UCU Consultation on the Doctoral College
The UCU consultation asked members of the University of Brighton to comment on recent changes to PhD supervision, training and administration arrangements, most of which originate from the new Doctoral College and its code of practice. A total of 133 responses to the consultation were collected using Survey Monkey. The UCU survey asked 39 questions across four broad areas (consultation, registration, training and supervisory experience) and required (mainly) forced choice responses. The results are complex – understandably, given the size of the questionnaire and the number of responses. The following summary reports on the key findings, and confines itself to responses from academic staff, 87% of whom were supervising one or more PhD student at the time of the survey, and 93% of whom were on the supervisors’ register. A brief appendix summarises the main points from research students’ responses to the UCU consultation.
- Consultation Nearly 70% of academic staff reported that they had not been consulted regarding the Doctoral College Code of Practice, and 84% considered the consultation to be inadequate. The University’s post hoc consultation on the Code of Practice did not elicit much satisfaction from respondents: 78% considered it to be unsatisfactory, and 83% said they were not confident that their opinions on these matters would be taken into consideration.
Whilst the majority of academic staff considered the Code of Practice’s specifications for periods of induction, research plan approval and transfer to be reasonable, the vast majority thought that the abolition of writing up periods to be inappropriate (83%). Academic staff clearly expressed that the Code of Practice prescription for allocation of supervision hours (a reduction from 38 to 30 hours) to be inappropriate (86%). Staff strongly endorsed the current position of seeing PhD supervision hours as being part of the nationally agreed contact time hours. Concerns were also expressed about the restriction on the amount of teaching doctoral students were allowed to undertake, and over the changes to IELTS requirements for entrants (a reduction in points score).
A number of other questions revealed strong concerns about the degree of intervention from the Doctoral College into the supervisor-student relationship, and concerns that a flexible and creative process will be stifled by excessive bureaucratic requirements. 81% of academic staff raised concerns about excessive intrusion.
- PhD student training arrangements 76% of academic staff considered that it was not possible to identify a generic researcher, and that moves in this direction were likely to pose a danger to the development of disciplinary expertise (69%). Over 90% of academic staff thought that it was important to identify training needs as the research progresses, rather than having a template to follow. The Vitae model, however, did receive some support (10.4%) but an in-house Brighton development received strongest support (46%) followed by ‘no generic framework’ (44%). The majority of staff thought that a common model, but tailored to the needs of specific areas was most appropriate.
- Supervisors’ profiles and general comments Nearly half of respondents were supervising between 2 and 4 PhD students. Many reported that their supervisory experiences took them across school and faculty boundaries. Whilst nearly 60% of academic staff thought that the move to university-wide monitoring of doctoral students’ progress was a good idea, many staff expressed concerns about the implementation and prospects for the future regarding the Doctoral College. For example, when asked to assess their level of confidence concerning the Doctoral College enhancing the experience and success of future research students 88% were anxious.
The UCU survey found support for the idea of a Doctoral College, and also support from a research student training programme. However, the survey also found very significant concerns about many of the specific proposals, and significant concerns about the general implications of a centralised system.
The starkest figures, perhaps, are those that relate to the consultation: 70% of supervisors had not been consulted about the Doctoral College or the Code of Practice, 84% considered the consultation to be inadequate and 88% were anxious about the introduction of the Doctoral College and the code of practice.
UCU Brighton Coordinating Committee
12th February 2013
Appendix: Summary of research students’ responses
16 research students provided responses to the UCU consultation. The following provides a brief summary of these responses.
56% of the research students reported that they had not been consulted about the Doctoral College or the new Code of Practice. In addition to these 9 students 3 students reported that they had not been consulted, but also that they did not expect to be consulted. Combined that comes to 74%. A similar percentage (70%) considered the consultation to be inadequate.
All respondents considered the abolition of a continuation ‘writing up’ period to be inappropriate. 84% expressed concerns about the reduction in allocated contact hours proposed by the Doctoral College. All respondents agreed that supervisory hours should remain part of the nationally agreed teaching hours.
Research students were divided 50/50 over whether all supervision meetings should be followed up by a written record, but were clearly in favour of a flexible supervisory schedule (87%). Concerns were also expressed, by 73%, about the dangers of Doctoral College intrusion into the scholarly relationship between supervisors and students.
- TrainingResearch students’ responses to these questions were broadly similar to those of supervisors, although a much higher percentage (28%) thought the Vitae model appropriate for PhD training. However, the other 72% gave their support to either an in-house Brighton development, or to no generic training model.
- Profiles and general comments
A number of the questions in the final section received, understandably, n/a responses from the research students. However, two figures stand out. The first is that 61% of the research students thought that a university-wide procedure for monitoring the progress of research students was a bad idea. The second is that 77% said they were ‘anxious’ about the current Doctoral College proposals.
UCU Brighton Coordinating Committee
12th February 2013
upervisors, although a much higher percentage (28%) thought the Vitae model appropriate for PhD training. However, the other 72% gave their support to either an in-house Brighton development, or to no generic training model.