The centre will train social scientists in a range of disciplines including innovative new programmes in: Health and Wellbeing; Security, Conflict and Justice; Environment, Energy and Resilience; and Global Economic Performance.

Together, the three universities educate over 5,000 masters and 1,600 doctoral students in the social sciences.

The new Centre will draw on the established research excellence of the partners, including the expertise of more than 750 social science research staff; this represents one of the largest groupings of social scientists in the UK.

The Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) has granted doctoral training centre status to the collaboration.

The South West Doctoral Training Centre (SWDTC) has been accredited to offer a hub of world-class social sciences research.

As one of only 21 centres in the UK, the SWDTC will be part of a national network to be launched in October 2011 that will train a new generation of social scientists. The SWDTC has been allocated 41 studentships per annum.

Professor Judith Squires, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences & Law at the University of Bristol, said: "The SWDTC partners have created a unique programme of training for postgraduate students across the breadth of the social sciences.

"Working collaboratively has allowed us to capitalise on the strengths of three top research-intensive institutions and we are extremely excited about the opportunities that this partnership opens up."

The SWDTC offers research training in a comprehensive range of disciplines, including the priority areas of Economics and Quantitative Methodology.

The SWDTC will also expand social science training options beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries with innovative multi-disciplinary programmes being established to encourage students to address important challenges in today’s society through their research.

Themes tackled will include lifestyle behaviours and public health, energy and sustainability, global development and security.

Professor Roger Eatwell, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences at the University of Bath, said: "Through the SWDTC we will be working with stakeholders to encourage the best use of the knowledge generated.

"Our long history of engaging with external partners means we are well placed to ensure the research carried out by SWDTC students is relevant and transferrable to real-life research problems."

Professor Robert Van De Noort, Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Research at the University of Exeter, said: "Our combined expertise will enhance the opportunities for students to develop their intellectual capacities and research skills.

"We are committed to providing an outstanding research environment for students and the accreditation of the SWDTC recognises the excellent training that we are able to offer collectively."

Close liaison with partners in the commercial, public and third sector through placements and joint supervision will be central to the SWDTC, as these experiences will prepare students for careers in the global economy and promote knowledge exchange.

The collaboration will build on the Great Western Research project that has united the three universities and a range of other partners over the last four years in offering doctoral training to over 130 students.

As part of the successful bid, Professor Eatwell and colleagues at Bath worked with the University's Research & Development Support Office (RDSO) to secure a number of accredited ESRC PhD studentships for its social sciences.