PhD confusion

February 7, 2003

Susan Bassnett understates the degree of arbitrary divergence in PhD procedures (Soapbox, THES , January 10). She criticises differences in interpretation of criteria for referrals. Far more important, surely, is that some universities allow a PhD thesis to be referred an unlimited number of times, while others permit only one and ruthlessly fail candidates whose supervisor prematurely recommends re-submission.

She mentions differing viva practices but fails to register the more sinister fact that many universities deny both candidates and supervisor access to examiners' reports and have no appeals procedure.

Others more reasonably require examiners' reports to be made public and try harder to ensure that justice is seen to be done.

Most European Union universities require the supervisor to be the principal examiner, whereas UK universities are able to deny supervisors even spectator status at vivas. UK and US universities refuse to examine theses failed by another institution, but even reputable European universities permit this.

Peter Butler
University of Applied Sciences
Northwestern Switzerland

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