Dismayed at Roberts 1

October 22, 2004

We - University College London graduate tutors across a wide range of disciplines - are dismayed at the manner in which precious resources are to be wasted in providing generic skills training, as recommended by Sir Gareth Roberts' SET for Success report.

Although headlining the unsurprising finding that PhD graduates are deserting academe, your front-page article ("Most PhDs desert academe", October 8) provides compelling evidence that the skills necessary for success in the workplace beyond universities are highly developed as part of PhD training.

You err, however, in implying that the Roberts report has had any impact in this regard. On the contrary, Roberts' recommendations are yet to be implemented in most universities, and it will be at least 2006 until they are fully funded.

In our opinion, analytic, written and presentational skills, innovation in theory and practice, and the ability to think on one's feet, are best acquired in the context of a substantial and original contribution to knowledge - the PhD thesis. British industry would appear to concur.

Such resources as exist for PhD training would be better employed in provision of additional studentships in the arts and humanities, or the adequate financing of science laboratories responsible for training PhD students. To give one example of the muddled priorities generated by Roberts' recommendations, the Medical Research Council plans to spend £400 a week for six weeks of generic training during a PhD programme, but only £20 for each of the remaining 150 weeks spent in the laboratory. Is it any wonder that PhD graduates leave academe for industry, where the inherent value of their training is appreciated?

David McAlpine
University College London

and the following colleagues:
Frank T. Smith, FRS, Goldsmid Chair, Department of Mathematics;
Rosemary Ashton, FBA, OBE, Department of English Language and Literature;
Michael Otsuka, Reader in Philosophy, Department of Philosophy;
Dilwyn Knox, Reader, Department of Italian;
Kwee Yong, Department of Haematology;
Christopher Abel, Department of History;
Alexander M. Seifalian, Department of Surgery;
John Foot, reader in modern Italian history, Department of Italian;
Stephen Rowland, professor of higher education;
Mark Eli Kalderon, Department of Philosophy;
Ann Ager, director of postgraduate studies, MRC National Institute for Medical Research;
Neil Smith, professor of linguistics, Department of Phonetics & Linguistics;
Trisha Greenhalgh, professor of primary health care;
Louise Harra, reader in solar physics, Department of Space and Climate Physics;
Penny Florence, head of research programmes, The Slade School of Fine Art;
Stephen Guest, professor of legal philosophy, Faculty of Laws.

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