PhD completion rates, 2013

The proportion of PhD students in England expected to obtain degrees has risen slightly, but at some institutions around a fifth may never qualify.

July 26, 2013

According to a report published on July 26 by England’s funding council, 72.9 per cent of the 11,625 students from the UK or the EU who began full-time doctorates in 2010-11 will obtain a degree within seven years. This compares with 70.1 per cent who started in 2009-10 and 70.5 per cent in 2008-09.

A further 1.7 per cent of students who began in 2010-11 will qualify with another postgraduate research qualification, according to the report, entitled “Rates of qualification from postgraduate research degrees: Projected study outcomes of full-time students starting postgraduate research degrees in 2010-11”.

Meanwhile 80.5 per cent will complete their PhD within 25 years: the point at which anyone who is going to earn a doctorate is assumed to have done so. The equivalent figure for the 2009-10 cohort was 78.2 per cent.

The predictions are based on the proportion of students who change status in institutions’ annual submissions to the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

This is compared with a benchmark figure, calculated using a sector average adjusted for factors such as variations in each institution’s subject spread and their students’ domicile, highest entry qualification and funding source.

The figures also show that nine institutions are likely to see the qualification rates for their 2010-11 intakes fall significantly below their expected benchmark qualification levels, compared with 10 in the 2009-10 intake.

The only Russell Group member among them is the University of Warwick, whose predicted 25-year pass rate of 68.9 per cent is 13.4 percentage points below its benchmark – although the universities of Exeter and Newcastle also fall short of their benchmark for passes within seven years.

The lowest predicted pass rate is recorded by London Metropolitan University, only 15.2 per cent of whose 2010-11 cohort is expected to qualify within 25 years, compared with a benchmark of 77.5 per cent. At the University of Bolton, 19.8 per cent are expected to qualify within 25 years, compared with a benchmark of 79.5 per cent.

The number of universities expected to significantly exceed their benchmarks remains five: Queen Mary, University of London, King’s College London and the universities of Oxford, Liverpool and Bradford.

Steven Hill, head of research policy at the Higher Education Funding Council for England, welcomed the improvement in qualification rates.

“Hefce will seek to continue to enhance understanding of qualification rates from different forms of postgraduate study so that we can most effectively support continuous improvement as well as excellence in the national research base,” he said.

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