Universities should judge themselves against new postgraduate training benchmarks in a bid to ensure consistent standards across the country, says a review for the funding councils.
The report's wide-ranging proposals include conducting face-to-face interviews for all applicants, by video conference or a local agent for overseas students where necessary; ensuring that supervisors have relevant experience and recent publications in the student's project area; giving students confidential mentors outside the supervisory team; and offering training not only for research but also in transferable and work-related skills.
Janet Metcalfe, director of the Centre of Excellence UK Grad programme, will give this message today at the National Postgraduate Committee conference at St Andrews University.
Dr Metcalfe was project leader of a review launched by the English, Scottish and Welsh funding councils on the quality of postgraduate research training programmes. Their report concludes that there should be a national framework for postgraduate research degrees, and that funding should be dependent on institutions meeting certain standards.
The report is expected to go to the sector for consultation by the end of the year, but Dr Metcalfe said: "What I hope is that universities will find this framework helpful to review their own internal procedures and standards, irrespective of what happens at council level."
She said there were pockets of good practice around the country, and nothing in the framework that the project team had not seen in action. "But even within an institution, there's no guarantee that there's the same quality across all departments and faculties, and there isn't consistent quality across the UK in terms of postgraduate training," she said.
"It's important that (postgraduates) have a training that equips them for whatever they choose to do in the future, and it needs to be broader than the research experience, and needs an element of transferable skills development."