Managing Supervisory Loads by Centrally Limiting Candidate Numbers

An Investigation into practice in institutions in the UK

By Professor Stan Taylor

Research supervisors play a key role in supporting doctoral candidates to complete their research projects and gain their degrees. Numerous studies (see for example Bair and Hayworth 2004, Smith et al 2006, Lovitts 2008, Cohen 2011, Wadesango and Machingambi 2011. Carter et al 2017) have shown that supervisors having the time to spend with their supervisees is crucial in terms of the quality of the candidate experience and in supporting timely completion.

The need for institutions to ensure that the quality of supervision was not put at risk because of excessive workloads has been highlighted in successive editions of the Quality Assurance Agency’s Code of Practice including the most recent (QAA: 2018: 8) which stressed that ‘The overall workload of the individual should also be taken into account to ensure supervisors have time for sufficient contact with, and support of, each research student’.

There are various ways in which supervisory workloads can be managed by institutions, including limiting the numbers of candidates that supervisors can supervise. While in many institutions the determination of such limits is devolved to departments or schools, in others, they are set centrally by the institution as a whole. In the former case, information is not usually available outside the institution, but centrally-set numerical limits are often embodied in publicly-available documents, including research degree regulations, codes of practice, and supervisor and student handbooks.

This paper seeks to use these sources to explore the numerical limits set centrally by higher education institutions in the UK.


The UKCGE would like to thank Professor Taylor for authoring this paper.