by Tim Brown
A. General information on doctoral programmes and doctoral candidates
1. Please give a short overview of the structure of doctoral programmes in your country (number of people enrolled and graduated, other statistical data, recruitment method, skill development,...). Consider that some topics will be discussed in detail in sections C and D.
There are not current statistics of doctoral students enrolled in the UK, although according to the latest statistics from the UK's higher education statistics agency, HESA (http://www.hesa.ac.uk) there were over 10,000 full time and over 3,500 part time doctoral degrees in 2001/02. There is a high international market for postgraduates (around a quarter) in the UK in a wide range of disciplines. There are 6 research councils currently available to direct and fund research in Engineering and Physical Sciences, Economics and Social Science, Medical, Natural Environment, Particle Physics and Astronomy and Biological Sciences. Finally there will also soon be a research council in the Arts and Humanities since it there is favour to expand research in this area. The UK Government are keen to fund research and UK students undertaking PhDs further by increasing funding and providing a wider range of professional training. Information about the research councils can be found from http://www.research-councils.ac.uk. Also some research is funded by charities such as the Welcome Trust, http://www.welcome.ac.uk. European funding does exist, and has expanded significantly in the past decade although there is little uptake of early stage researchers/postgraduates leaving the UK to research. The other major agenda for doctoral education in the UK at present is the reform of standards in research degree programmes, which includes admissions, supervision, training and complaints and feedback mechanisms. The NPC is keen to ensure that minimum standards in training supervisors, and fair complaints mechanisms are in place and enforced on higher education institutions, contrary to the opinions of many academics.
2. Taking into account the 2003 Eurodoc survey on the situation of ESR, give an update of the conditions of doctoral candidates, trying to accomplish - if possible - for the existing variety of situations about funding, duties and rights, social security issues,... ("new" countries are obviously invited to provide these data anew).
Since the 2003 survey, the higher education white paper that was presented with proposals for a strategy in higher education has moved forward towards a bill awaiting approval by the government. For NPC, the bill has both good and bad news. The good news is that there will be better support in the arts and humanities and reformed student complaints procedures, which will benefit research students especially. There is a third part to the bill, however, where NPC is extremely concerned about the proposals to force undergraduates to pay higher tuition fees, leaving them with up to 35,000 Euro in debt. This will have serious effects on whether those graduating can continue to master level and doctoral level degrees despite increased support for doctoral students. There is still continued debate taking place in this area, with very split sides within the Government over the issue. As explained in the previous answer, NPC is working hard with the UK's Quality Assurance Agency (http://www.qaa.ac.uk) to reform the code of practice for research degree programmes that is in existence to implement standards brought forward. We hope such reforms will result in an improved submission and completion rates.
B. Current topics in Higher Education and Research policy
1. What is the awareness of the "Bologna Process" in your country? Do you know that the doctoral level will be fully inserted at the third level of higher education? What are the consequences, in your association's opinion?
The NPC is very aware of the Bologna Process as are a number of other organisations in higher education. There is ever growing concern against the Government's plans to grant the title of "University" to teaching only institutions. At present they require research activity to be included. NPC, along with many others disagree with this due to the contradiction that there is with the Bologna process, that clearly identifies the need to have teaching supported and informed by research. The question of teaching excellence and effectively disseminating research, however, is also being heavily addressed with significant concerns as to what will happen to higher education institutions if teaching and research are separated. We have also written a response on Bologna to the National Union of Students in Europe at http://www.npc.org.uk/page/1049485190.
2. What is the awareness of the "Lisbon strategy" in your country? Is there any debate at the political level about Research & Development?
At present, the Lisbon Strategy is not considered high on the agenda, and NPC has had no involvement in this area. NPC certainly has interest, however, in research and innovation at UK level, and could extend this beyond to European levels.
3. In general, what are the hottest topics (in HE and R&D) under discussion in your country, in particular affecting young researchers? What are the actions and plans of your association?
The main concern for NPC at present is the plans to concentrate research funding to institutions where research quality is highest, possibly meaning that some regions in the UK will have little or no research - much will be in London and the South East. We are therefore concerned about what detriment this will have to regional economies and the choice for postgraduates both full time and part time.
As well as this, NPC is also campaigning in appropriate ways to increase funding of taught postgraduates by providing evidence of their benefit to the economy and society as well as the ability to progress to doctoral research. One way we are seeking this is to lobby regional development agencies in the UK, who are there to assist in regulating the regional economies and could fund postgraduate courses as a way of doing so.
C. PhD Supervision and Training
1. Please give details (with web references if possible) of any standards that exist in your country as national (or local) guidelines for supervision and training. For example do you have a code of practice for research degrees or a charter? Are there any plans to introduce such standards if you do not have them? If your country does have any standards or appropriate documentation regarding research degree programmes, we would appreciate either an English translation or summary of any documentation (if it is large) you have. (Do these standards include training for supervisors, the opportunity to change supervisor, have a second supervisor? Are there review methods for the supervisor and the PhD candidate?)
The UK has a code of practice for research degree programmes at http://www.qaa.ac.uk/public/COP/cop/contents.htm. This is currently being reformed as mentioned earlier in light of improved standards in research degrees, http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/hefce/2003/03_23.htm. All these standards include training for supervisors, changing supervisors and a second supervisor.
2. Please list no more than five key issues affecting the supervision and training of doctoral candidates in your country. As an example this may be the dominance of certain supervisors, no orientation course for early stage researchers to plan their work etc.
The five main issues NPC is concerned about with regards to supervision and training is as follows:
- The dominance of supervisors, particularly experienced supervisors who have their own set agenda on taking control of their PhD students sometimes leading to severe disputes.
- The lack of introductory training available at the start of a PhD in learning how to conduct a literature review, devise research methods, write publications and other essential generic skills necessary for their research and future career.
- The isolation of PhD students, both socially and academically, which can delay or even be detrimental to their academic progress.
- The lack of impartial and transparent complaints mechanisms at departmental to resolve any disputes between the student and supervisor at an early stage.
3. Do higher education institutions in your country have any specific training programme for research students at any point during their research programme? Is there any plan for introducing or modifying them? Please give details.
There is a national training programme in the UK, UK GRAD, which runs residential training courses (http://www.grad.ac.uk). However, places are limited to appropriately funded research students. A number of institutions are establishing graduate schools (which will differ to others in Europe) or other support departments to facilitate training in many areas of research, generic skills and teaching of undergraduate students. There is therefore a move to more holistic training. This also involves compliance with the research councils joint skills statement at http://www.grad.ac.uk/3_21.jsp.
D. International Mobility
1. What is the situation about incoming and outgoing young researchers at the doctoral and postdoctoral level? Is there any debate in your country about "brain drain" and "brain gain"? Please provide data if available.
The numbers of incoming researchers into the UK is significantly high, as has been seen by the EC with many researchers moving towards the country but few moving away. Sadly no concrete evidence is available in this regard. There is currently great debate about "brain gain" and "brain drain" with regards to research concentration and what restrictions that will have on facilitating recruitment and retention of the best researchers within the academic community.
2. What is the current situation of recognition of academic degrees and titles earned abroad? Do you have any "joint degree programmes" for European or international Ph.D.s?
Degree requirements within the UK are normally specified as the UK title or equivalent where evidence is normally required to verify the equivalent level of qualification has been achieved. There is the option of collaborative degree programmes when agreed by the institutions concerned, although the access to such programmes is limited and often has to be arranged internally.
3. What are the five most important obstacles that, according to your organization, burdens young researchers mobility?
The five most important obstacles we would consider for mobility are the following:
- The ease of applications and the timing to allow funding to be available within the time period available.
- Language barriers, as UK residents are often deficient in their bi-lingual skills.
- Delay in their career development, as activity abroad can be seen by employers in the UK to be a disadvantage in terms of how fast they progress.
- Lack of encouragement by institutions in the UK, more input from European Liaison Officers would assist this.
- Personal commitments of researchers affecting the flexibility by which they can re-locate.
E. Professional Future
1. What are the perspectives for the employment of young researchers in Universities and research institutes? Are there any specific programs or initiative for recruitment? What does your national association suggest in order to improve the current situation?
The UK is currently moving towards equipping research students towards the ability to be employable in the professional world, so a PhD is now more than simply a step of progression in academia. This is partly being achieved by a greater emphasis of training internally, progress logging and also external training with UK GRAD. There is also gradual growth in careers resources for those with PhDs such as http://www.phdjobs.com, http://www.prospects.ac.uk and http://www.jobs.ac.uk. The NPC, however, would like to see careers advice be extended to meet the needs of those seeking post PhD employment.
2. Are there any programs to promote the collaboration between academia and industry? Are there any programs provided by the government to support the employment of young researchers in the private sector? What is the view of your national association about these programs?
The government agenda is now moving to more collaboration with academia and industry. This has largely come out of a review carried out by Lord David Sainsbury of Turnville, "Investing in Innovation", http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/spending_review/spendsr02/spendsr02science.cfm, where there is now support from the government known as the Higher Education Innovation Fund. NPC is concerned that concentrating research could cause many enterprises to not show interest in academia other than those with significant research to offer, which will allow new knowledge to be applied more directly outside academia and create innovation.
3. In general, what are the career prospects and salary conditions for researchers, related with other professions?
Income for PhD students is significantly lower than the graduate income on the average starting salary at present. However, the funding stipends for UK research students will be increased to a threshold that is similar to the level of income received by employed graduates after income tax and national insurance is taken away. The career prospects are limited in some ways with many PhD graduates completely unsure what to place onto their CV other than their qualifications, that an employer will need to relate to, further training for research students and progress monitoring will hopefully alleviate this.
F. Gender Equality
1. What is the situation in your country about social rights for maternity/paternity leave for early stage researchers, and for experienced researchers?
At present, UK funded PhD students are entitled to maternity leave from the research councils, although this is also subject to negotiation with the department and the supervisor to make any necessary arrangements. Experienced researchers are otherwise employees and entitled to maternity leave rights. Paternity leave would normally be classed as annual leave.
2. Are there universities/institutions having specific programs to facilitate the mobility of women researchers (e.g. child care facilities,...).? If yes, please give examples.
Child care and appropriate accommodation is provided largely at the discretion of the institution and any other facilities to allow those with children to research. Those making use of such facilities are liable to cover costs involved.
3. What does your association think about the necessity of taking into account family issues in the career of a researcher, whereas scientific production is often seen only from the "quantitative" side?
The NPC has no official policy on this area, although does have policy of equal opportunity not tolerating unfair discrimination, which would influence it's view to support the necessity to provide for the needs of a researcher.
G. General discussion
Which are the ideas your association would like to put forward for EURODOC policy in 2004?
- Common understanding of expectations of the postgraduate/ESR and supervisor in a research degree programme.
- Generic skills/abilities/training expected from postgraduates/ESRs upon graduation.
- Policy on the doctoral cycle being introduced within the Bologna declaration.
- Consistent complaints procedures, promoting fairness and transparency across Europe, where the UK is not alone in such issues.
- Common policy on postgraduates/ESRs who teach, that promotes training, career development and fair balance with research. Some common understanding on fair pay, training and regulated assessment of undergraduate students.
- Common access regulations and anti discrimination across Europe, where there is lack of consistency in accessibility rights and anti discrimination.