Postgraduates are under so much work pressure that they fail to find the time to undergo formal research training, the annual conference of the National Postgraduate Committee will hear today.
Less than a fifth of all postgraduate students attend the five-day residential workshops run by the Janet Metcalfe, who coordinates the Research Councils' Graduate Schools Programme.
"The workshops offer the opportunity for students to take stock, to think about their skills and values," Dr Metcalfe said.
"The course is free to postgrads funded by the research councils but only 40 per cent of them attend. The students feel they cannot afford to take five days out in three years, yet the reports from students who have completed the workshops are that they become more effective and productive."
Postgraduate training has become more visible as a result of the review of research conducted by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. The review is expected to recommend that universities should demonstrate high-quality training before they can receive research cash from the funding council.
Research chiefs debated whether to withhold the top grade in the research assessment exercise from institutions that failed to provide training for postgraduates. Departments that perform well in the RAE attract the largest numbers of postgraduates.
Phil Sooben, director of training at the Economic and Social Research Council, said: "The ESRC has a much more rigorous approach to quality assurance than other research councils...The RAE rating alone is not a good indicator of the quality of research training."
Mr Sooben added that research councils should not support masters degrees at the expense of higher research: "Our role is... training the next generation of researchers. We don't believe that we should be providing masters degrees in economics as training for a well-paid job in the City."
Jeremy Hoad, general secretary of the NPC, said he would welcome a higher profile for postgraduate training but warned that self-funded postgraduates should be consulted about what the training incorporates.