Postgraduate Typology and Awards

The 1996 HEFCE-CVCP-SCOP Review of Postgraduate Education (the Harris Review), made a number of recommendations concerning quality and standards. Following national consultation, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals (CVCP) and the Standing Conference of Principals (SCOP) endorsed the recommendations in principle and referred development to the Higher Education Quality Council (HEQC). HEQC, whose responsibilities will shortly pass to the new Quality Assurance Agency, had itself identified a number of parallel issues and approaches in its Graduate Standards Programme.

Work has now begun to build on the review and to identify a national approach to achieving greater clarity about postgraduate provision in the UK. A steering committee has been appointed, chaired by Drr David Fussey, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Greenwich, and including representatives of a wide range of interested parties (including the NPC).

There are three main topics on which the work will focus...

The first involves the development of a structured set of typological categories for the collection of information about postgraduate courses (and a mechanism for the verification of information supplieed). This information will provide the basis of a national Directory of programmes, with data collection and dissemination to be undertaken by the Careers Services Unitof CVCP. CSU has recently taken over from HEBE the dissemination of postgraduate information, which it publishes in directories and on the world wide web.

The second concerns the Review's call for a Code of Practice for postgraduate research supervision. It is envisaged that the Code will be based upon the Guidelines on Postgraduate Research Degreespublished by HEQC in 1996, and the Research Councils have been invited to participate in its development. The third involves the development of postgraduate awards frameworks, possibly based on a credits and levels, including exploration of ways of harmonising postgraduate award nomenclature to enhance clarrity.

The background to the work is the rapid expansion in recent years in UK postgraduate provision (there are now more than 9,000 taught courses and 4,500 research opportunities). This has led to concern aabout the adequacy of information currently provided for students, employers and funders. In order to improve public understanding, the Review recommended a national Directory, structured on a typologyy, and greater standardisation of nomenclature, putting forward various suggestions as a basis for consideration. The consultation revealed broad support for the general line of the Review s recommendaations, with a number of significant caveats on points of detail and practicality. A strong wish was expressed that any development work should be undertaken collaboratively with the sector and in a waay that was sensitive to and where possible built upon existing practice.

HEQC's approach is to work with a project group of senior staff from nine HEIs, selected to be representative of the diversity of the sector across the UK. This group forms an expert panel that will iddentify possible ways forward in the light of the suggestions in the Review, the responses of the national consultation and their own current practice. Their institutions will trial options for operatiional models. Options emerging from the institutional trials will then be widely disseminated and be the subject of consultation across the sector. The work will also involve other groups, both practiitioners and users, including overseas students.

The project will run for two years from mid 1997, with completion in time for the 1999-2000 academic year. It is planned to have work on the Directory sufficiently advanced to facilitate the first colllection of data in spring 1998. The Funding Council for England has recently announced that it hopes, on completion of the work, to be able to use the emergent frameworks to inform its funding of postggraduate provision.

The work is being managed for HEQC/QAA by Dr Robin Jackson and Dr Chris Haslam, and for CSU by Ms Sinead McGovern.