Quality and Standards of Postgraduate Research Degrees

Gill Houston

Past Chair, UK Council for Graduate Education

Stuart Powell

Stuart Powell is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Hertfordshire, where he was the Director of Research Degrees.

This paper seeks to identify the current context within which doctoral level education is being undertaken in the UK and review the kinds of developments that are taking place that affect the quality of that education.

The paper revisits some of the thematic issues that were referred to in the 1996 UKCGE report, namely the purposes of a doctoral education, the development of so-called non-traditional’ doctorates, assessment mechanisms and international aspects of doctoral education. It also addresses some issues and dimensions that were not referred to in 1996 (i.e. issues that had not come to the forefront of concerns at that time), namely: 

  • the impact on UK research degree programmes of wider European developments, including the Bologna Declaration (third cycle qualifications) and related agreements such as the Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area and the Salzburg Principles
  • the overall requirements of Research Councils and the development of their Joint Skills Statement
  • the establishment of the Arts and Humanities Research Council
  • the increased focus on the quality assurance and management of research degree programmes, including the annual HEFCE survey of research degree completion rates
  • recognition of the true resource implications for institutions in providing research education, while recognizing their centrality to research quality
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