University autonomy welcomed by postgrad committee

March 10, 2000

The National Postgraduate Committee has welcomed proposals to give individual university departments responsibility for setting the number of postgraduate places and the stipend students receive, writes Alison Goddard.

The proposal from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council could lead to cuts in the number of PhD students and boost the income of those who remain.

NPC general secretary Jeremy Hoad said the proposals would recognise that not all postgraduates study full-time for three years. "This would enable the EPSRC to begin to engage more with the principles of lifelong learning," he said.

In some subject areas, support could be spread over more than three years to allow students to complete their work before the funding finished. Equally, in areas where students complete their studies within three years, money could be used "more efficiently and effectively", the NPC recommended.

Individual university departments should also take responsibility for the extra costs associated with being based in London, Oxford or Cambridge, the NPC recommended.

The NPC also recommended that minimum stipends should be set and that universities should be free to top these up from other sources of income.

However, other responses to the EPSRC's consultation expressed concern that the proposals would end in a bidding war bet-ween universities for the best students.

The NPC accepted the

implication that

student numbers will fall and called for careful monitoring to ensure that an appropriate balance was struck between student numbers and the level of student

stipend.

"Although we have concerns regarding the specific implementation of the proposals and the interpretation of some of the ideas, we believe that the proposals could improve the support for doctoral-level study and ensure that students receive a professional and comprehensive package," said Mr Hoad.

The EPSRC will decide whether

to implement the proposals at its council meeting next month.

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