Research councils are right to be concerned at the fall in the number of postgraduate research students in the United Kingdom ("Councils fear shortage of postgraduates", THES , September 28). Funding is a major issue, but it is not the only one.
We need to consider what is on offer. Personal development is often ignored, as the interim report for the Research Careers Initiative group points out.
An academic career may be the goal for many doctoral students but not for everyone. Rising participation in higher education will lead to greater demand for higher level degrees. Some will want not just high-level research skills but other professional skills. Even those who enter academia may find that research training in their area will not prepare them for university teaching.
Many overseas students prefer the US version of the PhD, which incorporates taught courses. In response, the Higher Education Funding Council for England has funded the "New Route PhD" project, involving taught courses and research.
Ten universities are participating in the pilot project. This may become an alternative for UK-based students.
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University of Birmingham