B2: Main page
3. Quality assurance for postgraduate research programmes
4. Student status within an institute/establishment
5. Quality assurance for postgraduate research – precepts
6. Skills training requirements for research students – Joint statement by the Research Councils
Parts A and B1 of the employment code do not apply to those of you in postgraduate research training roles as you are not employees of BBSRC.
However, this section of the employment code is intended to provide you as a student with general information about the place of postgraduate research in institutes of BBSRC. It also provides information about how the institute will seek to manage its provision of postgraduate research programmes to ensure the high quality of the student learning experience. It therefore will also be of use to potential students, employees, universities and other partners.
2.1. BBSRC regards a postgraduate research programme as an essential first phase of training in the career of a research scientist. The skills which you as a student will develop in the course of your postgraduate research programme will cover both scientific expertise and broader professional skills. The postgraduate research programme provides, therefore, training and experience which are highly valued in a knowledge-driven economy, and in a variety of different careers.
2.2. A postgraduate research programme is a programme of supervised research and learning which leads to a research degree such as a PhD (“Doctor of Philosophy”). You are normally expected to produce a piece of original research under the direction of your supervisor, and write up the project and its results in a thesis. The thesis is then assessed by examiners for the award of a research degree.
2.3. However, in the UK a research degree can only be awarded by a University, and where an institute offers postgraduate research training this will always be in association with a University. It is the associated University which will ultimately be responsible for the examination of your thesis, and, if successful, the award of your doctoral degree.
3.1. Higher education in the UK is overseen by Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA, http://www.qaa.ac.uk). This is the body responsible for monitoring the standards and quality of higher education in the UK. The QAA maintains a comprehensive Code of Practice for the quality assurance of higher education; a framework within which the various UK qualifications are defined; and a number of subject specific ‘benchmarks’ covering the content of undergraduate degrees in various subjects.
You are awarded a Doctorate if you have demonstrated:
- the creation and interpretation of new knowledge, through original research or other advanced scholarship, of a quality to satisfy peer review, extend the forefront of the discipline, and merit publication
- a systematic acquisition and understanding of a substantial body of knowledge which is at the forefront of an academic discipline or area of professional practice
- the general ability to conceptualise, design and implement a project for the generation of new knowledge, applications or understanding at the forefront of the discipline, and to adjust the project design in the light of unforeseen problems
- a detailed understanding of applicable techniques for research and advanced academic enquiry
3.3. Universities in the UK are required to comply with the Code of Practice for the assurance of academic quality and standards in higher education. This code is developed by the QAA and section 1 covers postgraduate research programmes (September 2004). This is available at: http://www.qaa.ac.uk/academicinfrastructure/codeOfPractice/section1/default.asp
3.4. BBSRC institutes are also expected to use the QAA Code of Practice for postgraduate research programmes to guide the development of their own internal codes, policies and procedures in the area of postgraduate research. The principles in the code are given at the in paragraph 5 below.
4.1. While you are regarded as part of the employee complement of an institute, you are not formally an employee (unless, of course, you have a separate contract of employment over and above your place on a postgraduate research programme). Nevertheless, you have a key role to play within the life of an institute; you can expect to be treated to the same high standards as employees; and you will have many of the same obligations and duties in regard to your conduct at the institute. For example, you can expect to be provided with a clear statement of your duties and responsibilities as part of your postgraduate research programme, just as an employee would be provided with a job description as part of an employment contract. Likewise, you can expect to be provided with an induction process covering essential aspects of work at the institute, just as new employees are.
4.2. You may receive a stipend from a funding body to support you during the period of your research training; this counts as an educational scholarship, and is therefore not taxable. (See: http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/manuals/eimanual/eim06210.htm) There are many different possible sources of funding for students. The funding body may be the BBSRC, another Research Council, a charity, industry or government body.
4.3. The Research Councils, working together through RCUK, agree the annual minimum student stipend that students holding a Research Council studentship must receive. The annual stipend levels are given on the Research Councils UK website.
4.4. The funding body will also typically pay towards the cost of a research degree programme; this may cover for example the fees charged by the associated university, and direct consumable costs required for your project.
The QAA Code is structured into a series of ‘precepts’ (numbered 1-27 below). The precepts express key matters of principle that the higher education community has identified as important for the assurance of quality and academic standards. Institutes should be able to demonstrate they are addressing the matters tackled by the precepts effectively, through their own management and organisational processes.
The code itself provides detailed explanations and applications for the precepts, and, as a supplement to these, further guidance notes are provided below as to how a particular precept relates to BBSRC and its institutes.
1. Institutes will put in place effective arrangements to maintain appropriate academic standards and enhance the quality of postgraduate research programmes.
- As part of the institute assessment exercise, BBSRC undertakes a separate assessment of institute human resource management and development. Through this assessment process BBSRC Council seeks to assure itself of the quality of training provided by the institutes in comparison with nationally accepted good practice in the university sector
2. Institute regulations for postgraduate research degree programmes will be clear and readily available to students and employees. Where appropriate, regulations will be supplemented by similarly accessible, subject-specific guidance at the level of the faculty, school or department.
- A research student at a BBSRC establishment will also be registered at an associated University; this is the body which will be responsible for examining a student’s thesis, and awarding their degree
- The university at which a student is registered will vary depending on the circumstances and university expertise, and therefore the precise regulations governing the student’s degree (such as word length of thesis) may vary. However, the institute will wish to ensure that both the student and their institute supervisor are aware of the particular regulations of the university where the student is registered
3. Institutes will develop, implement and keep under review a code or codes of practice applicable across the institute, which include(s) the areas covered by this document. The code(s) should be readily available to all students and staff involved in postgraduate research programmes.
- All institutes should have a guide(s) or handbook(s) for students which lay out the duties, responsibilities and rights of students at the institute, as well as the policies and procedures relating to the institute’s provision of postgraduate research training
- Institutes will wish to consider the relevance of the various sections of the employment code in relation to students, and where appropriate ensure that the same areas are covered
- For example, the student guide or handbook should cover important issues such as ‘Dignity at Work’, health and safety, insurance and liability for damage or injury, discipline, use of computers, etc, or provide clear direction as to where this information is available
- The student handbook should also provide information on the institute’s expectations with regard to attendance, meal breaks, flexible working, etc
- A student guide should also refer students to the employment code for those regulations or procedures which apply to both employees and students
- Institute student guides should also clarify the process by which students can raise complaints, and also how the institute seeks feedback from students on its postgraduate training programme
4. Institutes will monitor the success of their postgraduate research programmes against appropriate internal and/or external indicators and targets.
- Institutes will normally have a senior ‘Graduate Studies’ committee, or other senior group, which will seek to monitor the success of their postgraduate research programmes
The research environment
5. Institutes will only accept research students into an environment that provides support for doing and learning about research and where high quality research is occurring.
- Institutes will have processes in place to ensure that any proposed postgraduate research project provides a student with a valuable and timely research training. Where an Institute has, for example, studentship funding, there may be an internal process for deciding the projects or areas where the studentship will be advertised, or the supervisor with whom a student will be working
Selection, admission and induction of students
6. Admissions procedures will be clear, consistently applied and will demonstrate equality of opportunity.
7. Only appropriately qualified and prepared students will be admitted to research programmes.
8. Admissions decisions will involve at least two of the institute’s employees who will have received instruction, advice and guidance in respect of selection and admissions procedures. The decision-making process will enable the institute to assure itself that balanced and independent admissions decisions have been made, that support its admissions policy.
- Where a university supervisor is to have a significant role in the supervision of the student, the institute may also involve the University supervisor in the admissions decisions
9. The entitlements and responsibilities of a research student undertaking a postgraduate research programme will be defined and communicated clearly.
- There may also be entitlements and responsibilities which are connected with a student’s university registration. The Institute will wish to ensure that both the student and their institute supervisor are aware of these
- The institute will wish to ensure that agreements with respect to intellectual property rights connected with the student’s work are clear – this may involve agreement being reached between all the partners in the student’s work (the institute, the university, an industrial partner, etc), who may have different policies with respect to IP for students
10. Institutes will provide research students with sufficient information to enable them to begin their studies with an understanding of the academic and social environment in which they will be working.
- The induction programme for new students may share many of the same topics as for new employees at the institute; for example, relevant health and safety and other legislative information; details of relevant professional codes; expectations regarding attendance, conduct in laboratories, and lab books; details of leisure and other facilities available to institute employees
11. Institutes will appoint supervisors who have the appropriate skills and subject knowledge to support, encourage and monitor research students effectively.
- Institutes will have processes in place to ensure that only employees who have demonstrated the skills required in successfully supervising students, or who have undertaken training or periods of co-supervision alongside an experienced supervisor, are permitted to act as supervisors
12. Each research student will have a minimum of one main supervisor. He or she will normally be part of a supervisory team. There must always be one clearly identified point of contact for the student.
- As part of a student’s university registration, they will have a university supervisor whose direct involvement in the student’s work will vary according to their expertise and the arrangements made between the institute and the university
- The university supervisor will, however, play an important role in terms of being a point of contact for the student’s dealings with the university, and the resolution of any issues regarding their university registration
13. Institutes will ensure that the responsibilities of all research student supervisors are clearly communicated to supervisors and students through written guidance.
- Institutes will wish to have processes in place to ensure that supervisors are able to maintain and develop their supervisory expertise in connection with developing national good practice in the university sector
14. Institutes will ensure that the quality of supervision is not put at risk as a result of an excessive volume and range of responsibilities assigned to individual supervisors.
Progress and review arrangements
15. Institutes will put in place and bring to the attention of students and relevant staff clearly defined mechanisms for monitoring and supporting student progress.
16. Institutes will put in place and bring to the attention of students and relevant employees clearly defined mechanisms for formal reviews of student progress, including explicit review stages.
- The university at which a research student is registered will also have formal review mechanisms to monitor the progress of its students. Institutes will wish to minimise the burden on individual students by seeking to ensure, as far as possible, that its review processes use the same evidence base (reports, etc) that students can use for their University reviews
17. Institutes will provide guidance to students, supervisors and others involved in progress monitoring and review processes about the importance of keeping appropriate records of the outcomes of meetings and related activities.
Development of research and other skills
18. Institutes will provide research students with appropriate opportunities for personal and professional development.
- BBSRC along with the other Research Councils have developed a “Joint Skills Statement” which outlines the skills that doctoral students are expected to develop during their research training. This joint statement has now been incorporated into the QAA Code of Practice as an appendix – and is given below for reference.
19. Each student's development needs will be identified and agreed jointly by the student and appropriate academic staff, initially during the student's induction period; they will be regularly reviewed during the research programme and amended as appropriate.
20. Institutes will provide opportunities for research students to maintain a record of personal progress, which includes reference to the development of research and other skills.
21. Institutes will put in place mechanisms to collect, review and, where appropriate, respond to feedback from all concerned with postgraduate research programmes. They will make arrangements for feedback to be considered openly and constructively and for the results to be communicated appropriately.
22. Institutes will use criteria for assessing research degrees that enable them to define the academic standards of different research programmes and the achievements of their graduates. The criteria used to assess research degrees must be clear and readily available to students, staff and external examiners.
- Since the Universities at which students are registered may vary, so too may the criteria used for the assessment of research degrees. The institute will wish to ensure that both the student and their institute supervisor are aware of the specific University’s criteria for its research degrees
23. Research degree assessment procedures must be clear; they must be operated rigorously, fairly, and consistently; include input from an external examiner; and carried out to a reasonable timescale.
24. Institutes will communicate their assessment procedures clearly to all the parties involved, i.e. the students, the supervisor(s) and the examiners.
25. Institutes will put in place and publicise procedures for dealing with student representations that are fair, clear to all concerned, robust and applied consistently. Such procedures will allow all students access to relevant information and an opportunity to present their case.
- The institute will wish to ensure that students are aware of the informal and formal processes by which issues and concerns can be raised by students. The institute will also wish to make clear that students should make use of processes offered by their university, for issues which concern the university, and that the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education provides an independent scheme for the review for student complaints and appeals, once a university’s internal processes have been exhausted
26. Independent and formal procedures will exist to resolve effectively complaints from research students about the quality of the institute’s learning and support provision.
- Institutes will wish to consider the connection between the grievance procedures for employees and their procedures for students, and ensure that where appropriate the same principles inform their student procedures
27. Institutes will put in place formal procedures to deal with any appeals made by research students. The acceptable grounds for appeals will be clearly defined.
- Institutes will wish to make clear that the university at which a student is registered will have processes in place to deal with appeals against decisions on a student’s academic progress, or, finally, the decision on the student’s thesis made by the appointed examiners
This section outlines the general skill areas that you will develop as a result of completing your studentship.
(A) Research skills and techniques - to be able to demonstrate:
- The ability to recognise and validate problems and to formulate and test hypotheses
- Original, independent and critical thinking, and the ability to develop theoretical concepts
- A knowledge of recent advances within one's field and in related areas
- An understanding of relevant research methodologies and techniques and their appropriate application within one's research field
- The ability to analyse critically and evaluate one's findings and those of others
- An ability to summarise, document, report and reflect on progress
(B) Research environment - to be able to:
- Show a broad understanding of the context, at the national and international level, in which research takes place
- Demonstrate awareness of issues relating to the rights of other researchers, of research subjects, and of others who may be affected by the research, eg confidentiality, ethical issues, attribution, copyright, malpractice, ownership of data and the requirements of the Data Protection Act
- Demonstrate appreciation of standards of good research practice in their institutions and/or discipline
- Understand relevant health and safety issues and demonstrate responsible working practices
- Understand the processes for funding and evaluation of research
- Justify the principles and experimental techniques used in one's own research
- Understand the process of academic or commercial exploitation of research results
(C) Research management - to be able to:
- Apply effective project management through the setting of research goals, intermediate milestones and prioritisation of activities
- Design and execute systems for the acquisition and collation of information through the effective use of appropriate resources and equipment
- Identify and access appropriate bibliographical resources, archives, and other sources of relevant information. Use information technology appropriately for database management, recording and resenting information
(D) Personal effectiveness - to be able to:
- Demonstrate a willingness and ability to learn and acquire knowledge
- Be creative, innovative and original in one's approach to research
- Demonstrate flexibility and open-mindedness
- Demonstrate self-awareness and the ability to identify own training needs
- Demonstrate self-discipline, motivation, and thoroughness
- Recognise boundaries and draw upon/use sources of support as appropriate
- Show initiative, work independently and be self-reliant
(E) Communication skills - to be able to:
- Write clearly and in a style appropriate to purpose, e.g. progress reports, published documents, thesis
- Construct coherent arguments and articulate ideas clearly to a range of audiences, formally and informally through a variety of techniques
- Constructively defend research outcomes at seminars and viva examination
- Contribute to promoting the public understanding of one's research field
- Effectively support the learning of others when involved in teaching, mentoring or demonstrating activities
(F) Networking and team working - to be able to:
- Develop and maintain co-operative networks and working relationships with supervisors, colleagues and peers, within the establishment and the wider research community
- Understand one's behaviours and impact on others when working in and contributing to the success of formal and informal teams
- Listen, give and receive feedback and respond perceptively to others
(G) Career management - to be able to:
- Appreciate the need for and show commitment to continued professional development
- Take ownership for and manage one's career progression, set realistic and achievable career goals, and identify and develop ways to improve employability
- Demonstrate an insight into the transferable nature of research skills to other work environments and the range of career opportunities within and outside academia
- Present one's skills, personal attributes and experiences through effective CVs, applications and interviews
Last updated 23/06/10
Amendment 97 - June 2010