Doctoral research in standards limbo

June 14, 1996

The postgraduate research sector needs urgent review to secure better quality assurance, states a discussion paper published today.

The paper, produced for the United Kingdom Council for Graduate Education, says that funding councils have focused little attention on doctoral education because they are more concerned with undergraduate and masters courses.

According to the document, Quality and Standards of Postgraduate Research Degrees, there is urgent need for "discussion and clarification" of the issues concerning postgraduate research.

The document, prepared by a working group chaired by Michael Harlow pro-vice chancellor of Essex University, says this is necessary because of the resource implications associated with the "dramatic" increase in postgraduates doing research. Higher Education Funding Council for England figures show a 310 per cent increase between 1979 and 1994.

The document suggests that a number of factors be allowed for in devising "broader" quality assessment procedures. For example, it asks whether the class of first degree is necessarily the best determinant of postgraduate research success? It also asks whether assessments of the value added to a student by a PhD might include a survey of career progression after five years.

The paper says: "To provide the necessary assurance to external stakeholders, including students, there seems to be a compelling need for the sector to act collectively to develop effective quality assurance policies and procedures, monitoring and enhancement mechanisms."

One possibility, it suggests, is that the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals, through the Higher Education Quality Council, or "a single integrated quality assurance agency", should coordinate activities more formally.

The paper also queries quality assurance for part-time and self-financing postgraduate research students.

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