Studentship Competition

WGSSS awards over 70 ESRC studentships annually across 15 accredited pathways based in 7 collaborating universities.   

There are two competitions for WGSSS studentships; the General Competition, and the Collaborative Competition. 

  • The General Competition is applicant generated; you must propose your own PhD project.  
  • The Collaborative Competition is supervisor generated; you choose from an existing catalogue of projects. 

A masters degree is not a prerequisite for studying in the WGSSS. A range of training programmes are provided by WGSSS university partners, as well as our external partners, to allow students to meet the training requirements for social science PGRs set out by ESRC. Required and recommended training is based on an individual Development Needs Analysis (DNA) which is an assessment of the applicant’s prior experience and training needs., matched to available training within WGSSS. All studentships are offered on a full or part-time basis. 

How to... Webinars 

In November 2023, WGSSS held webinars for interested students and prospective applicants on ‘How to apply’ and ‘How to write a research proposal’.

Below are recordings of these webinar sessions:


WGSSS studentships cover tuition fees, an annual tax-free living stipend in line with UKRI minimum rates (currently £18,622) and includes access to a Research Training Support Grant.   

WGSSS is committed to widening access and to promoting inclusivity. Any student who, because of a disability or a long-term health condition, is obliged to incur additional expenditures in connection with their studies, may be eligible for grants through the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) . 

The DSA can cover costs such as daily expenses and equipment and for non-medical helpers such as support workers, specialist tutors, library assistance and note-takers (photocopying and consumables are to be claimed through your Research Training Support Grant). The amount of each allowance is not fixed and is determined according to the individual needs of each student.  

On being awarded a WGSSS studentship we strongly recommend you discuss additional support needs with your home institution, letting the relevant Disability Officer know that you are ESRC funded.  

Below are links to the individual university disability webpages. 

Aberystwyth University
Bangor University
Cardiff University
Cardiff Metropolitan University
Swansea University
The University of South Wales
The University of Gloucestershire

Types of Studentship

The duration of study is dependent on prior research experience and training needs which will be assessed by completing an Initial Development Needs Analysis (DNA) at the application stage and a Full DNA prior to award if successful. Based on this the duration of an award may vary from 3.5 to 4.5 years full time (or parttime equivalent). Training needs are identified and met on a flexible, bespoke basis through the DNA, which is followed up in each year of study. A masters level qualification is not normally included in the award, though may be offered where indicated by the level of previous training, and to ensure the accessibility of WGSSS awards. 

Development Needs Analysis (DNA) 

There are two stages to the DNA, an Initial DNA, completed as part of your application, and a Full DNA, completed by successful applicants.  

The Initial DNA is completed with your supervisor if you are nominated by the Pathway for a WGSSS award. You will work together to complete an Initial DNA form which details your previous social science research training, both academic and more widely. The Initial DNA will not be shared with the assessment panel. The purpose of the Initial DNA is to start a process of careful reflection on training needs and goals. Recognizing the importance of attracting the widest range of able students, we do not expect applicants to have completed any specific forms of training (eg masters degree). 

The Full DNA is completed by the WGSSS Training Lead with assistance from your supervisor if you are awarded a WGSSS studentship. It will draw on, but also significantly extend and deepen, the Initial DNA. The Full DNA will specify what training is required to support your study and in turn will determine the length of award which can range from 3.5 years to 4.5 years in length (or part-time equivalent). In certain cases, it may indicate the need for participation in dedicated research masters degree 

Equality, diversity and inclusion

WGSSS is committed to supporting and promoting equality and diversity and creating an inclusive environment for all. We welcome applications from all members of the global community irrespective of age, disability, sex, gender identity, gender reassignment, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy or maternity, race, religion or belief and sexual orientation.  In line with our commitment to supporting and promoting equality, diversity and inclusion, and to increase recruitment of currently underrepresented groups, applications from Black British, Asian British, minority ethnicity and mixed-race British, care leavers and candidates living with disabilities are particularly encouraged and welcomed. We are working to remove obstacles to study for all and as part of our recruitment process review your application as a whole. We value students of all backgrounds and life experiences. 

Historical structural inequalities and discriminatory practices in education have resulted in under-representation of specific communities in academia. WGSSS is committed to identifying and addressing the effects of this disparity on its own processes and awards. Measures consistent with the Equality Act 2010 include an initiative allowing pathways to put forward an additional studentship nomination in its general studentship competition, provided that at least one of those applicants is of Black British, Asian British, British mixed-race or British minority ethnic background. All applicants are invited to state the ways in which their life experience and the challenges they have faced equip them to make a positive contribution to the WGSSS community.  

Further information about the WGSSS’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion strategy is available on our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion page. 


ESRC studentships are available to students who show through their academic qualifications and other achievements that they are well qualified to undertake doctoral research. A good undergraduate degree (First or Upper Second Class or equivalent) in a relevant discipline is important. Valuing excellence, we are striving to widen participation and welcome applications from students who have attended universities outside as well as within the ‘Russell Group’.

Please note that full-time ESRC studentship award holders cannot hold either a full-time job, permanent part-time job or temporary role for an extended period of time, during the period of their award. Part-time ESRC studentship award holders cannot hold a full-time job. 

WGSSS studentships are available to both home and international (including EU and EEA) students for entry from October 2023 onwards. All applicants will be eligible for a full award consisting of a maintenance stipend and payment of tuition fees at the UK research organisation rate. Applicants must satisfy new UKRI studentship eligibility requirements. For further details see the UKRI web site.


All students applying for a WGSSS studentship, if shortlisted, will be interviewed by a panel of academics within the pathway they have applied to study in. Interviews can be held online or in person. We are keen to support participation from all students, please don’t hesitate to let the admissions team know if you have any reasonable adjustments.  

Home students

To be classed as a home student, applicants must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a UK national (meeting residency requirements), or
  • Have settled status, or
  • Have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or
  • Have indefinite leave to remain or enter

If an applicant does not meet any of the criteria above, they will be classed as an international student.   For further details, see the updated UKRI guidance on EU and international eligibility.

Please contact the Admissions team at the institution to which you wish to apply if you are uncertain of your status.

International students

Up to 30% of fully funded WGSSS studentships are available to international students per cohort. Successful applicants will receive a fully-funded WGSSS studentship and will not be charged the fees difference between the UK and international rate. 

WGSSS ESRC awards do not cover visa, international health surcharges (IHS), nor travel costs for international students.

Location of Study

All study undertaken as part of an ESRC award must be carried out within the UK, except as part of overseas fieldwork which is an integral part of the study, or conferences and training. Students must be resident close to the University at which they are registered and may not, for example, write up their thesis whilst resident outside the UK during the funded period of their ESRC award. This applies to full-time and part-time students.

How to make the most of a DTP studentship

Dr Aled Singleton completed an ESRC WGSSS PhD at Swansea University (Social Work & Social Care), and was awarded an ESRC WGSSS Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2021.  In this 12 minute video,  Aled reflects on his studentship and offers guidance to ensure you get the most out of your WGSSS studentship experience.

Read more about Dr Aled Singleton’s work by clicking here to visit his profile.