Response to the ESRC Consultation Exercise Summer 1995 Postgraduate Training Policy (1995)

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Q1 Advanced Course Studentships

a) On what basis should people be selected for membership of these Subject Area Panels (e.g. balance of old and new universities, representatives of professional bodies, top research ratings)?

People should be selected for membership on subject area panels based on a balance of old and new universities.

b) The current criterion for the allocation of quotas is based on advanced courses' recent track records in holding ESRC studentships. What are your opinions on the acceptability of this criterion for the allocation of future quotas? Can you suggest additional or better criteria?

Criteria for the allocation of quotas should continue to be based on advanced courses' recent track records. However, the NPC is concerned that course reviews do not occur frequently enough, and that more than once every three years is required.

The NPC is concerned that were studentships to be allocated by a quota system, candidates could be discriminated against if they came from outside the award-making institution/department.

c) Should all advanced course awards (approx 525) be allocated as quotas, or should the present small Competition (50-100 awards) be retained? Please give reasons for your responses.

Advanced course awards should be allocated based on quotas. However, the NPC believes competitive awards are important and should be retained; if competition is eliminated, there is a risk that only specific subject areas will be funded, discouraging academic freedom and limiting alternative research proposals.

Q2 Research Studentships

a) What are your views on the implications of this for postgraduate research training generally in the Social Sciences, and also within your own particular discipline/subject area?

The quota mechanism could have the effect of discouraging multidisciplinary study. This could have negative implications.

b) If we were to move to quotas for research studentships, do you have any suggestions concerning an appropriate mechanism for allocating them?

No.

c) If we were to move to quotas for research studentships, should all these awards be allocated as quotas, or should a small Competition be retained? Please give your reasons why.

Competition should be retained. The NPC firmly supports the continuation of a proportion of awards on a competitive basis.

Q3 The Implications of ESRC's Adoption of Thematic Priorities

Do you have any suggestions as to how the ESRC can reconcile the allocation of studentships on a thematic basis with retention of the disciplinary standards for research training described in the Postgraduate Training Guidelines?

The NPC supports the adoption of themes in theory if:

1. Themes are sufficiently broadly based.
2. Themes encompass cross-departmental studies.

However, it is unclear how themes will relate to specific subject areas and the NPC welcomes greater clarification on this point.

We see no reason why broadly based themes would conflict with the disciplinary standards for research training described in the Postgraduate Training Guidelines.


+Q4 Research "R" Weighting and Mode B Recognition

The Training Board has of course been aware that a large number of advanced courses with Research "R" weighting do not fully meet the research training requirements of the Postgraduate Training Guidelines. The Board is considering changing the criteria for "R" weighting so that it represents full compliance with the Postgraduate Training Guidelines (ie with both the general and subject/discipline specific guidelines) and therefore provides an additional route to Mode A recognition for doctoral studies. Graduates of such "R" weighted courses would also automatically be eligible for Mode B entry to a research studentship. This would have the advantage of providing a consistent link between the criteria for research training and advanced course recognition. Would you approve of such a change?

The NPC feels this system may discriminate against new institutions, who cannot provide research training along the prescriptive lines suggested, but may nevertheless be able to provide a good package of courses that will equip the student to work as a social science researcher.

The "R" weighting may hinder the matching of student/supervisor needs - a crucial component of the research process.


+Q5 Research Master's Courses (MRes)

How closely, in your view, do the criteria described fit current practice in courses in your discipline/subject area? In what respects do courses fit or not fit the criteria?

The criteria described fit the course experience of some first year PhDs and some existing MSc courses which offer research training. However, it is difficult to generalise on this.

Specifically, the training criteria laid out reflect current practice, but aspects such as 'generic skills' (ie. financial and commercial awareness, business planning) seem inappropriate for research training and do not reflect current practice in institutions.

In addition, we feel that the research component of the MRes should be escalated.

The NPC would like to state that the criteria described present a picture of an empirically based, rigid programme of research training that may restrict the development of knowledge by being too prescriptive. The skills deemed to be desirable represent an ambitious list not reflected in reality.