A Marathon of Consultations

Responding to consultations has been considerably busier than usual for the NPC, a number have been issued by the funding councils and other organisations largely due to proposals from the Higher Education White Paper published by the Department for Education and Skills in January 2003. Detailed background information to these consultations has been sent out to the NPCs email list. To see the bigger picture, here is a summary of what consultations have been responded to since the AGM in August. All the responses can be found at http://www.npc.org.uk/essentials/policy.

Improving Standards in Research Degree Programmes - This is probably one of the most important consultations the NPC has ever had to respond to. The framework for standards in research degree programmes from admissions through to feedback mechanisms is very important to the research student to ensure they get a fair deal. We hope to see the common flaws in supervision and training removed and ask the funding bodies to ensure effective complaints structures are in place for research students.

Review of Research Assessment - This is a major consultation headed by Prof Sir Gareth Roberts, President of Wolfson College Oxford and former Vice Chancellor of the University of Sheffield. The research quality assessment proposals include aspects of the development of the researchers, which NPC welcomes.

Scottish Solutions - An enquiry had been issued by the Enterprise Committee in Scotland, to consider the effects of tuition fees in England on Scotland. This could lead to staff moving to England for better work and students going to Scotland for cheaper education. NPC Scotland has responded to this and provided evidence from its perspective, while strongly opposing any moves to increase graduate endowments with the burden of debt that will result. NPC Scotland recommends further investment from progressive tax to maintain Scotlands economy.

Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning(CETLs) - Another idea the government has is to provide funding to institutions who have a programme that facilitates a form of teaching excellence across different subjects or level of study. NPC supports the idea in principle, although does not want to see such funding concentrated on a favoured group of institutions. Also NPC suggests that good teaching practise in the centres is promoted nationwide as well as allowing some centres to be postgraduate specific.

Higher Education Innovation Fund - This consultation is considering how public funding can help institutions facilitate the transfer of knowledge between industry and academia to create innovation. NPC has recommended that effective knowledge transfer does include engaging postgraduates with the outside world and that access to research in each region is essential to support a knowledge based economy.

Review of Research Funding Methods - This is considering how research funding will be allocated leading to the next research and assessment exercise and beyond. The most important point for NPC is a new means to fund postgraduate research students, which we are in support of to ensure supervision and training is better funded. However, we are concerned that it does not restrict the funds available to ensure research students are in an effective research environment.

Lord Chancellor's Consultation on the Visitor - This is a consultation on what will happen to the Lord Chancellors office when the Office of the Independent Adjudicator is established. NPC continues to oppose the existence of the unfair, medieval and archaic system. Should the Visitor really have to remain for minor duties, NPC suggests that an appropriately experienced person for jurisdiction is appointed with the students right to have their decision challenged by judicial review.

Tim Brown.