All is revealed - the new draft code of practice for research degrees

As part of a move from the funding councils to improve standards in research degree programmes, where NPC has played an important role, there have been moves to reform the code of practice for research degrees issued by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA). It was recommended by the Department for Education and Skills' Better Regulation Review Group that the QAA set up a working group to produce a new code of practice, which incorporates the standards.

This group began meeting in February 2004, where NPC held active involvement through two representatives, Tim Brown (General Secretary) and Jen Crowe (Birmingham Delegate) and has since produced a new drafted code of practice. Now that this draft is out and available for consultation, we can now reveal where NPC has played an important role in helping to write this code.

It is particularly encouraging that the group has been able to produce two largely reformed sections on supervision and training of research students. For supervision there are provisions to ensure more than one person is involved in supervision so that the whole process is more transparent and that difficulties arising between a student and supervisor will be taken away from closed doors. This of course will mean that implementation of better supervision will be necessary so that second supervisors or associate supervisors are not just doing the job on paper but fulfilling a responsibility. Further to this it is insisting on training for supervisors, which will particularly get around problems of new supervisors unaware of how to successfully see a student through their research degree but also keep more experienced supervisors from conforming to their own ideas.

Training will have vital importance to the research student where the new code insists on necessary training to enhance the employability of the research degree graduate who may not know what to do with their qualification that often has much depth but little breadth. A further point to note is the need to ensure the student and supervisor are regularly monitoring progress and training needs through personal development planning, this will enable the student not to simply attend courses but look critically at how they are developing their own skills through their research degree.

Two areas where NPC has played an important role and where it is evident our existence is necessary is to ensure structured complaints and appeals procedures are in place looking from the student perspective. Further to this induction procedures are also of vital importance. Precept 28 sets the standard to ensure there are accessible, impartial and fair means by which a student can complain if difficulties with their supervisor arise. Further to this it is essential they are conscious enough to do so at an early stage before the problem gets any more complicated. Further to that, the induction of students is also important in that respect since it will show them what the code of practice is for and how they will implement it better. NPC's input into the induction section has helped this also but not only that it has outlined all that should be included in an induction process at institutional, departmental level and also between the student and supervisor. Many inductions for research students are still very ad-hoc and require reform to improve their quality.

This code of practice will be out for consultation until August 2004 when it will then be rolled out as official the following September. From this point, NPC will be playing an important role in assisting postgraduate representatives around the UK to ensure that institutions will implement the code to the best interests of postgraduates.