Over the past ten years a great deal of attention has been focused on "good practice" at the research degree level. More recently, the joint HEFCE-CVCP-SCOP Review of Postgraduate Education, chaired by Professor Martin Harris, addressed a number of matters relating to the postgraduate provision of British universities and colleges, both within the UK and overseas. The Harris Reportmakes a number of recommendations regarding how UK higher education's enviable reputation in this area might be sustained and further developed.
The increased number and diversity of research students clearly needs to be carefully planned for and managed, since the consequences of their arrival at an institution are not directly comparable with those of an additional influx of undergraduates. If research students comprise a larger proportion of the overall student population in any given institution, there are implications, in particular, foor information technology and other learning/research related facilities; for the deployment of research-active staff; and for graduate level facilities.
Acknowledging the importance of research students to the higher education sector, the findings of the Higher Education Quality Council'saudit investigations (which now number in excess of 200 separate visits) have suggested that while progress is clearly being made, continued attention is required in order to sustain the quality of ressearch students' learning experiences. HEQC's views in relation to this matter have been echoed by the Harris Report which advocated the early development of a "code of practice"for postgraduaate research education.
HEQC has, therefore, recently produced sector-wide guidelines on the quality assurance of research degrees which embrace these and other related matters. In exploring the feasibility of developing such guidance, the views of a wide range of parties has been sought, ranging from research bodies, commercial and industrial organisations and, of course, academic staff and research students at institutionnal level. In publishing its Research Degree Guidelines, HEQC has secured the formal support of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principalsand the Standing Conference of Principals, the UK Council for Graduate Educationand, importantly, the National Postgraduate Committeerepresenting all its members across the UK. Professor Martin Harris has also formally endorsed the Research Degree Guidelines.
HEQC regards the wide-ranging document as constituting guidance rather than a prescriptive framework; the publication is one which has purposefully been designed to be manageable (in A5 booklet format) and one which research students, their supervisors and institutions can "dip"into as and when they see fit for guidance on a particular matter.
The Research Degree Guidelinesare available from the Distribution Department, UCAS, Fulton House, Jessop Avenue, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL50 3SH (Tel: 01242 222444 Extn 503; Fax: 01242 255725) at a cost of £8. Any queriees you might have may be addressed to Dr Chris Haslam, Assistant Director at the HEQC (Tel: 0121 455 8282)