Postgraduates with British Academy funding are being told to complete their research within four years, in common with deadlines being set by the research councils.
The academy's Humanities Research Board argues that the equipment is not in conflict with its long-held view that its research students require more time than those in otherdisciplines.
"The British Academy has made a declaration it wishes to aim for a submission rate of 70 per cent of students funded from 1994 onwards," said Nigel Vincent, chairman of the linguistics panel for the research assessment exercise, speaking at the UK Council for Graduate Education summer conference.
But he added: "We still want scholars to be able to take on the kind of projects which take six or eight years."
Asked how the four-year deadline would be enforced, he said that the board had not yet addressed the question of what sanctions would be brought against institutions.
The four-year completion rate for recent years is 45 per cent for 1990 starters; 44 per cent for 1989; 39 per cent for 1988; 37 per cent for 1987.
Mr Vincent said the board had applied for Government money for new partnership awards, where it would split the cost of funding postgraduates with institutions. And figures from the board also show that male applicants are the most successful in securing funding. For one-year masters courses, 24 per cent of bids from men were granted compared to 18 per cent for women. For three-year PhDs, the success rate was 30 per cent for men and 26 per cent for women.
At the conference, Roderick Floud, provost of London Guildhall University and a member of the Economic and Social Research Council board, accused the humanities of "lagging behind" on postgraduate completion.
He said the ESRC's control of the completion rate meant it now stood at 73 per cent for social science, and he warned that its attention would turn to the content of masters qualifications.
"We need to move very much further in the direction of differentiating undergraduate and postgraduate courses, probably by means of emphasising postgraduate as a means of acquiring interdisciplnary and transferable skills," said Mr Floud.
"It won't be long before someone asks why funds are being used for teaching masters degrees and why public funds should be used to pay for something which looks like the fourth year of an undergraduate course."