UK plans quality ‘Kitemark’ for PhD supervisors

Certification scheme will give academics the recognition they deserve, says initiative’s architect

May 21, 2019
Source: Getty

A certification scheme for PhD supervisors that is set to launch in the UK will help to give academics the recognition that they deserve, according to its architect.

The UK Council for Graduate Education is consulting on a planned research supervision recognition programme in a bid to drive up national standards.

To gain accreditation, academics would have to submit evidence of their performance across key areas of PhD supervision practice, which would be reviewed by a two-person panel of experienced supervisors.

Stan Taylor, the former director of the Centre for Academic and Researcher Development at Durham University, who drew up the criteria for the new quality mark, said that supervising PhD students was a “crucial role” for scholars and had become “much more complex” in recent years.

While supervisors did “a good job, by and large” – as evidenced by the results of the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey conducted by Advance HE – it was “not often acknowledged by institutions”, said Dr Taylor, now an honorary fellow in Durham’s School of Education.

Because many universities do not allow time for supervision in their workload model, it is still viewed as the “old labour of love that it was years ago”, said Dr Taylor, who noted that in some cases it is not included in universities’ promotion criteria.

“It’s a kind of unrecognised activity at the moment,” he said.

The recognition programme is being trialled in 13 universities across the UK. After the consultation, which ends on 31 May, UKCGE hopes to launch the national scheme at its annual conference on 1 July.

The quality mark would assess supervisors’ skills across 10 areas of good supervisory practice, including recruitment, relationships, feedback and career development. It would also require academics to demonstrate their commitment to research supervision as an area of academic practice, including self-reflection and participation in developmental activities.

The initiative has developed out of the Outstanding Research Supervisor of the Year prize presented each year at the Times Higher Education Awards, which is supported by UKCGE.

The “ultimate hope” is for it to become an international benchmark for research supervisor quality, said Dr Taylor.

“A lot of good could be done in this context if this sort of thing is made available in emerging countries, where there are relatively small numbers of supervisors,” he said. “We are hoping it might become a kind of Kitemark and help that growth there.”

The most recent edition of the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey, published last October and based on the responses of nearly 17,000 UK PhD students, found that 86 per cent of respondents were satisfied with the supervision that they had received.

Gill Houston, UKCGE’s chair, said: “In addition to enabling supervisors to demonstrate their ability to colleagues and candidates, it is our ambition that the criteria underpinning the programme will create a benchmark that becomes the standard for effective supervisory practice.”

nick.mayo@timeshighereducation.com

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Who's paying? The scheme suggests there is another charge - another way to take money off academics?

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