Postgraduate Researchers

Research England (as a council of UKRI) have an interest in postgraduate research students and the health of the research base. Research England are responsible for research funding, including the research degree programme supervision fund.

We will work with the Office for Students (who are responsible for protecting the interests of all students and the quality of the provision they receive) to understand the pipeline of talent through this level of study.


Research England provides a stream of funding that helps universities meet the costs of supervising research degree programmes to encourage the next generation of researchers.

Research Degree Programme (RDP) supervision funding currently amounts to £260 million. This is allocated to departments which will receive mainstream quality-related funding in the same academic year. The allocation reflects postgraduate research student numbers in departments that attract mainstream QR funding, the relative costs of the subjects they are studying, quality and London weighting.

Further details about RDP funding can be found in the funding section.

For more information please contact

Mental Health and Wellbeing

We commissioned Vitae to undertake the first specific piece of research into the wellbeing and mental health of PGR students in the UK. They looked at the policies and provision relating to these issues in Higher Education institutions (HEIs) through interviews with staff, and postgraduate researcher focus groups at ten UK HEIs between September and November 2017. They also ran a pilot survey at six HEIs, providing an indication of the views and experiences which could be explored using a survey instrument. We published their report in May 2018.

The report concludes that these students face unique challenges, including difficulties with supervisor relationships, as well as others recognised in the undergraduate population including financial worries, harassment, and feeling isolated and inadequate.

The Vitae report makes recommendations to funders and HEIs to encourage a healthy and supportive research environment for all PGRs which include:

  • commission a project to explore supervisors’ perceptions of their role in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of postgraduate researchers
  • facilitate practice-sharing mechanisms around the Catalyst Fund projects
  • train, support and recognise supervisors’ role in identifying wellbeing issues among postgraduate researchers
  • HEIs should develop communications strategies to promote points of entry into support services

Many of the recommendations in the report are being addressed by 17 projects funded through the Catalyst Fund which are being overseen jointly by Research England and the Office for Students. £1.5m is being invested in English universities from March 2018 – January 2020 to improve support for the mental health and wellbeing of postgraduate researchers.

Research England will lead on the evaluation of these projects.

For more information please contact

Catalyst Fund

Catalyst aims

The Catalyst Fund provided targeted investment for project based activity led by universities. This fund was run by the former HEFCE (now Research England and the Office for Students). The fund supports:

  • government policy priorities, both short and longer-term
  • innovation in higher education
  • student safeguarding and wellbeing
  • risk sharing where there are financial contributions, matched funding, and investments or leverage from appropriate partners and beneficiaries, as well as support for higher risk activities
  • additionality - activity that would not otherwise happen without additional investment or which bridged a clear funding gap so that long-term sustainability can be achieved.

Mental health and wellbeing of postgraduate researchers

In November 2017, HEFCE launched a Catalyst fund to support the wellbeing and mental health of postgraduate research students. The call was informed by the interim findings of the work carried out by Vitae (to understand the factors affecting the mental health and wellbeing of these students).

Institutions bid for up to £150,000 which required one-to-one matched funding by the institution. The proposals had to outline activity which would either expand existing provision or develop new activities. The proposals needed to be clear as to how these activities would be sustained beyond the period of Catalyst funding. Full documentation on the bidding process can be found on the archived HEFCE website.

In March 2018 £1.5 million was allocated to 17 projects. Projects will run from March 2018 – January 2020. The funded projects are listed here.

Research England and the Office for Students will be working together to monitor and evaluate the projects. Research England will lead on the programme level evaluation, and will be developing good practice to disseminate across the HE sector.

For more information please contact

Catalyst Projects

The funded projects are detailed below.

Projects will run from March 2018 – January 2020 and address some of the factors which affect postgraduate student mental health and wellbeing (as outlined in the Vitae report).

Research England (RE) will play a lead role in evaluating the projects and developing good practice for the sector.

The University of Manchester

Project title: Partnerships for improved postgraduate researcher wellbeing and mental health
Total Catalyst funding: £150,000

This project aims to improve service provision for postgraduate research (PGR) students through a number of interventions, and to improve referral and access to NHS services. Interventions include: piloting a new wellbeing check which can be incorporated into usual PGR progression monitoring, develop and implement a peer mentoring system, deliver resilience training and roll out mindfulness tools, improve PGR engagement with the University of Manchester’s wellbeing framework specifically tailoring it to this student group, and developing new resources aimed at supporting PGRs for a variety of stakeholders (support services, supervisors, senior management etc.).

University College London

Project title: ADAPT: Supporting the mental wellbeing of postgraduate research students
Partner higher education institution (HEI): University of Nottingham
Total Catalyst funding: £102,896

This project aims to expand an existing programme of preventative mental wellbeing support for PGRs, focusing on building resilience. ADAPT has three distinct programmes. ADAPT to Grow: an online coaching programme based on cognitive behavioural therapy for individual students. ADAPT Together: a cross-disciplinary peer mentoring scheme. ADAPT to Thrive: an event series highlighting ‘failure’ as a normal part of academic career development.

University of Portsmouth

Project title: Improving postgraduate research student wellbeing by increasing mental health literacy and social support
Partner HEI: Leeds Beckett University
Total Catalyst funding: £150,000

The aim of this project is to improve PGR student wellbeing by increasing mental health literacy and social support. The project plans to deliver this by developing mental health literacy resources for enhanced induction and training for PGR students and relevant staff, as well as establishing mentoring circles for PGR students with an experienced mentor from outside their supervision teams.

The University of East Anglia

Project title: COURAGE
Partner HEI: University of Suffolk
Total Catalyst funding: £150,000

This project aims to research and pilot approaches to support the mental health and wellbeing of PGRs. The project is formed of eight strands, led by both students and staff. Student-led activity will concentrate on: building research community culture, resilience training for students, sports and fitness activity, and evaluating current online support programmes. Staff-led activity will focus on: supporting staff who supervise postgraduate research, creating a tutor support network, developing a health impact assessment, a review of mental health issues around postgraduate research to inform all the other activities in the project, and sharing this learning by hosting a national mental health summit.

The University of Bradford

Project title: PGR Connect
Total Catalyst funding: £31,607

This project aims to develop a peer support network across the PGR community with an emphasis on self-care and mental health awareness. Groups of students will be formed following a 2 day residential experience as part of the PGR induction process. The groups will be supported throughout the year with a series of booster self-care sessions and psycho-educational workshops.

University of Sussex

Project title: Supporting PGR Student Mental Health
Total Catalyst funding: £78,023

This project will undertake a review of existing literature regarding factors influencing PGR mental health, and will gather additional data to provide a clear understanding of PGR student needs. This will inform the rest of the programme which seeks to develop a suite of training for PGR students, supervisors, and practitioners aimed at identifying and preventing poor mental health in PGRs. A new PGR-supervisor relationship policy will underpin additional training for supervisors. Mental health management workshops will be designed for all PGR students, student-led interventions such as peer mentoring will be delivered, and NHS links will be improved.

The University of Liverpool

Project title: Preparing for a healthy PhD
Total Catalyst funding: £149,278

This project will pilot a multi-layered induction and a training/development framework to support PGR mental health and wellbeing, focusing on the transition into and early stages of doctoral study. New routes to PGR mental health disclosure will be developed, and a peer network established. A sector-wide event will be held to enhance supervisor development, focusing on mental health.

University of Oxford

Project title: PGR Peer Support
Total Catalyst funding: £30,000

This project aims to understand what a peer support programme for PGRs should look like, and how the existing programme offered at Oxford can be adapted for this group of students. The programme will be piloted and evaluated, before the provision is embedded and expanded across colleges.

The University of Warwick

Total Catalyst funding: £137,859

This project draws on theoretical understandings linking personality and wellbeing to create, implement and evaluate support for PGR students. Collection of student’s core personality traits will be used to develop an understanding of the needs of student body and create interventions/activities across multiple perspectives. Programme engagement will be analysed using changes to personality traits.

University of the West of England, Bristol

Project title: An integrated online-offline support ecosystem for PGRs enabled by SAM App
Total Catalyst funding: £142,891

This project will develop a hybrid digital/social support network, underpinned by a customised and extended version of UWE’s mobile SAM App for Self-Help Anxiety Management. The SAM App will be co-designed with PGRs and will create specific modules such as managing work-life balance, managing competing priorities, emotional regulation, personal problem solving, and time and workload management. The project also aims to internationalise Sam App’s interface to provide better access, and therefore support to, international students.

University of Derby

Project title: The National PGR Student Wellbeing Online Resource
Partner HEI: Kings College London
Total Catalyst funding: £150,000

This project aims to provide a national web-resource, hosted by Student Minds, that takes a prevention and early intervention approach to support PGR student wellbeing. The project will provide resources to PGR students, which they have co-produced, that consider the whole PGR experience and support a positive cultural change towards good mental health.

University of Newcastle upon Tyne

Project title: PGR Wellbeing for All
Total Catalyst funding: £55,000

This project addresses equality and inclusion-related barriers to wellbeing and aims to reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues. To develop this, the project will undertake a mapping of PGR needs, with a particular focus on the way intersecting protected characteristics and forms of disadvantage may affect psychological wellbeing. Following this, they will identify pathways to addressing needs by developing policy and practice across the PGR lifecycle and develop a programme of mental wellbeing promotion activities (including events, training sessions, and online resources).

The University of Westminster

Project title: Wellbeing When Writing
Total Catalyst funding: £46,219

The overall aim of this project is to support students in proactively tackling writing-related anxiety and stress to improve confidence, resilience, and a sense of wellbeing. This will be delivered via a number of interventions, including a series of workshops tailored to cohorts from each year of study, three ‘masterclasses’ delivered by invited academic writers, and two supervisor forum sessions to consider how they can support students’ wellbeing through better identification and handling (including confidential referral) of writing-related anxiety and stress episodes.

Bournemouth University

Project title: Improving transitions and support for PGR students
Partner HEI Arts University Bournemouth
Total Catalyst funding: £12,480

This project aims to address three specific elements of the PGR experience. Firstly to understand student expectations of PGR study before enrolment to help understand the support required to aid the transition to PGR study. This will inform the development of a pastoral induction programme. Secondly, to develop a roadmap of the PGR journey which highlights stress points to inform activities. Thirdly, to clarify the role of the supervisor in providing pastoral support and offer dedicated training/materials about this role.

University of Plymouth

Project title: Peer Support for PGR Student Wellbeing
Total Catalyst funding: £138,798

This project aims to develop training materials for peer-peer workshops covering topics such as ‘surviving as a researcher’, ‘managing your research’ and ‘working with feedback on research’. PGRs will contribute to the development of the training materials, lead the feedback, evaluation, and revision cycle of the materials.

University of Durham

Project title: PGR Mental Health and Wellbeing: Exploring the role of the supervisory relationship in supporting the PGR experience
Total Catalyst funding: £19,500

This project aims to enhance the mental health and wellbeing of PGR students by focussing on the postgraduate supervisory relationship. It aims to develop online tools for supervisors and supervisees to promote early intervention, prevent the exacerbation of mental health symptoms, and to recognise the specific role that supervisors have in supporting mental health and wellbeing of PGR students.

Queen Mary University of London

Project title: PGR catalyst mental health support
Total Catalyst funding: £40,650

To develop an approach to support and improve mental health and wellbeing for all PGRs through a series of interventions. This includes: emotional resilience and resourcefulness sessions for PGRs during induction/annual cohort days, expanding the existing ‘survive and thrive’ workshop programme for PGRs, a weekly support group, wellbeing campaign events, and new resources/workshops for supervisors regarding their role in PGR pastoral support.

For more information please contact RE research policy or Office for Students