PhD pressure

December 2, 2005

The Arts and Humanities Research Council has finally confirmed an increase in the expected completion rate for PhD students awarded AHRC PhD awards (as it imposes penalties on those falling below the required completion rate). Where formerly a 60 per cent completion rate was expected by any individual department, the completion rate is now set at 70 per cent.

This is a regrettable development. It means, for example, that departments that on average obtain three or fewer AHRC PhD scholarships in any three-year census period have to achieve a 100 per cent completion rate or (inevitably) fall below the 70 per cent completion rate mark.

It is of course true this is somewhat mitigated if PhD students can complete within three years, but this can rarely happen in the humanities.

The consequence of this lack of room for manoeuvre is that departments must begin to consider whether it is ever advisable to support "older"

non-standard entry PhD candidates or, instead, support only those 23 to 25-year-olds who have just obtained an MA directly after their BA.

It has long been established that older non-standard entry postgraduate students tend to have lower completion rates - being more vulnerable to events (births, deaths, marriages, divorces, illnesses and so on). I trust the AHRC will be monitoring application profiles to identify any other unintentional effects of its new policy.

R. J. Ellis

Birmingham University

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