCC.  Where assessment arrangements are already in place, they should continue.

The quality of broadening training provided by a department will be a major factor in the allocation of future DTA funds.

EPSRC would like these changes to be put into effect for students starting in October 2011.  Heads of Department are asked discuss with EPSRC any issues that arise from their implementation and otherwise to make appropriate arrangements to put them into effect.

The Taught Course Initiative was praised by the 2010 International Review as a very positive response to the issue of narrowness of training within the UK PhD identified in the 2003 International Review.  Pump-priming funding from EPSRC has secured major additional funding from universities, and there is a desire both within the community and within EPSRC to ensure that the initiative succeeds and helps to improve the competitiveness of UK –trained PhD students in all job sectors.  The changes set out above are designed to ensure that all EPSRC-funded students have the opportunity to gain maximum benefit from the initiative.

Yours sincerely,


Dr Vivienne Blackstone, Portfolio Manager (Mathematical Sciences)