The New Deal for Postgraduate Research: A Digest

  • Policy News
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In September 2023, UKRI published its long-awaited response to the call for input on the government’s New Deal for Postgraduate Research. We have gathered some highlights below, along with dates for your diary to consider and debate its impact.

UKRI’s response (which you can access here) covers a wide range of issues including funding arrangements; part-time PGRs and other ways of making study flexible; embedding equality, diversity and inclusion within doctoral training; support for international students and preparing students for the future via careers advice and access to work experience opportunities. 

It was particularly encouraging to see an emphasis on supervision and Continuing Professional Development for supervisors (p. 18). Drawing on our own UK Research Supervision Survey (UKCGE 2021), UKRI reflected that only around 66 per cent of supervisors have mandatory induction training with 29 per cent having mandatory CPD as a supervisor. 

It also referenced our Supporting Excellent Supervisory Practice across UKRI Doctoral Training Investments (UKCGE 2022), and while it agreed with our findings that Research Organisations are better placed than funders to provide CPD for supervisors, it added: “…we have also heard that some smaller institutions may not be able to access the same external resources as are available in larger institutions” (p. 19). It emphasised the need for Research Organisations to consider further steps to ensure that supervisory work is recognised and rewarded (p. 19).

The report also highlighted the £4.6million Next Generation Research SuperVision Project (RSVP), funded through a UKRI Research England Development award (p. 4, p. 19, p. 20, p. 26). From Autumn 2023, a consortium of universities, headed up the University of York, will develop a suite of bespoke supervisory resources which will be managed by UKCGE and made available via open access to supervisors and academic developers. This was listed as a key action which will run until 2025 (p. 36). 

Other points of note included UKRI’s observation that the quality of careers advice for PGR students is either insufficient or too focussed on academic careers” (p. 25) and the debate surrounding whether PGRs should be students or staff. We believe postgraduate researchers can often be best supported to pursue their ideas as students (without an employment contract), with their learning and development based on their individual needs and ambitions so they can pursue the breadth of career options open to them”, the report says.

Summary of media commentary

In the Timer Higher, Jack Grove led with UKRI’s call to treat PGRs as students rather than staff. Last year, the Russell Group warned that the change [to staff] would increase the cost of recruiting PhD students by 60 per cent because institutions would need to pay additional pension and tax contributions, while doctoral candidates would be hit by new deductions for tax, pensions and national insurance contributions”. He added that the move has been championed by the University and College Union. Read here »

Blogging for Wonkhe, James Coe (associate editor for research and innovation) said the report had been received positively by the sector, but he called for considerations of how PGR students’ conditions can be improved through incentives in the wider research ecosystem. This might involve a rehypothecation of QR weighted more toward the number of PhDs. It likely includes measurements in the people, culture and environment element of REF not only on the diversity of researchers but on the nature of their contracts, their aggregate pay, and the take up of parental leave policies”. Read here »

In Research Professional News, Rory Duncan (pro-vice-chancellor for research and innovation at Sheffield Hallam University) argued that UKRI could steer reforms, but change needed to come from within. The report is a milestone because it creates an opportunity for everyone involved in funding and delivering doctoral training to come together and seek solutions to the challenges it reveals. We cannot wait for the government to lead; it lacks the levers to change the system.” Read here »

Opportunities to participate in discussions on the New Deal

We would love to hear your views on the report. UKCGE is hosting a special Town Hall discussion on the New Deal on December 13th 2023 (online), when we’ll be examining what it means for the postgraduate sector. Book now »

The New Deal will also form part of the discussion at the Doctoral Deans and Directors’ Network Discussion at the British Academy in London on November 9th 2023. Book now »

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