by Jeremy Hoad
ESRC Economic and Social Research Council
1999 Training Board Consultation Exercise
The response document broadly follows the format and order of questions laid out in the consultation document. We have not responded to all the questions posed but where we have the questions are listed prior to our response. Within our responses we have used the questions as pointers to broader issues and proposals and as such, the responses are not limited exclusively to the specific question asked.
Student Stipends, Recruitment and Retention
1.0: What are the key factors for students in deciding to undertake postgraduate training (in your area)?
Postgraduate training has expanded coniderably over the last decade. There are now almost 400,000 postgraduate students in the UK (HESA 1996/97). The most significant part of this rise in student numbers has been the large increase in Masters level courses and student participation at this level. This reflects the changing dynamics in higher education as a whole. As the UK HE sector moves from an elite to a mass system there has automatically been a rise in postgraduate student numbers. However, this masks a more significant reason for the expansion. Many undergraduate students are now progressing on to postgraduate education in order to distinguish themselves in the employment market and gain more specific, often particularly vocational, skills. It is also more common now than ever before for individuals to do a Masters level qualification before progressing on to doctoral level research and this has been supported and facilitated by the development of new courses such as the Masters by Research (MRes).
It is important that the ESRC encourages institutions to recognise the changing nature of postgraduate students, their motivations and requirements. The old model of postgraduate education which is still too dominant in many people's minds is one of academic and intellectual progression with the ultimate goal of a career in academia. Doctoral level research in particular is still often focussed around this model which is too narrow and simplistic.
Masters courses have expanded at the fastest rate because they most closely meet the needs of students who increasingly perceive higher education as a tool in their personal development and careers. Another important reason for the rise in Masters courses is that they have fewer cost and time implications for students. The full impact of student loans is yet to be seen but it is unquestionable that finance is the foremost element in an individual's decision to undertake postgraduate study.
2.0: How far are the opportunities for alternative or higher paid employment the decisive factor in a student's decision not to undertake postgraduate training?
The opportunity for alternative or higher paid employment is becoming an increasingly important element of individuals' decisions to undertake postgraduate training or study. Upon graduation an undergraduate student may be faced with a choice between further postgraduate study or other employment which is likely to provide at least double the remuneration associated with a studentship stipend. The factor that maintained recruitment in the past for doctoral level studentships, namely the pursual of an academic career, is also becoming increasingly unattractive.
Starting salaries in higher education are often woefully low and simply do not compare with other comparable employment options. The incentives for an academic career can be balanced by the prospect of someone undertaking four or five years professional training at Masters and doctoral level only to be faced with a starting salary that is the same, or lower than that they could have achieved after graduating from undergraduate study. Furthermore it has been shown that if someone pursues postgraduate research they are unlikely ever to recoup the post earnings during that period over their working life. If this is combined with the changing nature of higher education careers generally with rampaging casualisation and short-term contracts, increased workloads, continual assessment and the progressive erosion of status and remuneration in the sector as a whole the implications for postgraduate recruitment and retention are clear.
The Bett Report this year identified some possibilities for change which would go a long way to correcting these difficulties. It was disappointing nevertheless that this report maintained a structure which was hierarchical and inflexible with a rigid model of career progression and remuneration scales, even though the rates at each stage had been altered. As long as the UK Government is reluctant to adopt these ideas or invest in higher education the current difficulties will remain and the security of the whole sector in the medium to long term remains in doubt.
3.0: What other incentives might be offered, either by the ESRC or some other agency, to encourage postgraduate study and to ensure completion?
There are several clear areas where postgraduate study could be encouraged and supported, affecting both recruitment and completion rates and facilitating a better experience during study. They are not areas of direct responsibility of the ESRC but the Board could take these into account when presenting its arguments to Government and other agencies. These are: access to benefits; council tax / student status; continuation fees; 'hidden' fees; and student loans.
3.1: Access to benefits
Access to benefits (eg housing benefit, job seekers allowance, unemployment benefit) is a complex area. Students are explicitly discriminated against by Government policy and this has a negative effect on student completion rates and drop out rates as financial hardship becomes more widespread. For postgraduate study this particularly affects doctoral level students who are in the writing up or continuation period of study. Once a studentship expires it can be very difficult for students to qualify for benefits and there is no clear guidance from the benefits agency here. Often it is up to individual benefits offices to interpret individual students' circumstances and students' experience varies across the country. There needs to be greater clarity, consistency and transparency as to the status of students in this continuation period and an acknowledgement that postgraduate students should not be treated in the same way as undergraduate students who have a more clearly defined period of study and termination of their student status.
3.2: Council tax / student status
Council tax liability is a another area of confusion and discrimination. Although this is, in shared accommodation, an individual tax, students are at a major disadvantage depending on who they are living with. If there is a single employed person (or someone who is not a student) in a house of students then they all become individually liable for council tax. In a house occupied by students alone no one is liable. This is a gratuitously unfair situation and one which particularly affects postgraduate students who are more likely to share accommodation with other older or professional people.
A further difficulty again comes in the continuation period where individuals may be deemed to no longer qualify for exemptions as students despite the fact that they are working on their research leading up to submission. This is particularly unfair as a small proportion of students ever complete their research and submit within three years (full time). Again the status of students in their writing up period needs to be clarified. This is a very difficult and pressured time for doctoral students. If funding has ceased and they are engaged in seeking employment and writing up their research then the last thing needed is further financial disbenefit. Clearly this will have a knock-on effect on completion rates as students struggle to manage.
The ESRC could take some steps to easing this situation by funding students for a further year, making a full-time PhD a four year course. This would recognise the fact that there has been a dramatic increase in time spent on other training at the start of their period as well as the financial pressures faced at the end of their period of study as outlined above. The Board may wish to consider whether it would be in their interest to provide realistic funding for the period it takes students to complete rather than fund only a proportion of that time and leave students open to such discrimination and hardship. This could significantly increase completion and would mean that the ESRC was actually funding doctoral level study fully as opposed to the partial funding that it effectively provides for most students now.
3.3: Continuation fees
The application of continuation fees to students who have already paid, or in the case of funded students had paid for them, institutional fees is a growing concern. Several institutions have been reported to the NPC as increasing these fees from £40 £60 up to £450 £500 in the past year. There appears to be absolutely no justification for such an increase. Institutions appear to be imposing gratuitous fee increases and holding students to ransom purely as a cynical income-generation exercise. We would like to see the ESRC intervene here and require institutions to clarify the reasons why they are behaving so unreasonably.
3.4: 'Hidden' fees
It is very important that fee rates are clear and unambiguous. Therefore the fees for postgraduate study should be all-inclusive as far as possible. The addition of extra fees on students through, for example, bench costs or departmental research or administrative costs is divisive and unjustifiable. Many postgraduate courses already have differential fee levels (eg MBAs) which may vary considerably from the notional standard fee for postgraduate study. In this context the imposition of further fees is unnecessary and smacks of institutional slight of hand. In a higher education sector ever more dominated by consumer culture rhetoric I have drawn the analogy in the past with buying a car. One doesn't choose a car with a clearly advertised 'on-the-road' price, pay for it and then be told as one is about to drive away that the wheels will cost another £300.
3.5: Student loans
Without any doubt the single policy shift which would have the most dramatic impact on postgraduate student recruitment and retention would be providing access to student loans for postgraduate students. This would provide a concrete and practical demonstration of commitment to the principles of widening access in higher education and lifelong learning.
It is important that postgraduate study is open to the best students who would benefit the greatest and potentially provide the largest ongoing benefit to academia. Many people are put off from considering postgraduate study simply because of the cost and it would be disingenuous to pretend that there is a correlation between the best students and those who are able to fund themselves. Even if a studentship is gained an individual will have considerable personal financial commitments in order to complete postgraduate work, particularly at a doctoral level, and this inevitably prevents many extremely talented people from entering or even considering postgraduate study.
It is true that there is a limited provision of Career Development Loans but these in no way compare to the arrangements for student loans at an undergraduate level. CDLs are little different to standard commercial bank loans and are only available for specifically vocational Masters level courses. It is welcome that they exist at all but they do nothing to address the lack of funding available for postgraduate study.
4.0: Are there other areas of ESRC funding which might be changed to provide students with greater security and more flexible support?
4.1: Further increases to the stipend, perhaps applied differentially across subjects
The increase to the student stipend was extremely welcome and the NPC would like to commend the ESRC for this step. However, the level is still relatively low when compared to other career or employment options for potential postgraduate students. For students studying outside London the amount is just over £124 per week which works out at £3.10 per hour based on a notional 40 hour working week. This does not even constitute the minimum wage for people over 22 years old (£3.60).
If one of the core reasons for funding provided by the ESRC for postgraduate training is to recruit the best people into academic careers then this will be increasingly difficult unless a step-shift in funding is implemented. The argument often employed regarding the attractiveness of an academic career is increasingly untenable. There is only so long that a profession can depend on altruistic motivations of individuals to commit themselves to academic careers.
A further justification for a significant increase in stipends is the role of postgraduate research as the formal professional and vocational training for an academic career. Having a doctoral qualification is usually a prerequisite for entry into a career in academia. Unless it is made easier for people to achieve this qualification through increased investment or policy shifts as outlined throughout this response the whole sector is under threat in the long term.
It is very difficult to see any justification for potential increases in the stipend being applied differentially across subject areas or disciplines. This would make explicit the ranking of different subjects and give a clear signal that some areas of academic research were valued more than others. It is strongly suggested that this would be a very dangerous route to take and would ultimately mean that recruitment difficulties that already exist would be further exacerbated in the subjects receiving lower rates of stipend.
4.2: Paying off a student's undergraduate loan(s) upon completion of the PhD
This suggestion seems a practical way to increase investment in postgraduate training and link it to an incentive which would motivate more students to complete in a timely manner. However, there are a number of difficulties here.
All those pursuing postgraduate study should basically be treated equally and have the same opportunities and incentives. Where additional funding is available (eg the Mature Student's Incentive) this should be dependent on the circumstances of an individual and their needs. If student loans are paid off in this way this has the potential to provide the greatest benefit to those who need it the least. Students who do not necessarily need student loans for financial reasons because they or their parents have the resources available to fully fund their study often take out student loans purely as an investment opportunity. Therefore paying off these loans would provide extra benefit to those individuals least in need. Obviously students who genuinely need student loans to allow them to undertake their courses would benefit from such a policy. However, if extra funding is to be made available it would seem potentially more cost effective to target this at students most in need through, for example, a means-tested additional allowance.
Undergraduate fees already incorporate an element of means testing and most undergraduates will not be liable for the full £1000 fee recently introduced. Perhaps the ESRC could consider introducing an additional allowance which effectively mirrors the amount of student fees paid, so that those who paid the highest student fees received the least and those who paid the lowest student fees received the most in extra allowance. This would, however, assume that the criteria for means testing at a student loans level was resilient and a particular difficulty might be that postgraduate students should be assessed as individuals rather than have any assessment link to, for example, their parents.
4.3: Relaxing the rules which restrict a student's ability to do paid work on a relevant team-based research project in the department
The relaxation of rules which restrict a student's opportunity to do paid work would be an extremely good idea. However, the qualifying clause here is confusing. It is not clear why such opportunities need to be restricted to 'a relevant team-based research project in the department'. This would exclude the potential for students to engage in further teaching experience which is the most readily available form of paid work for postgraduate students. This can be extremely valuable as a preparation for an academic career as well as helping students to formulate and clarify their research ideas.
It is also too restrictive to limit any work to 'the department'. A key element to the initiatives of the funding councils and something that the ESRC itself highlights is the development of and support for interdisciplinary research. If any extra work undertaken is to be limited to the department that a student is based in this would severely restrict the opportunity for interdisciplinary exchange which can be productive in bringing new perspectives to research. Furthermore, many departments are relatively small and the opportunities for work in them very limited. Students should have equal opportunity to benefit from other work to boost their incomes and provide additional interdisciplinary and training benefits and this could only be achieved if work could be undertaken elsewhere in the institution or even at other institutions.
5.0: What might be the longer term implications for your subject or your institution if, as is suggested in some areas, the better students do not want or are discouraged from taking up an academic career?
Is this a problem in your area and is this typical of the experience in other countries?
The longer term implications of the better students rejecting an academic career are very worrying. Higher education in the UK has a worldwide reputation based on the quality of the research and associated work undertaken here as well as the particular nature of the student experience and high quality teaching. Although it is a platitudinous statement, any organisation is only as good as the people who work for it. If the quality of individuals recruited into higher education progressively falls then it is inevitable that the quality of the sector as a whole will suffer. This is not the place to rehearse the arguments about 'brain drain' from higher education but it is worth noting that the relevant brains must exist in the first place for this phenomenon to occur. If the best people do not even enter the profession in the first place then there will be no equivalent brains to drain in the future as they will already be in other sectors of the economy or working in academia elsewhere in the world.
It is already well known that academic salaries in other countries are significantly higher than in the UK. Germany, Australia, the United States of America, Hong Kong (although not a country) and France, to name but a few, are all known for the greater opportunity for higher salaries afforded to academics. It is important to see the recruitment of postgraduate students and their support, both financial and otherwise in an international context. It is all very well to succeed in recruiting the best people into postgraduate study and potentially an academic career (although this, in itself, is no easy task) but it is equally important to compare career opportunities in academia around the world. There is a worrying scenario whereby even if the ESRC and other funding agencies recruit the best people to postgraduate study in the UK, many of them who wish to pursue academic careers will simply go elsewhere and the investment of time and money by these agencies will be for the increasing benefit of academic sectors in other countries.
Although salaries and career opportunities are important another important element here is the rampant casualisation of the workforce in higher education in this country and the lack of job security. Even if someone does pursue an academic career in the UK they are faced with potentially five to ten years of insecure work and short-term contracts associated with several location changes all of which is disruptive to both their personal and professional lives. There needs to be a wholesale reassessment of academic career structures in the UK and this starts at the training end with postgraduate study and research.
The Balance Between Research Training and Vocational Training
1.0: How might ESRC funding link into the 'Learning Age' agenda and how far would it be appropriate for ESRC to offer a much broader range of forms of support that it currently does?
The 'Learning Age' agenda and the concept of 'Lifelong Learning' has the potential to change the nature of the ESRC's work significantly. In order to respond to the ideas of lifelong learning the ESRC should move beyond the rhetoric and introduce policies and support which positively and practically develop lifelong learning. There should be a reassessment of and move away from the traditional forms of learning based around formal, usually full-time and time-limited study.
2.0: Should recognition and/or support be offered for other forms of studentship, for example, those conducted via distance learning, or for vocational or professional doctorates?
Other forms of support could radically expand opportunity and accessibility to postgraduate study and link in to a concept of truly post-graduate continuing professional development (CPD) throughout individuals' careers. Opportunities could include, but not be limited to:
2.2doctorates by publication
2.3vocational or professional doctorates
2.4modular learning at doctoral level
2.5professional sabbatical research training
3.0: If so, what would be an appropriate balance of funding, relative to the PhD and Master's funding provided by the Board?
The Board has different options regarding the balance of funding relative to the PhD and Masters level courses and we will summarise these as three models:
3.1: Consumer-based approach / Demand-driven model
If the ESRC were to balance its funding around demand on a consumer basis the majority of its funding would be allocated to Masters level courses. This has the advantage of being more accessible because of the lower level of individual investment financially, emotionally, intellectually and in time. This would create a situation where funding was more responsive to the demands of students and employers and more directly contribute to the vocational training element of postgraduate education. Nevertheless, because of the characteristics listed above Masters level courses are likely to be much more accessible to individuals anyway, even if the are self-funding. Therefore it might be seen that the Board was mis-directing its limited resources if it concentrated them on an area which was more self-sustainable.
3.2: Academic career-based model
Alternatively the Board could heavily weight its funding, as is currently done, in favour of full-time PhD studentships. This has the advantage of providing a more comprehensive research-orientated professional training for those considering a career in academia. However, attention must be paid to the possible waste of resources here with a high proportion of funded students moving on into careers other than academia. The high investment in time. training and resources are therefore not being continued within the academic sector.
3.3: Flexible development model
A model of investment and funding balance which retains the advantages of 3.1 and 3.2 above would be more flexible and cost-effective. This could be managed by adopting funding and student support schemes which are more imaginative and variable as outlined, for example in 2.0 above. If it is acknowledged that the Board cannot double or triple its financial investment in its current forms of support then the implication must be that it seeks a more flexible and adaptable approach to student support which is sensitive to the wishes of its potential students, the needs of academia and the requirements of UK employers and the economy.
Within this model the Board could offer varying levels of funding for different learning alternatives, from a fess-only award for professional sabbatical research training to a full-time funded studentship with stipend. We note elsewhere the wish of the Board to increase part-time studentships and believe that a stipend should be introduced to encourage and facilitate this. One radical option for the Board would be to abandon full time PhD studentships altogether and reallocate this resource to part-time studentships. Other forms of support could include greater use of interactive and electronic media and the development of support materials to enable distance learning programmes.
4.0: What might be the implications for the Board's current sanctions policy: how could it be applied to new forms of studentship?
The Board's current sanctions policy is only really effective for traditional forms of study and support for full time students on courses with clearly defined completion/submission targets. Although this has been relatively successful in bringing completion rates into line with those of the other research councils there have been some unfortunate consequences of this policy.
Institutions are reacting to the sanctions policy by sometimes placing pressure on students to submit their thesis early so that they do not adversely affect the submission rate used by the ESRC. Since it is not uncommon for some further work to be needed on a thesis even if it is passed this can hide the success rates reported to the Board as more significant work may be undertaken after a thesis is submitted in order to satisfy the examiners. This has the unfortunate effect of placing undue stress on students who may not have been ready or content to submit.
The Board considers all relevant students when compiling its submission rates and not only those who are funded by the ESRC. Institutions have therefore gradually altered their regulations to reflect the completion and submission times required by the ESRC in order to avoid sanctions. Since institutional regulations affect all students this has meant that self funding students have progressively had more limits and strictures placed upon them in order to meet the requirements of an organisation with which they have absolutely no contact and from whom they receive no support, financial or otherwise. This means that an indirect effect of the Board's sanctions policy has been to restrict the flexibility of study and the opportunity for learning which is adaptable to the circumstances and desires of individuals. Therefore the Board's policies have made it increasingly difficult for institutions to offer the alternative forms of study implied by the ideas of lifelong learning.
A further problem is the fact that the Board previously only considered full time students in its submission rates survey. This meant that part time student support was not developed to the same extent by institutions. Indeed, some institutions are appalling at supporting and facilitating study on a part time basis. Therefore it is extremely welcome that from this year the Board requires a seven year submission rate of 60% in its submission rate survey.
It is unclear how the current sanctions policy could be applied to alternative forms of studentship. Particularly if the Board is imaginative in providing support for more flexible or intermittent types of study the current sanctions policy would be difficult to apply. Nevertheless, even if such new forms are developed and supported as identified in 2.0 above there would and should still be clear timsescales, schedules, submission and completion times. Therefore the sanctions policy could be adapted to incorporate these in proportion to the number of students studying by these means.
5.0: Are there alternative performance indicators which could be used to inform a sanctions policy?
One of the most obvious ways the sanctions policy could be more informed is to incorporate some form of student feedback, perhaps in the form of a satisfaction survey of students who have submitted, completed or, perhaps more importantly, left their courses. Basing the sanctions policy on only raw data will inevitably lead to certain problems, difficulties, strengths or positive features being concealed. It would seem more appropriate and a better reflection of the success of the support and training provided by an institution if such factors were taken into account.
6.0: How far should ESRC concentrate on research training as opposed to a mix of research and vocational training?
If the intention of funded doctoral level studentships is to help an individual successfully achieve a PhD qualification research training should always be prioritised above vocational training. However, this would seem to be an outdated and narrow conception of training. Even if funded students progress on to academic careers research will be only one part of that career.
Vocational training is too often perceived as being specifically linked to a limited range of skills and techniques which are targeted at employment, usually within the business sector. It is important that students understand that vocational training is applicable to everyone. Skills such as report writing, presentation, data analysis, information technology and computing are all valuable. Such techniques can help an individual communicate ideas in a variety of ways and this is necessary whatever students do after graduating. If they do progress on to an academic career such vocational training will ensure that they are better trained and more able to function effectively as researchers and academics.
One particular element that is neglected is training and support for teaching. If someone is to pursue an academic career teaching is a large part of that work and vital to the role of an academic. The ESRC should take account of this and identify means by which such training is incorporated into students' experience. This is specifically 'vocational' in its applicability to academic life (the definition of 'vocational' for the purposes of this consultation being accepted) but is also extremely valuable in supporting the development of individuals as professionals who have the capacity to communicate ideas, manage groups and interact with others. The experience of teaching can be very helpful in clarifying your own research agenda and ideas and in this context it can contribute enormously to the progress of research and its ongoing management.
The recognition of the importance of teaching within academia is crucial. The development of the Institute for Learning and Teaching should go a long way to correcting the imbalance between teaching and research. However, it is very concerning that the initial membership structures and criteria effectively exclude postgraduates from membership of the ILT. The ESRC should engage with this agenda positively and develop means by which teaching is supported and encouraged through institutions and with the ILT.
7.0: Is the Board's responsibility solely one of replacing the UK's academic research capacity?
If the Board's sole responsibility was of replacing the UK's academic research capacity it would need a significant expansion of its current programme. With the rapid expansion of higher education in recent years and the relatively small proportion of postgraduate students funded by the ESRC it must be acknowledged that the Board cannot be responsible for replacing the UK's academic research capacity alone.
The ESRC has a dynamic and dominant role in determining the agenda of postgraduate education. The Board's policies affect the development of research training programmes and support for all students, regardless of whether they have any connection with the ESRC themselves. In this context it has been central to the development of institutional policies which have had a positive effect on the student experience and contributed to a more comprehensive range of support systems. The ESRC should continue this development and adapt its policies to reflect the changing needs of postgraduate students, particularly as identified in 2.0 above.
One area where the ESRC could engage with the current agenda for the benefit of academic staff of the future, current students and the wider UK economy and society is the explicit development of student progress files. Much of this work is currently focussed on undergraduate students. It is important that the same principles are applied to all students. Postgraduate students can particularly benefit from the maintenance of personal development files and programmes which offer an opportunity for reflection and focus on identifying elements of the learning experience. Such programmes would complement the clearer identification of learning outcomes that are being developed for all levels of higher education by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAAHE).
The Postgraduate Training Guidelines
Bearing in mind that the Training Guidelines will be reviewed in 2000 we will only make brief comments here.
1.0: How far do the Guidelines fully address the provision of generic training? How far should the Guidelines deal with training in transferable skills?
The Guidelines are a core element of the ESRC support and guidance to students. It is important that the Guidelines are as detailed and comprehensive as possible without being unduly burdensome or complicated. So far they have struck a good balance here and are helpful and succinct. It would be useful if some areas, however, were provided with greater detail, perhaps in the form of specific examples or criteria which will be taken into account.
Certainly more information could be provided on the nature of generic training and the identification of transferable skills. These are both areas that have been traditionally marginalised within higher education research and it is important that the ESRC takes a clear lead here in making its commitment to the development of these areas explicit and requiring institutions to do likewise. Particularly at a doctoral level there is commonly the perception that areas such as these are somehow irrelevant or a distraction to the core focus of work, namely the research. However, these are elements which are more useful often than the specific subject-based training in developing key skills and techniques. Attention should be paid particularly to the affect that student progress files may have in facilitating the development of both generic and transferable skills and providing a focus for this work.
2.0: How far will they be able in future to continue to drive up the quality of training and development offered to students in recognised outlets?
The Guidelines have had a significant positive effect on the quality of training and development offered to students in recognised outlets. They have also had an indirect affect in improving these areas in all institutions as the common base of expectation in the sector has been raised. It is likely that the Guidelines will, in future, continue to have a positive affect on quality as the principles and ideas contained in them become embedded in institutional structures. As this happens there is potentially a greater role for more detailed monitoring and quality assurance processes to ensure that the evidence of appropriate process is evidence by actual practice. This will be helped significantly by the developmental work of the QAAHE and it is important that agencies across the sector cooperate appropriately and share experience.
3.0: Do the Guidelines cover adequately issues such as supervision, and the intellectual environment in which the studentship is located?
For an institution to claim that it meets adequately the supervision guidance and issues of intellectual environment outlined in the Guidelines is one thing. For students' experience to verify these claims is something completely different.
The Guidelines provide a succinct and appropriate summary of the requirements of research supervision and the roles and responsibilities of both the student and the supervisor(s). However, it is crucial that the ESRC has rigorous monitoring procedures to ensure that the ideas outlined are not only in place but acted upon. Too often the application of the relevant procedures by departments is only superficially and the actual practices and students' experiences fall far short of the good practice rhetoric and structural or administrative masks. The ESRC may have procedures for monitoring these situations already but they do not seem to be working as effectively as they should if the common attitudes and cynicism of postgraduate students is to be taken as representative of reality in any way.
The requirement to demonstrate the provision of training in supervision at an institutional level needs to be backed up by individual supervisors being required to demonstrate their capabilities, training, skills and development in research supervision. This is exactly place where the Institute for Learning and Teaching could have played a role but despite requests and arguments by the NPC supervision has been left off any of the lists of criteria for membership or accreditation. Until this is included, and probably i addition to anything the ILT might do in the future it should be incumbent upon the Board to ensure that every person who is supervising one of their students can comprehensively demonstrate their suitability.
Part-Time Research Studentships
1.0: In your experience, what are the principal disincentives to part-time study?
The principle disincentives to part time study are: inflexible institutional structures; inappropriate availability of facilities; isolation; extended period of study time (this can also be a benefit); and an inability of some members of staff to recognise part time students as equivalent to full time students in terms of work or research capabilities.
2.0: What could the Board do to encourage and promote part-time study to students?
The Board could stress to students that part time study is not of less importance than full time study it is merely an alternative form of learning provision. This is becoming increasingly relevant as people's careers and lives become more fragmented with several career changes throughout their working lives.
Part time study is more flexible and adaptable and offers the opportunity to develop different strains of one's career simultaneously and gain valuable skills which can be transferred between these various fragments. This is more truly 'transferable skills' than the often artificial identification of such skills which are all experienced within an academic context. Personal continuing professional development is easier if one studies part time and therefore has the opportunity to maintain both the 'continuity', 'profession' and 'developmental' aspects simultaneously.
3.0: Is there something the Board could do to promote the benefits of part-time study for the employers of students and amongst HEIs?
Employers can often see the benefits of short courses such as diplomas or Masters courses for the training of their staff. It should be made clear to them that part time study provides all the benefits of full time study but does so in a more flexible way. Staff do not have to have prolonged periods away from work and therefore the impact on the work environment is less disruptive. Work sharing options could be explained which enable new staff to be brought in who may become full time when the original member of staff returns. This would enable employers to expand with an ongoing programme of staff development and training which could be incorporated into their normal working practices.
For HEIs part time students have added benefits. They can provide a more stable and longer term pool of postgraduate students who can significantly contribute to the research environment of the department. They will also be able to bring with them new perspectives and ongoing skills and knowledge from a non-academic area. Part time students are far more likely to also be mature students and this can contribute to a more professionally orientated approach to their research or study which will have a beneficial impact on the perceptions of other students. They will also bring greater experience of life and knowledge about the realities of work and employment which traditional full time students lack.
4.0: How far, and in what ways, might the ESRC provide greater and more flexible support for part-time students either financial, or in some other form?
In order for the Board to encourage more students to study part time and provide better support for them it should consider introducing a stipend. It is hardly surprising that students are not keen to study part time if they receive no personal financial support to enable them to do so. The most sensible option here would be to introduce a stipend which was provided at the same rate as that for full time students and calculated pro rata. Therefore, with a full time rate of £6455 per year for three years full time study (outside London) a part time student would receive £3873 per year for five years part time study.
A mentoring or 'buddy' scheme could be introduced which paired full time with part time students in the same department, institution or subject area so that both groups could be brought together and share their different experiences. This could do a great deal to combat the sense of isolation and alienation felt by both types of student.
The part time students could also help the full time students in developing or improving transferable skills which were appropriate to an employed as well as an academic environment.
Some form of virtual or distance learning support could be developed through, for example, an interactive internet page, email discussion group, newsletter or magazine. This could help all students to feel part of an academic community with common goals and shared experiences, both good and bad.
The most important way that the ESRC could provide greater support for part time students would be to develop an explicit set of criteria that were relevant to part time students and require institutions to meet these criteria in order to be recognised as an ESRC outlet. Examples might include: library opening hours; access to supervision; computing facilities; flexibility of course timetables; and departmental facilities. The general statement in the Postgraduate Training Guidelines (A4.8 Part-time research recognition) is welcome but should be more detailed and tailored to the explicit needs of part time students.