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January 2003/01

Policy development
Consultation
Respond by Friday 14 March 2003

This document invites higher education
institutions to contribute to the development
of threshold standards for research degree
programmes, prior to formal consultation on
this issue in spring 2003. The standards are
drawn from a report by independent
consultants, initially published on the web in
October 2002.

Improving standards in
postgraduate research
degree programmes
Informal consultation

 HEFCE 2003

Contents Executive summary 3 Background 4 Proposed core standards 6 Issues for consultation 7 Research report 2 .

Improving standards in postgraduate research degree programmes To Heads of all UK higher education institutions Of interest to those responsible for Reference Research degrees. Internal quality assurance 2003/01 Publication date January 2003 Enquiries to Will Naylor tel 0117 931 7471 e-mail w. Action required 5. about the quality and consistency of research training.naylor@hefce. Any responses should be sent by e-mail. originally published on the HEFCE web-site in October.uk Executive summary Purpose 1. Responses will be incorporated into a formal proposal for threshold standards for RDPs. 3. 6. which the funding bodies plan to issue jointly for full public consultation in April 2003. This is the first stage of a three-stage programme led by the four UK higher education funding bodies. The programme has its origins in concerns expressed to the funding bodies in their recent reviews of research policy and funding. Key points 2.ac.naylor@hefce. w. prior to formal consultation on this issue in spring 2003.uk 3 . 4. This document invites higher education institutions (HEIs) to contribute to the development of threshold standards for research degree programmes (RDPs). by Friday 14 March 2003. Postgraduate training. The proposed threshold standards are drawn from a research report.ac. We now invite HEIs to contribute to the development of threshold standards for RDPs by responding to the conclusions in the report and the proposed core standards set out in Table 1 below. The aim is to enhance the quality of research training across the UK by developing a set of minimum standards to which all research funders and HEIs would subscribe. to Will Naylor at the HEFCE. including those from major sponsors of postgraduate education.

procedures and regulations. and overseen by the Joint Funding Councils’ Steering Group on postgraduate education. supervisors and the students themselves. technology. The work was undertaken by a team of consultants led by Dr Janet Metcalfe. These concerns were echoed this year in the review by Sir Gareth Roberts of the supply of people with science. The report defines over 30 items as minimum standards. selection. including institutions. www. The Research Councils endorse the principles behind this framework.Background 7. a set of core standards which appear to us to represent an essential minimum for providing high quality RDP training. HM Treasury. funding council strategy and future funding arrangements do not fall within the remit of the Research Councils. The framework encompasses all those with a role in research training.hefce. although we hope that institutions would also aspire to the complete framework set out in the report. 11. We recognise that assessing this number of standards would pose serious challenges for HEIs in terms of internal quality assurance. Role of Research Councils 10. who were represented on the project steering committee. supervisory arrangements and skills development. although the Research Councils do not as yet have a view on how the framework should be monitored and assessed. These core standards are outlined below. 12.uk under ‘Publications/R&D reports’. and not necessarily those of the Steering Group on postgraduate education or the consultants. They represent the emerging views of the funding bodies and the Research Councils. including the research environment. and institutional arrangements for quality assurance. Furthermore. We envisage that all HEIs in receipt of funding for postgraduate training should comply in future with a list of core standards. The report was originally published in October 2002 on the HEFCE web-site. Therefore their support at this stage does not necessarily imply future endorsement by the Research Councils of any policies that might be developed by the funding bodies to implement the recommendations of this review. April 2002). The UK higher education funding bodies commissioned a report on improving postgraduate research degree programmes. in concert with the Research Councils. 4 . It presents a quality framework covering the breadth of research training. Our interaction with the Research Councils reflects our aspiration to achieve better coordination and agreement around the different requirements that separate research funders have for research training. 8. The framework in the report and our proposed core standards have been discussed in detail with the Research Councils. A key aim is to reduce the accountability burden currently faced by HEIs in complying with several sets of quality criteria. induction. chaired by Professor Roland Levinsky.ac. 9. progress and examination of students. Therefore we have extracted. engineering and mathematical skills (‘SET for success’. and they all place similar requirements upon the departments in receipt of their own studentship funding. in response to concerns about the quality and consistency of research training that were raised in recent reviews of research policy and funding.

Under training.13. including part-time and mature students. Equally. but we would certainly not envisage the participation of each student on such a programme as mandatory (although other funders may have different views). for example. 5 . It should also be stressed that our proposed list of core standards can be applied flexibly to accommodate the needs of different types of research students. we would not seek to impose criteria that individual students feel are inappropriate. HEIs would be expected to provide every student with the opportunity to complete a suitable programme in research and other skills.

Students to be appropriately prepared for the RDP. and between a group of at least 10 research students. defined supervisory teams. including experienced main supervisor. Minimum standards: • • • • Admission criteria All new supervisors to undertake mandatory. All research training to be provided in an appropriate environment. as evidenced by fulfilment of minimum standard entry qualification. Suggested minimum RAE rating of 3a (again this could be achieved through collaboration). adequate facilities. Minimum standard: • Training Normal entry requirement for RDP to be a 2(i) degree in a relevant subject. Minimum standard: • Research environment Implementation of a Code of Practice covering the areas identified in the summary of framework standards (Annex D). Supervisors to have had experience of at least one successful supervision within a supervisory team before acting as a main supervisor. Appropriate supervisory arrangements to be in place as evidenced by: mandatory training for new supervisors. as outlined in the Joint Research Councils/AHRB Statement on Skills Training Requirements. Supervision to be provided by supervisory teams consisting of at least two supervisors. Main supervisors to have responsibility for a maximum of eight students. and minimum submission rates. Appropriate arrangements to be in place to develop research and other skills. institutionally specified training. as evidenced by the implementation of a Code of Practice. Minimum standard: • Provision of a training programme to develop research and other skills. one of whom shall be designated as the main supervisor. as evidenced by: the presence of a critical mass of researchers in the appropriate subject area. (For institutions with a relatively small number of researchers. this could be achieved by collaborating with neighbouring HEIs.) 70 per cent submission rate within four years. and an upper limit on the number of students per main supervisor. 6 . Minimum standards: • Unit/cognate area of research should have a way of providing effective • • Supervisory arrangements interaction with a mix of at least five research active staff or postdoctoral researchers.Table 1 Proposed core standards Institution Evidence that the institution has paid attention to the quality of RDP training provision. as evidenced by existence of training programme. or a relevant Masters qualification. A minimum RAE rating has also been suggested as a measure of the quality of the research environment.

by Friday 14 March 2003. the majority of whom are independent of the supervisory team. and availability of appeals procedures. We now invite HEIs to contribute to the development of threshold standards for RDPs by responding to the conclusions made in the research report and the proposed core standards in Table 1 above. we would welcome views on the following key questions: a. e-mail w. assessment Arrangements to be in place to monitor student progress and ensure fair and appropriate examination as evidenced by: existence of institutional and appeals procedures for progress monitoring. These responses will be incorporated into a formal proposal for threshold standards in RDPs. Responses should be sent by e-mail. How would you measure your compliance with the framework? 16. Do you agree that the framework set out in the research report broadly represents the best way to improve the quality and consistency of RDPs? b. to Will Naylor at the HEFCE.Table 1 Proposed core standards Progression. Issues for consultation 14.uk 7 . In particular. Minimum standards: • Student progress to be reviewed annually by panels of at least three academic staff. examination by an appropriately constituted panel. • • Final examination to be by viva to an independent panel of at least two examiners. What do you think of the core standards proposed in Table 1 above? Are there aspects of the framework summarised at Annex D that should be added to the core? d. which the funding bodies plan to issue jointly for full public consultation in April 2003. is appropriate? e. of whom at least one is an external examiner and at least one is from a minimum 3a rated department. but requiring HEIs to adopt a code of practice covering the complete framework. Do you agree that individual framework standards are appropriate (summarised at Annex D)? Are the minimum levels suggested here too high/too low? c. Do you agree that monitoring only a set of core standards. 15.naylor@hefce.ac. Institution to arrange and publicise complaints and appeals procedures.