The New Deal for Postgraduate Research — Town Hall Discussion

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On December 13th 2023, we held an online discussion about UKRI’s response to the call for input on the Government’s New Deal for Postgraduate Research.

The session was chaired by Professor Doug Cleaver – Chair of the Board of Trustees at UKCGE and Director of the Doctoral College at Sheffield Hallam University. It was held under the Chatham House Rule, whereby attendees could use the information so long as individuals were not identified, therefore encouraging an open discussion.

To begin, Professor Cleaver shared ten points of interest from the New Deal (see below) followed by four areas for discussion:

  1. Terms and Conditions for PGRs
  2. New Deal for International PGRs?
  3. What developments are or should be sector-led? 
  4. Enhancements in doctoral provision.

Each topic was opened by a different provocateur’ who talked from personal experience and asked challenging questions to stimulate discussion. 

Regarding Terms and Conditions for PGRs’, attendees were invited to think about stipend levels. One attended remarked that the devil might be in the detail” with the New Deal and said that the cost of living was concerning. The question was raised: Will doctoral study suffer because what we’re offering is not as attractive as industry?” We want to be equitable towards PGRs,” said another attendee, but I’m concerned that we’ll end up with an arms race of stipend levels across the sector. We don’t want to create inequities at different levels of support.” Another tier of complications arises when someone is industry funded – should we be asking the employer to contribute? As we diversify the student body it does become really challenging,” remarked another. 

On the New Deal for International PGRs?’ item, some felt the report’s treatment of the subject was rushed. I was disappointed that there was no commitment to speak to the Government,” said one person, citing the 60 days of parental leave as inadequate. Another attendee said they were interested in fee waivers for international students, and how the case was made in individual institutions to make a considerable financial investment per student.

Regarding sector-led developments, we were encouraged to think about new pathways and sector-led collaborations. We heard about one institution’s PhD by Portfolio route, whereby doctoral candidates come to the university with an existing portfolio of work that could be developed via several linked projects. We have an animator, a journalist and a playwright on that programme. In terms of the arts, media and humanities, it has played out well for us,” said the speaker. Another remarked that about 50 per cent of their arts and humanities PhDs were self-funded because their topics were too radical” to attract AHRC funding. 

Finally, we learnt about the £4.6million Research SuperVision Project (RSVP), which aims to enhance continuing professional development for supervisors. The buzzword in the New Deal is about consistency of supervision practice. There is a real acknowledgement about the importance of good supervisory relationships,” said the speaker. The recent decision to push the Research Excellence Framework back to 2029 was mentioned, leading an attendee to ask whether anyone knew the driver for the proposal (since abandoned) that PhD theses could be submitted for REF. The motivation was probably that they were hoping to be more inclusive,” somebody responded. The problem is that you’re including items from people who are not paid to do research. The issue of intellectual property makes it a minefield.”

Ten Points of interest from the New Deal

  1. Diversity of PGRs
  2. Review of QR RDP
  3. Common baseline for stipends
  4. Develop a new kind” of PhD
  5. Admissions requirements for doctoral study
  6. Enhanced complaints procedures for PGRs
  7. Consumer protection” for PGRs
  8. UKRI funding for international PGRs & Parental leave (particularly for international PGRs)
  9. Careers advice for PGRs
  10. Enhanced support for supervisors.

Do you have an idea for an event you would like to run in partnership with UKCGE? 

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