Response to the Reprot of the Working Group on Postgraduate Support (1994)

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1. The National Postgraduate Committee (NPC) welcomes the opportunity to give its response to the report of the Working Group on Postgraduate Support.

2. However, the committee is disappointed that we were not sent a copy of the report when it was first published in June, and that we only learnt of the report's existence by coincidence. The subject matter of the report is of obvious interest to us, and we have been involved in consultations with the Office of Science and Technology and the Higher Education Funding Councils in the past. We would be very grateful if any future reports which may be of interest to us are sent to us as a matter of course.

3. The committee is also disappointed that we were not invited to participate in the working group, as the membership of the group includes representatives from virtually every other interested party. We would be very grateful if the group were to consider inviting us to participate in the next stages of the exercise. Paragraph 10(e) of the Executive Summary states that the group "should include representatives from the university system". We would be ideally placed to offer the view of postgraduates within this framework.

Existing Arrangements (paragraphs 8-24)

4. The NPC supports the proposal that funding for research training continue to be provided through both sides of the dual support system.

Division of Responsibilities (paragraphs 25-44)

5. The NPC agrees that fixed vs variable cost is probably the best method of dividing the costs which should be met by universities, and those to be met by Research Councils and British Academy. It is important, though, that the fixed costs provided by the Funding Councils are sufficient to allow adequate facilities to be provided to research students. The committee believes that all research students should have a desk and office space within their department or school. This ensures that insitutions do not become merely commuter schools, encourages communication between student and supervisor, and brings many benefits to the whole research community. We draw the attention of the group to the NPC's Guidelines on Accommodation and Facilities for Research Students, due to be published early in 1995.

6 The NPC supports the introduction of a single separately identified element of support, the Research Support Fee. Such a system should make clearer to student and supervisor how much money is available to be spent during the year, and what this is supposed to cover. There will need to be some mechanism for ensuring that this money is actually spent on supporting research students, and not absorbed into departmental overheads.

7. The NPC has reservations about the introduction of a banding structure for the Research Support Fee. Although we would cautiously accept the reasoning behind a cost-based approach for support of publicly-funded students, the assumptions and relativities used in the proposed model seem to have no logic behind them.

8. In particular, the NPC opposes any banding structure imposed on fees paid by self-funded students. The benefit of a PhD to the individual and to the nation (for home students) is not dependent on discipline, and so neither should be the cost to the individual of taking a PhD. Also, a banded structure would lead to students being restricted in their choice of research by what they can afford, and may lead to a concentration towards the arts and social sciences and away from the natural sciences.

Other Issues (paragraphs 45-48)

9. The NPC welcomes the group's proposal that a policy for publicly-funded part-time students should be developed. We would point out that an enormous variety of different practices are now used while studying for a research degree, especially with the higher proportions of part-time and distance-learning students in the 'new' universities. Therefore, a similar range of methods of support will be needed. The group, as it starts to devise new mechanisms, may wish to consult the NPC about this area in particular.