New UKRI Commissioned Report Published

A UKCGE report on how UKRI could better support research supervision has been published.

Background to the report

In 2021, the Economic and Social Research Council commissioned a review of the PhD in Social Sciences

On page 54, that review made the recommendation that anyone who supervised an ESRC doctoral student should undertake mandatory, accredited, supervisor training:

We recommend supervisors undertake mandatory, accredited training to supervise ESRC students. Making the training mandatory signals the importance of this and ensures it is taken seriously. Supervisor training should include: equality, diversity and inclusion issues; having difficult conversations; General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR); coaching skills; providing constructive feedback; key postgraduate researcher destinations and the broad range of career possibilities that social science PhDs open up; understanding power dynamics; and mental health first aid. 
ESRC Review of the PhD in the Social Sciences, p.54

Our best estimate at the moment is that around 66% of supervisors have mandatory induction training, and only 29% have mandatory continuing professional development as a supervisor (based on UKCGE’s 2021 UK Research Supervision Survey 43–45). So this recommendation certainly came as a challenge to the sector.

In the context of this recommendation in the ESRC review of the PhD, and in light of the ongoing work towards a New Deal for Postgraduate Research”, UKRI commissioned the UK Council for Graduate Education to find out what it could do to better support doctoral supervision. 

One idea was that UKRI should publish a statement of expectations for research supervision’, and this report indicates that this would be cautiously welcomed by the postgraduate sector.

Scope of the report

In April 2022, UKRI commissioned the UK Council for Graduate Education (UKCGE) to conduct a series of 6 focus groups involving a variety of different stakeholders involved in doctoral supervision, across all UKRI research disciplines.

The workshops engaged with over 120 people, including:

  • research supervisors
  • doctoral researchers
  • directors of Doctoral Training Partnerships and Centres for Doctoral Training

A principal aim of the workshops was to establish how UKRI could better support research supervision, and in particular whether it would be helpful for UKRI to publish a statement of expectations for research supervision’.

Key findings

This report is intended to be a scoping document’, and makes several recommendations for future research. However, it also contains strong suggestions on how UKRI could better support research supervision. For example:

  • That future applications for doctoral studentships should include a statement on the training undertaken by the supervisory team
  • That it would make for a more equal admissions process if research supervisors took a step back from funding decisions
  • That UKRI should provide consistent advice on their own policies around students with disabilities or caring responsibilities; life events such as pregnancy, and absences due to mental/​physical ill health. There was a feeling in the focus groups that there are different practices on these issues from the different Research Councils.
  • Institutions should publish their eligibility to supervise’ criteria, and perhaps eligibility should include a consideration of whether a supervisor has had a complaint upheld against them.
  • Universities should have a workload allocation for research supervision.
  • On bullying and harassment specifically, the report calls for more sector-level guidance on this at doctoral level, and makes the suggestion that all doctoral researchers should know how to get confidential advice or how to make a complaint.