Standards proposal threatens PhD cuts

June 14, 2002

Universities that cannot provide supervisors from departments with research assessment exercise ratings of 3a or above will get no cash for PhD students under Higher Education Funding Council for England proposals.

In the plans, which could be introduced as early as next year, funding will depend on universities adhering to a standards framework along the lines of the Quality Assurance Agency, with regular external reviews.

The research councils are also planning to sign up to the proposed regime.

The framework, drawn up by Janet Metcalfe, director of the Centre of Excellence, the research councils' graduate schools programme, will define threshold standards for institutions.

It sets out the academic standards, the responsibilities of supervisor and student, and the administrative process that would be required in each of eight areas:

* There must be a critical mass (five research-active staff between at least ten students is suggested)

* Selection, admission, enrolment and induction of students

* A supervisory team of at least two; regular meetings between the main supervisor and the team n At least one supervisor from a 3a or above department

* An initial review and subsequent progress reports

* Provision of programmes of research and transferable skills training

* Feedback for students, supervisors and institution

* Appeals and complaints mechanisms.

The proposed framework will be published in the next month.

* The British Academy has called for urgent reform of postgraduate research and early academic career structures.

A new report, Incentives for Excellence , calls for more awards in the humanities and social sciences, phased waiving of student debt, increased PhD stipends and improved academic pay and conditions.

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