Two recent publications on postgraduates

Two publications have been released with the past few months, both of which provide helpful evidence to the NPC on a variety of issues. The first concerns current trends in postgraduate education and the other focuses on the completion rates of PhDs in the UK. I have provided some information and comments about these two publications within this feature.

The first one concerns a report produced by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) - Postgraduate Education in the United Kingdom. This was released in November 2004, where it publishes information not normally drawn out by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). We can see more clearly from these figures as to what volume of international students there are and how these volumes are changing as well as part time and full time trends. They also give more specific statistics about research students that NPC need to refer to from time to time. Two specific points in the report are that there is not yet any statistical evidence as yet on social class involvement within postgraduate education nor is there any evidence on the impact of undergraduate debt to proceed towards postgraduate education as it is too early to see such evidence. This is important for NPC as it is now working towards a new research project to investigate the market failure of postgraduate education. This will include current perceptions of prospective postgraduates as to whether they do see their status (which will include social class) and their current levels of debt as a hindrance. You can view the research proposal online here for more information.

The second publication concerns the completion and submission rates of PhD theses. The report is entitled PhD Research Degrees, Entry and Completion published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. This is long over due information which NPC has longed to have its hands on. There are some useful key pieces of information that I found from the report that are worth noting:

  • 11% of full time students are still pursuing their PhD for more than 7 years and 28% of part time students.
  • Completion rate is defined as awarding of a PhD and not when successful ones were submitted. This is unfortunate as records are not held as to when the soft bound thesis is submitted and consequentially successful, thus removing the irrelevant waiting time between submission and the viva.
  • Even with the waiting time included, assuming that this is generally less than one year, the figure of 57% completion after 5 years for full time students is still not a huge majority. The figure is significantly lower at 19% as would be expected for part time students.
  • Younger, overseas and those with Research Council grants and those in the natural sciences appear to have better completion rates than those in the arts and social sciences.
  • Institutions vary in completion rates, which could have implications when it comes to auditing institutions' research programmes under the new QAA Code of practice. Consequential pressure could therefore be applied to several institutions.
  • 18% of full time students switch to part time mode at some point.

Though the results may have some limitations they do indicate a need for significant reform to improve some of the percentages presented above. NPC will certainly be keen to see change over the coming years, through which its efforts hope to contribute to such improvements.