Late PhD submissions - why discipline the student?

Pressure placed by funding councils on institutions to improve their thesis completion rates for their postgraduate research students has members of the National Postgraduate Committee (NPC) fearful as to how institutions will proceed to handle the problems. Some institutions feel penalties (including financial ones) should be passed onto the students. Such penalising of students for late thesis submissions has been on the agenda at standing committees of some higher education institutions and it is likely to be happening at others in the future. This raises the question as to whether the student is entirely to blame and therefore liable to pay the consequences? If they are partly responsible, who else is to blame?

NPC is not happy to see institutions come up with such ideas and asks them to take a step back and see what national initiatives are already taking place to try and combat the problem of late submissions. At present, there is a new draft code of practice for research degrees by the Quality Assurance Agency out for consultation. NPC has played an important role in the working group to write this to ensure real issues affecting postgraduates at grassroots are accounted for by the code. These include radically new minimum requirements on supervision, training of research students and complaints mechanisms. NPC welcomes the new additions and believes they will have a significant impact on the delivery of research degrees. Dr Tim Brown, General Secretary of the National Postgraduate Committee says, "Surely improved supervision and training will boost the performance of the student, and the chance to complain if things are seriously wrong could prevent many disasters. Any institution trying the simple option of blaming the student and undertaking discipline by doing so is simply hypocritical when they have scope to proactively reform the delivery of their research degrees."

NPC does not assume that late submissions are entirely the institution's fault and acknowledge that the student still bears part of the responsibility. However, institutions at the same time need to be willing to do their part of the bargain. The nature of research requires flexibility, unlike that of a taught course. To achieve results that are more widely beneficial, research can take a little longer and does not want to be limited by the original deadlines of submission. NPC urges institutions to provide the scope for PhDs to be successful but also provide the reward they can offer for the benefit of the student's long term career.

Notes to editors:

  • The National Postgraduate Committee is a charity to advance, in the public interest, postgraduate education in the UK, run by postgraduates for postgraduates and supported by affiliated student representative bodies throughout the country.
  • The NPC's policy on this matter was passed at its Ordinary General Meeting held in London on 6th June 2004.