Elite institutions predicted to fall short on research student qualifications

May 17, 2012

Imperial College London is among the universities predicted to see a below-par qualification rate among its current research students.

Other prominent institutions flagged up in a report published last week by the Higher Education Funding Council for England include Newcastle University and the Institute of Education and the School of Oriental and African Studies, both University of London.

The report, Rates of Qualification from Postgraduate Research Degrees, predicts the proportion of full-time home and European Union postgraduate students starting in the academic years 2008-09 and 2009-10 who will obtain a degree, transfer to another institution or leave higher education within seven and 25 years.

The predictions are based on the proportion of students who change status in institutions' annual submissions to the Higher Education Statistics Agency. This is then compared with a sector average adjusted for factors such as variations in each institution's subject spread and their students' domicile, highest previous qualification and funding source.

The study says that these benchmarks should not be regarded as targets, and that disparities between benchmarked and predicted qualification rates could be due to "some other factor which is not included in the sector-adjusted average". It invites institutions with significant disparities to investigate possible causes.

The report predicts that 25 per cent of Imperial's 2009-10 cohort will not obtain their degrees or transfer to another institution within 25 years: nearly 10 percentage points more than its benchmark.

For Newcastle, the disparity between prediction and benchmark is more than 11 percentage points. The largest recorded disparity - 36 percentage points - is at Soas.

A Soas spokeswoman told Times Higher Education that the figures do not take into account its recent efforts to improve completion rates.

"Allowing for adjustments, we believe our real completion rates will be considerably higher than predicted by Hefce," she said.

Both Imperial and Newcastle found fault with Hefce's methodology. An Imperial spokesman said its most recent data showed its qualification rate to be 10 percentage points higher than Hefce's forecast.

Suzanne Cholerton, pro-vice chancellor for learning and teaching at Newcastle, said the system may have skewed results for institutions like Newcastle that record PhD students in different ways.

Brunel University, the University of Salford and Goldsmiths, University of London were also predicted to underperform.

Overall, Hefce forecasts that 80 per cent of the 10,000 students who started research degrees in English higher education institutions in 2009-10 will qualify within 25 years, while 17 per cent will not.

Falling short
Research students expected to fail to obtain a degree or transfer over 25 years
Institution% Projected BenchmarkDisparity
Institute of Education57.722.834.9
* Figures are for students who started in 2009-10
Source: Hefce


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