The University of Sheffield
Research & Innovation Services

NERC Scholarships – Information for Award Holders

This information is for all NERC funded postgraduate research students, including doctoral, Master's, CASE and Industrial CASE students and project scholarships attached to NERC research grants. For the full terms and conditions of the award and allowances available, please refer to the NERC Student Handbook (available for download from the box on the right).

You should also read this in conjunction with the most recent Code of Practice for Research Degree Programmes, which contains a wide range of information common to all students, such as on registration and fees, time limits, the Research Training Programme, supervision, and thesis preparation and submission.

Tenure of the award

Length of the award

Full-time PhD studentships can last for any length of time between three and four years, depending on the nature of the project. On average, students are funded for 3.5 years. The length of a student's award will be stated in the letter offering the award, or in the nomination confirmation. Continuation of all awards is subject to NERC receiving confirmation from the University of the student's satisfactory annual progress. Satisfactory progress includes passing the Confirmation Review before the end of the first year of study.

Submission date

NERC funded students are required to complete their studies by submission of a PhD thesis within an agreed period of time. This is the submission date.

Normally submission is expected at the end of the funded period. The maximum amount of time allowed for submission is one year following the end of the funded period for full-time students and within two years for part-time students, except where there has been a formally agreed abeyance period (e.g. for maternity or illness).

The NERC submission deadline is entirely independent of any date set by the University or the Department, although the two should coincide. It is therefore important that students follow the correct procedures outlined below.

Extensions

Timely completion of the project is a requirement of both the University and NERC, and both students and supervisors are strongly encouraged to work towards this end.

Extensions to submission dates will only be considered in circumstances related to illness/accident, exceptional personal circumstances, maternity leave, or where a difficult language has to be learnt (see below). NERC will not agree any retrospective extension to a submission deadline. It is therefore important that the student ensures that Research & Innovation Services is informed at the time of any circumstance which have, or might have in the future, a bearing on the planned timetable for their research and consequently their ability to meet the submission deadline.

While NERC will normally extend a submission date to take account of any period of suspension notified during a scholarship, only in exceptional circumstances will they consider extending the target date for submission on account of difficulties that arise during the writing up period. Extensions will not be granted retrospectively for difficulties or periods of suspension that were not notified at the time.

Full-time students are not encouraged to take up employment until after submitting their thesis. Students will find it much more difficult to finish writing their thesis whilst also in employment. NERC will not grant extensions on the grounds that they have taken up employment of any kind.

Holidays

Reasonable holidays, not exceeding eight weeks in the year including public holidays, may be allowed by supervisors. Up to a maximum of four weeks holiday may be taken at the end of the period of award.


Finances

Award details

A fully-funded full-time NERC student will receive a maintenance stipend at least equal to the NERC minimum rate, tuition fees, and a Research Training and Support Grant (RTSG) (which includes funding towards with fieldwork, conferences and laboratory consumables expenses) and payment of additional allowances as detailed below.

A fully-funded part-time NERC student will receive a pro-rata maintenance stipend at least equal to the NERC minimum rate, part-time tuition fees, a pro-rata Research Training and Support Grant (RTSG) (which includes funding towards with fieldwork, conferences and laboratory consumables expenses), payment of additional allowances as detailed below and payment of additional allowances as detailed below.

A fees-only NERC student will receive tuition fees, a pro-rata Research Training and Support Grant (RTSG) (which includes funding towards with fieldwork, conferences and laboratory consumables expenses), payment of additional allowances as detailed below and payment of additional allowances as detailed below.

NERC will not pay continuation, extension or submission fees.

Payment

NERC pays tuition fees directly to the University. Maintenance payments are made by the University on a quarterly basis in advance and paid directly into the student's bank account. The maintenance grant for each quarter is calculated from the first day of the relevant month. Students can provide their bank details to the University by logging in to MUSE, going to the 'Quick Links' section, and choosing the option 'University Payments Bank Details'.

Research Training Support Grant (RTSG)

All scholarships include a Research Training Support Grant (RTSG) component. This is a contribution towards costs incurred in training research students e.g. the provision of consumables, equipment, travel, etc. The RTSG can be used to fund fieldwork, conference, workshop and short course attendance. However, this is not a personal allowance, and the University has flexibility to use the funds as required.

Undertaking paid work

NERC encourages research students to undertake a certain amount of paid teaching or demonstrating work during the period of a scholarship, if the opportunity arises. Such work may be undertaken provided:

Students can take up to a three-month abeyance of their award to enable them to undertake a work placement (directly related to the students' training), provided this is well justified and approved in advance by their supervisor and University using the abeyance procedures below.

Students may undertake a small amount of other paid work, either in term time or vacation. NERC does not, however, encourage such work especially during the times when they are expected to be engaged fully in research training and thesis preparation. Full-time NERC studentship award holders cannot also hold either a full-time job, or a permanent part-time job, during the period of their award.


Additional allowances

Conferences, Fieldwork, Workshops and Short Courses

NERC provides funding towards fieldwork, conference, workshop and short course attendance through the RTSG. The University has discretion as to how this money is allocated, but NERC expects that within the period of the award each student should have the opportunity to attend at least one conference at which they can present the findings of their research. The annual allowance may be carried between award years and NERC students. Students should apply to their supervisors for this allowance.

RTSG funds for attending conferences are not available for project scholarships, since these should be requested as part of the grant application.

A small number of courses are also funded directly by NERC. The current list can be found on the NERC website. You should apply directly to the course organiser if you are interested in attending any of those courses.

Disabled Students Allowance (DSA)

If a student has a long-term disability and as a result of that disability they are obliged to incur additional expenditure in connection with their studies, they may be eligible for an extra allowance. This can cover costs relating to additional daily expenses, special equipment or non-medical help. Any requests for DSA must be made and agreed in advance of the student committing any expenditure for which NERC funding is sought. No awards can be made for retrospective purchase of any equipment, facilities or personal assistance in connection with a student's disability. Fees-only students are not eligible for a DSA.

How to apply

  1. The student and their supervisor should discuss additional support needs with the Disability & Dyslexia Support Service as soon as possible, as this will ensure that the student will have access to the best and most appropriate support throughout their study.
  2. The Disability Officer arranges a needs assessment with the student to determine what support he/she needs and will complete the DSA Approval Form (available to download from the box on the right) and return it to NERC.
  3. NERC will confirm the details of the award and the Disability & Dyslexia Support Service will write to the student, supervisor and departmental PG co-ordinator to confirm the details of the allowance.

Suspension of awards

Abeyance

Scholarships are intended to be held on a continuous basis, without a break. Sometimes, however, a student may need to interrupt their programme of study. This may arise for reasons such as maternity or illness, or due to personal or family reasons. A period of suspension may be requested during which the student is not entitled to receive a maintenance grant or tuition fees. Requests for suspension will not be approved for the purpose of employment, temporary lectureships, exchange visits, voluntary service overseas or expeditions/sport.

Suspensions can be approved, provided that:

Students can take up to a three-month abeyance of their award to enable them to undertake a work placement (directly related to the students' training), provided this is well justified and approved in advance using the procedures below.

If the maintenance grant covering all or part of the proposed period of suspension has already been paid then the University will ask the student to repay the amount that has been overpaid.

How to apply for a suspension

  1. The student discusses the need for a suspension with their supervisor.
  2. The student follows the University's procedures for requesting a Leave of Absence.
  3. The Research Degree Support administrator for the student’s Faculty will pass the details of the Leave of Absence to the Scholarships Officer.
  4. Research & Innovation Services will write to the student to confirm the period of suspension of the award and liaise with the Income Office to suspend the payments.

At the end of an approved period of suspension, the student should contact Research & Innovation Services to confirm that they have re-registered on their original programme of study, who will in turn arrange for payment of the award to be resumed.

Unauthorised absence

Any periods of unauthorised absence must be reported to Research & Innovation Services by the supervisor, for which an abatement of the award will be made.

Short-term illness

If a student is prevented from working by illness for a continuous period of more than two weeks they must inform their supervisor immediately and send in a medical certificate.

Payment of a scholarship can continue for absences covered by a medical certificate for up to 13 weeks within any 12-month period. If the illness lasts, or is expected to last, for more than 13 weeks, the scholarship will be suspended and the expected submission date will be extended correspondingly. In such circumstances, you the student wish to seek advice from SSID about other possible sources of financial support. The student must follow the procedures above for requesting a suspension.

Maternity, Paternity and Adoption leave

If a student becomes pregnant with an expected date of childbirth that occurs during the period of the award, or adopts a child, they are entitled to a 26 week of maternity/adoption leave during which NERC will continue to pay maintenance grant and tuition fees, and the studentship will be extended accordingly. The student may also request a suspension of the award for a further 26 weeks after this period, during which no maintenance grant or tuition fees are payable. The paid period of absence and the suspension should be taken consecutively. Where the student wishes to return on a part-time basis that is acceptable to NERC as long as it is at least 50% FTE.

Students are entitled to a total of 10 days paternity leave, to be taken at any time during their partner's pregnancy or within three months following the birth. NERC will continue to pay maintenance grant and tuition fees during this period. This period is regarded as additional leave of absence and scholarships will not be extended. If further time is needed a request to suspend the scholarship should be made, during which the student will not be entitled to receive any maintenance grant or tuition fees.

Students must follow the procedures above for requesting a suspension, ensuring that they include a copy of the MATB1 certificate.


Skills training

NERC expects each student to have a thorough training in generic research skills (e.g. experimental design, data handling, statistics, intellectual property rights, exploitation), and training in transferable skills, (e.g. oral and written communication, IT skills and time management) during their NERC funded training period, in addition to subject specific training. The University provides this training via the Research Training Programme (RTP).

GRADschools

NERC contributes, along with other Research Councils, to an annual programme of graduate schools, which aim to enable research students to take control of their future and achieve their potential. The schools allow students to develop key generic and transferable skills by working in teams with other students from a wide range of disciplines and institutions. All NERC funded doctoral students from the second year onwards can apply to attend free of charge (travelling expenses have to be paid by the student), and the AHRC strongly encourages its students to do so.

There are three types of GRAD courses: National GRAD schools (residential courses varying between three and five days in length); Local GRAD schools (run at regional level and supported by VITAE varying in length between one and four days, residential and non-residential courses); and other GRAD courses (shorter sessions run at universities and at conferences designed to meet the individual needs of the institution). More details and online booking are available on the VITAE website.

Alternatively students may be able to attend an equivalent graduate school or courses organised by the University. The Graduate Research Centre should be able to provide information on the courses available.


Termination of awards

NERC will consider termination only as a last resort, since the objective is to enable students to bring their studies to a successful completion. However, students should be aware that NERC reserves the right to terminate a scholarship where a student or their University breaks any of the terms and conditions, if their progress is unsatisfactory or if they are absent from their studies without authorisation.

Withdrawal

If a student is considering withdrawing from their studies, they should discuss this matter first with their supervisor/departmental Postgraduate Tutor/Head of Department. If, following careful consideration and discussion, they still wish to withdraw, they should follow the University's procedures for requesting a Change of Candidature form and submit it to the Faculty Representative at Research & Innovation Services, ensuring that the effective date of the withdrawal and brief reasons for the decision are included.

Entitlement to payments ends from the date on which the award terminates. If an award is prematurely terminated for any reason, the student must repay to the University any monies including maintenance grant, fieldwork contribution, etc overpaid to them.


Who to contact

Any questions in relation to the above should be directed to Rachel Shirley: 0114 222 1417 or pgr-scholarships@sheffield.ac.uk.