Window of research opportunity

August 4, 1995

Your report and headline "British Academy cuts PhD years" on my address on behalf of the British Academy's Humanities Research Board for Graduate Education (THES, July 28) is misleading.

First, the board has never held the view that humanities research students require more time to complete their doctorates than those in other disciplines. The HRB was established in April 1994, hardly time to have long-held views about anything. Its view is the same as that adopted by the Academy when it restructured the studentship scheme in 1993: that a doctoral thesis should normally be completed in three or at most four years.

The board has taken a number of steps to encourage improvements in rates of submission and completion. Students can receive up to four years' funding for postgraduate work; one for an initial year, leading usually to a master's degree, followed by three years for doctoral research. Far from being a cut, that is an increase on the previous limit of three years' funding for postgraduate work, and achieved without any reduction in studentships awarded.

Research projects by established scholars in the humanities may well require six or more years before they yield publishable fruit. That is why we are pleased that the forthcoming research assessment exercise will assess research output over a six-year period.

There is no contradiction between a closely-monitored four-year submission rate for PhD students in the humanities, who are learning the basic skills of research, and the proper recognition that, when it comes to the assessment of research by mature scholars, a six-year window is necessary.

Nigel Vincent Department of linguistics University of Manchester

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