Eligibility to Supervise: A study of UK Institutions

Stan Taylor

Honorary Professor, School of Education, University of Durham and Honorary Life Member of the UKCGE

Supervision is crucial in determining the quality of the experience of research students and the chances of their completing on time. It has long been recognised that appropriate criteria are needed to determine eligibility to supervise. In many countries, these are specified at national level, but in the UK, since 1992, it has been left up to institutions.

Headline findings

The survey, carried out between June and December 2017, identified 9 common criteria for eligibility to supervise. A number of these criteria were investigated in further detail, particularly initial and continuing professional development. While 8 out of 10 institution require mandatory initial professional development programmes: 

  • Three quarters of these training programmes lasted only a day or less – and focus on regulatory and pedagogical matters rather than diversity, student support and development.
  • 60% of institutions had no requirement for experienced supervisors to update their knowledge and skills. Of the two-fifths of institutions which did, requirements often seemed symbolic rather than substantive, which would seem to leave many possibly ill-equipped to cope with the realities of supervision in the 21st century.
  • Only half of institutions specified that supervisors needed to be research active, have research expertise aligned to the candidate’s project, have research degrees, or have the capacity to take on additional research students, all of would all seem to be necessary for effective supervision.