PhDs praise quality effort

August 12, 2005

Today's postgraduates expect the very best - and they get it, according to our survey. Postgraduate students are overwhelmingly satisfied with the quality of their supervision, according to a survey for The Times Higher , which indicates a huge improvement in the levels of support offered by universities.

Today's postgraduate experience is so good that nearly two thirds of research students are planning a career in academe.

In an online poll, carried out for The Times Higher by the National Postgraduate Committee, MA and PhD students from around Britain gave the quality of their supervision an average mark of seven out of ten. Nine out of ten was the most common score.

Jim Ewing, general secretary of the NPC, which held its annual conference at Strathclyde University this week, said: "We're more used to dealing with complaints around here, but we shouldn't be surprised by the high standard of supervision being reported.

"There's been a sea change in the attitude of people going to university. This has changed in a generation. People now realise they have a right to adequate supervision."

Biotechnology and biological sciences emerged as the area with the most satisfied students, receiving an average rating of 7.8 out of ten for the quality of supervision. The least happy students were in engineering and physical sciences, which still scored an average of 6.4.

Ian Lyne, head of postgraduate training and fellowships at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, said: "The survey is very good news in relation to the broad quality of research degree programmes offered in the UK.

"Recent developments, such as the new Quality Assurance Agency code of practice on postgraduate research programmes, show that there is a much greater awareness of what is required to provide a high-quality research training environment."

Alison Henry, head of postgraduate awards at the Arts and Humanities Research Council, said that recent reforms of doctoral students' training may have contributed to high satisfaction levels.

"The research training framework that we introduced last year for AHRC-funded doctoral students aims to ensure that the students we fund are well supported and receive appropriate and relevant preparation and training," she said.

"We are pleased that arts and humanities students gave a slightly higher score (than average), but there is evidently no room for complacency."

Jonathan Whitehead, head of parliamentary and public affairs at the Association of University Teachers, said: "It is great news that the passion and the commitment of PhD supervisors has translated through to the experience of their students."

The survey showed that 64 per cent of postgraduates planned an academic career. Most of those not heading for an academic career hoped to work in an industry related to their subject.

Mr Ewing said he was surprised that so many wanted to become academics but said he expected that far fewer would eventually become lecturers.

More than half the respondents to the survey said that personal interest in their subject had encouraged them to pursue postgraduate studies.

Duncan Branley, who is doing a part-time PhD in sociology at Goldsmiths College, London, said: "I can't think of anyone I know who is just doing it as a means to an end."


Do you feel adequately supervised? (Score out of ten)

  • Average: 7
  • Biotech/biological sci: 7.8
  • Arts and humanities: 7.2
  • Economics/soc sci: 7.1
  • Engin/physical sci: 6.4

Why are you taking a research degree? (Per cent)

  • Personal interest: 51
  • Employment prospects: 42
  • Recommended: 5
  • Bide time in bad job market: 2

Where do you intend to work? (Per cent)

  • In academia in your field: 64
  • In industry in your field: 28
  • Outside your field: 6
  • No answer: 2

Impressions of support available, including financial? (Score out of ten)

  • Average: 4.9
  • Arts and humanities: 5.2
  • Economics/soc sci: 4.8
  • Biotech/biological sci: 4.6
  • Engineering/physical sci: 4.6

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