The QAA Code of Practice for the assurance of academic quality and standards in higher education, postgraduate research degrees was first published in January 1999.
In September 2004, Section 1: Postgraduate research programmes, was revised and designed to be student-centred so that researchers can be confident about what they can expect from institutions and know what their own responsibilities are. The aim of the code is to achieve a consistently good experience for postgraduate researchers.
"This revised section of the Code is structured into a series of precepts and accompanying explanations. The precepts express key matters of principle that the higher education community has identified as important for the assurance of quality and academic standards. Individual institutions should be able to demonstrate they are addressing the matters tackled by the precepts effectively, through their own management and organisational processes, taking account of institutional needs, traditions, culture and decision-making. The accompanying explanations show why the precepts are important."
The publication of this second version follows consultation with staff in institutions, who have helped to update the Code to take account of institutions' practical experience of using the guidance contained in its predecessor. It also took into account the recommendations of the SET for Success report, Improving Standards in Postgraduate Research Degree Programmes report and RCUK's joint statement on skills training requirements.
A special review of postgraduate research programmes was conducted in 2005-06 by QAA in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in order to evaluate institutions' implementation of the revised section of the Code, including the precepts concerning ‘development of research and other skills' (precepts 18-20).
The review was based on completion of a questionnaire and Institutions were asked about their practice and requested to provide evidence to support their answers under the nine headings in Section 1 of the Code of Practice.
Following completion of the questionnaire, Institutions were given a peer reviewed judgment expressed in terms of quality of provision being ‘appropriate and satisfactory'or ‘further action is required'.
In 2007, the QAA released their reports on their review of postgraduate research degree programmes for England and Northern Ireland, Review England and Northern Ireland (February 2007), and a separate report for Wales Review Wales (February 2007).
Overall, the review was highly positive, with institutions demonstrating good levels of engagement with QAA's Code of practice for postgraduate research programmes, and offering many examples of good practice.
In terms of skills development, the picture was generally good with satisfactory arrangements in place at the majority of institutions, although most have better developed provision for supporting research skills development than for development of generic skills.
The report for England and Northern Ireland noted that several HEIs were sharing resource with respect to skills training and other facilities. Training and development for supervisors was found to vary, and full integration of postgraduate researchers into institutional research environments was highlighted as an area for further consideration in many cases.
Information on the review methods and associated documents
Since 2006/07 monitoring of research degree programmes has been integrated with the normal QAA audit and review cycle in England. HEFCE use Institutional research degree qualification rates outputs to inform QAA audit activities.
The QAA published a and were particularly interested in whether:
- the definition of a research degree in the Code of Practice is still appropriate
- a masters degree should be a necessary entry qualification
- the FHEQ attributes of doctoral graduates still apply
- institutional regulations differ for PhDs and professional doctorates
- HEIs have different outcomes and assessment criteria for different doctorates
- HEIs have concerns relating to the development of joint degrees within Europe
- HEIs have any views about the status of researchers
Many of the questions had a direct relevance to the doctoral degree as the Third Cycle of the Bologna Process. Download the full text of the consultation QAA consultation May 07 [pdf] or go to the QAA website.
Read the UK GRAD Programme response to the QAA consultation on doctoral degrees.
The QAA has published its preliminary analysis of the consultation. The full results are expected to be available late 2008.
The QAA in its role to safeguard standards of higher education qualifications works with higher education institutions to define academic standards and quality. It has defined the requirements for awarding a doctorate. Doctorates are awarded to students who have demonstrated:
- the creation and interpretation of new knowledge, through original research or other advanced scholarship, of a quality to satisfy peer review, extend the forefront of the discipline, and merit publication
- a systematic acquisition and understanding of a substantial body of knowledge which is at the forefront of an academic discipline or area of professional practice
- the general ability to conceptualise, design and implement a project for the generation of new knowledge, applications or understanding at the forefront of the discipline, and to adjust the project design in the light of unforeseen problems
- a detailed understanding of applicable techniques for research and advanced academic enquiry.
Typically, holders of the qualification will be able to:
- make informed judgements on complex issues in specialist fields, often in the absence of complete data, and be able to communicate their ideas and conclusions clearly and effectively to specialist and non-specialist audiences
- continue to undertake pure and/or applied research and development at an advanced level, contributing substantially to the development of new techniques, ideas, or approaches.
and will have:
- the qualities and transferable skills necessary for employment requiring the exercise of personal responsibility and largely autonomous initiative in complex and unpredictable situations, in professional or equivalent environments.
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