NPC/06/01/C EPSRC Postgraduate Training Strategy Consultation

The NPC is the primary representative body of postgraduate researchers and students in the United Kingdom. Our affiliate membership comprises of democratically-elected student representative bodies at Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) throughout the UK. As a registered charity (SCO33368), our aim is the promotion of postgraduate education in the United Kingdom. In order to achieve this aim, we host and address conferences, share best practice through publications and meetings, respond to consultations and campaign on issues of concern to postgraduates. We also co-operate with other democratic student bodies and trades unions who share our aims.

The National Postgraduate Committee welcome the opportunity to respond to the consultation and welcome the continued discussion on Training Strategy in light of the Roberts Agenda. We would like to make comments on specific sections.

Developing attractors 1 - Stimulating student demand:
P.17 While the NPC recognises that talented students with first class honours degrees would be a natural choice for undertaking a PhD, being most able, this degree class has little relation to a students ability to complete their doctorate successfully or on time. Other factors affecting success are background experience, and the desire to conduct research. If however they are not immediate graduates, who may possess actual work experience, the real assessment should be on skill and enthusiasm to undertake research.

P.18. The NPC welcome the focus on promoting professional training and research experience at undergraduate level. This would be helpful in encouraging undergraduates in engineering and physical sciences to determine their interest and aptitude for a research career and would be valuable experience.

Developing attractors 2 - Achieving a demand-led system:
P.19 The NPC would welcome collaboration with employers as discussed and noted by Hefce 2006-11 Strategy. This would be useful in supporting those who will work outside academia and in ensuring training reflects employers skill demands. We feel that the importance of the research councils joint skills statement needs to be emphasised as this is vital in giving the student the confidence in receiving the supervision they will require.

Overall paper comments:
The NPC would draw attention to the absence of reference to UK GRAD. We feel that this should be referred to with regard to the facilitation of training from a centre of excellence. The strategy has a stated objective of influence and partnership and we believe greater partnership with UK GRAD would enhance the training agenda. Transparency in structured training allows a PhD student to see what training they will have, and what they will be able to achieve through their doctoral research.

We would welcome a greater discussion of international mobility such as overseas placements for training. The promotion of mobility, particularly with the Bologna Process, and the opportunities available to research elsewhere are of importance. There is however no comprehensive support available to enable the PhD student to contribute to their pensions. To further increase the attractiveness of PhD study, support should be available which would ensure PhD students are compensated for the loss of national insurance contributions.

There is a need to show confidence to a prospective PhD student that they will receive successful completion. The fear of being unable to complete their thesis on time and not have sufficient funding to continue can reduce confidence to any prospective PhD student. We would welcome the policies proposed to increase access and participation from under-represented groups but note that perception and genuine funding concerns will affect access and participation. It is noted on page six that education system has been likened to a 'leaky pipe' and we would reiterate the need to tackle funding; highlighted benefits of postgraduate study would still be measured against financial cost in undertaking postgraduate research.