Memorandum submitted by Research Councils
1. Research Councils UK (RCUK) is a strategic
partnership that champions the research supported by the eight
UK Research Councils. Through RCUK the Research Councils are creating
a common framework for research, training and knowledge transfer.
Further details are available at www.rcuk.ac.uk.
2. This memorandum is submitted by RCUK
and represents our independent views. It does not include or necessarily
reflect the views of the Office of Science and Innovation (OSI).
RCUK welcomes the opportunity to respond to these inquiries from
the House of Commons Education and Skills Committee.
3. This memorandum provides evidence from
RCUK in response to both inquires addressing the main topics and
questions identified by the Committee, in relation to the Future
Sustainability of the Higher Education Sector: purpose, funding
and structures and the Bologna Process.
The role of universities over the next 5-10 years
4. The eight Research Councils have a combined
budget of £2.6 billion (2006-07) of which the majority is
invested in UK universities to support:
an extensive range of world class
postgraduate training (Masters degrees,
PhDs & EngDocs);
fellowships for researchers at each
stage of their careers;
research infrastructure, including
IT, data management, and state of the art equipment;
knowledge transfer initiatives to
encourage the exploitation of research outputs; and
initiatives to encourage researchers
to engage with the general public to raise scientific awareness.
5. The Research Councils estimate that annually
their funding supports some 30,000 researchers through research
grants, fellowships and studentships, including 15,500 postgraduate
research students. Funding decisions are made on the basis of
independent, expert peer review. Research funds are awarded to
universities in the form of project grants, with funding for postgraduate
training being grants to individuals or as block grants to universities.
6. Over the next 5-10 years the Research
Councils will individually and collectively continue to invest
in a balanced portfolio of activities to contribute to the Government's
vision that the UK should be one of the most attractive locations
in the world for research and innovation. The Research Councils
will play their part in ensuring that the UK is a key knowledge
hub in the global economy, with a reputation not only for outstanding
scientific and technical discovery, but also a world leader at
exploiting that knowledge to deliver benefits for the UK in terms
of new goods and services and in terms of better healthcare, better
public services, policy making and cultural benefits. The Research
Councils, as the largest collective funders of postgraduate research
students, have a direct interest in the provision of high quality
research training in universities. Although doctoral candidates
are students rather than employees in the UK they are also on
the first step of a research career and have many distinctive
features setting them apart from undergraduates.
What do students want from universities?
What should the student experience involve, including
for international students?
7. The Research Councils fund postgraduate
research degrees (Masters, PhDs and EngDocs), which are an important
part of the student provision within universities.
8. In the foreword to "What do PhDs
do?"" Sir Gareth Roberts states "Postgraduate study
is fundamental to the development of higher level skills and the
preparation of people who will engage with the problems of the
next generation. The process of achieving a doctorate develops
an enquiring mind, problem solving abilities and the ability to
assimilate, articulate and defend new ideas. This intensive training
equips the students to rise to challenges and be flexible and
adaptable; all valuable attributes for today's knowledge- based
environment." The Research Councils' experience is that this
is what postgraduate students want from their university study,
plus relevant training that will enable them to pursue their career
choices within the university sector and outside. As such the
Research Councils are keen to ensure that postgraduate training
fulfils these requirements and have worked with the QAA who have
developed a code of practice for the assurance of academic quality
and standards in higher education: postgraduate research programmes.
This provides a framework for the development of a university's
policies and to inform student expectations in an environment
that differs from that for undergraduate study. It identifies
a comprehensive series of system-wide principles covering matters
relating to the management of academic quality and standards in
higher education. The code is a statement of good practice that
has been endorsed by the higher education community. The code
includes precepts about the research environment, clear definition
of responsibilities, appropriate supervision and agreement of
a student's development needs. The "Joint Skills Statement""
sets out the skills that doctoral research students funded by
the Research Councils are expected to develop during their research
training, which as well as research skills and techniques includes
personal skills, communications skills, team building and networking
and career management.
9. The Research Councils jointly fund the
UK GRAD Programme, which supports the academic sector to embed
personal and professional skills development into research degree
programmes (RDP). Both through UK GRAD and other projects, the
Research Councils engage with a wide range of stakeholders, including
research students and employers and this helps to inform development
both of the programme and the wider agenda for researchers' skills.
What do employers want from graduates?
Skills base, applied research, links with industry?
10. The view from the majority of the business
community representatives who advise and work with the Research
Councils is that what they value about the UK research base is
its broad range of expert knowledge and its highly skilled people.
In terms of skills there are been a number of helpful recent reports
and studies from employer groups including:
the Leitch Review of Skills (December
the Engineering and Technology Board
report "Engineering UK: a statistical guide to labour supply
and demand in engineering & technology" (November 2005);
the Association of British Pharmaceutical
Industries report "Sustaining the Skills Pipeline in the
Pharmaceutical & Biopharmaceutical Industries" (November
the Roberts Report "SET for
Success" (April 2002).
11. In addition, the recent report from
the Council for Industry and Higher Education (CIHE) "International
CompetitivenessBusinesses working with UK universities"
(2006), reflects the views of a range of multinational businesses.
This identified that a spirit of inquiry and curiosity, problem
solving, constructive questioning and lateral thinking are key
skills for graduate and postgraduate recruits.
12. The acquisition of transferable skills
plays a major role in future employability and the ability of
PhDs to contribute to the economy. Research Councils have been
actively supporting the university sector through direct funding:
Using these drivers RCUK will continue to promote sharing of practice
in skills delivery and embedding of the skills within the PhD
thus improving the skills of PhD graduates beyond the substantially
increased baseline achieved since 2003. Specifically we will encourage
more skills with clearer relevance to academic and non-academic
engaging with industry to ensure
wider access to entrepreneurship, knowledge transfer and business
fostering development and delivery
of researcher skills such as quantitative methods, public engagement
and outreach to schools; and
the UKGRAD programme. This aspect
features as a high priority in our future activity.
13. The UK GRAD programme includes a network
of regional hubs which support universities and supervisors in
their region to deliver high quality needs-based personal and
professional development for researchers. There is also a national
programme of courses to support the personal development and teamwork
skills of postgraduate researchers as well as events and publications.
14. It is critical that: (a) industry engages
with the universities to help define the skills that they require
and whether they are satisfied with the outputs and outcomes of
research training and that (b) universities address whether they
are meeting the needs and expectation of employers. The Research
Councils have encouraged connections between these two aspects
through: promoting industrial collaboration during research and
training through schemes such as (CASE) Collaborative Awards in
Science and Engineering, Engineering Doctorate etc. The projects
for about 25% of the doctoral candidates with funding from the
Research Councils include formal collaboration with companies
and organisations with an interest in using the outcomes of their
A stable, internationally competitive, HE sector
and internationally-competitive research capacity
15. The UK has an international reputation
for outstanding scientific and technical discovery. In terms of
its research base the UK is internationally excellent and highly
productive, and by many measures is second only to the US in terms
of the quality of its output. This reputation is built on the
UK's R&D capacityexcellent skilled people, state of
the art facilities and laboratories and a supportive regulatory
and research funding environment. HE plays a major role in providing
16. Successive studies have shown that the
UK's economic competitiveness is underpinned by a spectrum of
research which ranges from what can be termed basic, or curiosity
driven research to strategic and user driven research that is
directly targeted at specific business need or social and economic
issues. Maintaining this spread of investment is essentialspeculative
and novel research provides the ideas and knowledge on which more
applied investments can be made to generate new goods, services
or policy or cultural benefits.
17. In a healthy research base the relative
importance of different goals and priorities, and the levels of
support provided, will ebb and flow over time in response to new
knowledge, technological challenges and new strategic economic
and social needs. The key to success is to ensure that the UK
universities have sufficient agility and incentives to capitalise
on new knowledge, technologies and socio-economic priorities,
whilst retaining strength and expertise in core areas and those
of strategic importance.
18. It is the role of the Research Councils
to fund and support a balanced portfolio of research activities
in this dynamic environment, working in partnership with other
funders including the HEI Funding Councils of England, Wales,
Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Technology Strategy Board and
the research charities. In so doing, the Research Councils tension
a number of research, training and knowledge transfer objectives,
including: enabling the very best researchers to pursue innovative
research ideas; nurturing new areas of research (particularly
in the areas between traditional disciplines); sustaining the
incremental progression of knowledge within established areas;
stimulating collaborations and partnerships with end users, and
maintaining a healthy UK research base with sufficient capacity,
expertise and capability across the subject base and in critical
areas of national importance. The balance between these goals
is informed by expert opinion from the research community, business
19. The Research Councils believe that potentially
some of the most exciting research advances occur at the boundaries
between disciplines. The UK's capability to undertake interdisciplinary
research is dependent on the structure and organisation of the
research base, and the availability of suitably skilled individuals
with the knowledge and desire to pursue collaborative research.
These are challenges for all partners in the research baseGovernment,
universities, the Funding Councils and other funding bodies. For
interdisciplinary research to flourish there is a need for those
engaged in its support and delivery to think beyond traditional
discipline based structures, given the cultural, organisational
and communication barriers that these can impose. Research Councils
have encouraged this through the establishment of actual and virtual
centres and collaborations within and between universities. HEFCE
encourages collaboration via its strategic development fund, and
universities themselves are increasingly taking up the challenge
eg the University of Manchester's Interdisciplinary Biocentre,
which has been specifically created to promote interdisciplinary,
challenge orientated bioscience and biotechnologyincluding
training researchers to work across disciplinary interfaces.
20. Increasingly globalisation presents
not only a challenge for UK business, but for the UK research
sector. This challenge manifests itself in a number of areas:
the need to train and develop the next cadre of UK researchers;
the need to attract the brightest students and academics to study
and work in the UK, and collaborate with our best research teams;
the need to ensure that UK researchers continue to have access
to cutting edge laboratories and facilities wherever they are
located; and the need to develop the UK as a key knowledge hub
in the global economy, with a reputation not only for world-class
research but also a world leader at turning that knowledge into
new products and services.
21. The Research Councils aim to provide
university researchers with flexible means to pursue international
collaboration with the best researchers across the globe and to
encourage the mobility of researchers to and from the UK. This
includes the provision of travel grants, networks and workshops
grants, and top-up funding as well as co-funding for collaborative
projects through existing research funding mechanisms. It is also
important for postgraduates, postdocs and researchers at all stages
of their careers to be able to pursue opportunities for international
collaboration and the Research Councils will continue to invest
in these schemes. This includes support for fellowships with specific
provision for working overseas, exchange schemes, and co-funding
the Dorothy Hodgkin Postgraduate Award Scheme (DHPA). This scheme
brings outstanding students from India, China, Hong Kong, South
Africa, Brazil, Russia and the developing world to come and study
for PhDs in top UK universities.
22. In terms of access to state of the art
laboratory facilities and equipment, it is important to recognise
that national capabilities are increasingly being replaced by
international facilities. This reflects rapid advances in technology
development which often drive more complex and expensive facilities
which tend to be beyond the scope of any one country to develop.
Research too, is being pursued to a greater degree on an international
basis, reflecting the nature of global challenges such as climate
change and the scale of major endeavours in areas such as particle
physics. In this environment it is essential that the UK continues
to take a long-term and strategic view of the facilities that
UK researchers are likely to need access to and manage the investment
of public funds accordingly.
Graduates appropriate for a high-skill economy
23. The role of the Research Councils is
ensure that the best potential researchers
are attracted into research careers;
assist the universities to improve
the quality of their research training and improve the employability
of early stage researchers;
increase the attractiveness of research
careers by actively promoting improved career development and
management of research staff in universities and fostering a culture
of continuous enhancement; and
enhance the international attractiveness
of research training in UK HEIs.
24. In delivering this the Research Councils
wish to encourage HEIs to embed transferable skills in the PhD
thus raising value to employers, and improve career development
for their research staff. This helps to address the employer needs
for postgraduates with project management, team working skills,
communication, and leadership capabilities. To support this aim
the Research Councils run collaborative PhD studentship schemes
many of which offer training in partnership with business. For
example BBSRC supports the biotechnology Young Entrepreneurs Scheme
and ESRC, the RDAs and the Scottish Executive fund the University
of Cambridge to run courses for graduates on enterprise and entrepreneurship.
The Research Councils also continue to encourage HEIs to use some
of the money provided to implement the Roberts' Review on SET
skills to provide business planning, enterprise, IP management
and entrepreneurship skills training for postgraduates and postdocs.
Widening participation, contribution to social
25. Universities have a key role in promoting
diversity within the postgraduate student population and the research
workforce and the Research Councils are committed to working with
them to achieve this, by funding and promoting best practice initiatives,
A much greater level of engagement with schools
and engagement in society and democratic debate, and producing
26. The HE sector has a strong role to play
in increasing opportunities for people of all ages and from all
sectors of society to engage with science and research. Research
Councils believe that public engagement activity helps people
to be more aware of the opportunities open to them, and more empowered
to take an informed part in the democratic process and the decisions
affecting their lives. At the same time, activity of this kind
encourages young people, their families, individuals and groups
to become more aware of the contributions made to the nation's
health, wealth and culture by research and the links between them.
Such activity helps secure the supply of those wishing to become
involved in higher education and research by enthusing and inspiring
people of all ages through engagement with current developments
in different subject areas, contemporary research and higher education
27. Good quality public engagement should
involve specialists listening to, developing their understanding
of and interacting with non-specialists. The primary purpose should
not be to generate approval or acceptance of the institution,
nor to recruit students.
28. The Research Councils would urge the
higher education sector to ensure that public engagement is part
of their purpose, and to commit to developing this activity across
all departments and incorporating public engagement training into
staff/researcher development. The Research Councils are working
with the sector to tackle some of the barriers to HEI staff participating
in public engagement activities. A study co-funded by the Research
identified that a research-driven cultureincluding pressure
to publish, attract funding for and building careers on "hard
research"means that public engagement is not always
a priority within HEIs.
29. In partnership with the UK funding councils
and in association with the Wellcome Trust, Research Councils
UK has launched an initiative, "Beacons for Public Engagement",
to address some of these issues by providing support for the recognition
and coordination of public engagement activities within HEIs.
There are a number of other initiatives led by the Research Councils
which support the research community (within the HE sector and
beyond) to undertake public engagement activity, and which the
Beacons will complement. These include Researchers in Residence,
National Science Week Awards, UK GRAD programme, public engagement
grant schemes run by individual Research Councils, and public
engagement training for researchers.
Is the current funding system fit for purpose?
Is the purpose clear?
What are the principles on which university funding
should be based?
30. The Research Councils strongly support
the principle of the dual support funding system for research
in UK universities. The implementation of the TRAC methodology
and the full economic cost funding (FEC) model has brought greater
transparency to the pricing and costing of university research
and requires universities to recover, in aggregate, the full economic
costs of their activities. As part of this model, the Research
Councils have from September 2005 paid 80% of the FEC of the research
31. In line with the aspirations in the
Government's Science and Innovation Investment Framework, Research
Councils anticipate moving towards full sustainability early in
the next decade, although this will require further increases
in the Science Budget beyond 2007-08 if the current volume of
research activity is to be maintained.
32. In terms of funding for innovation,
the Research Councils support the HEIF as part of the Government's
goal of raising UK investment in R&D to 2.5% of GDP by 2014,
partly through strengthening links between the science, engineering
and technology base, businesses and community interests. Research
Councils also have an important role to play in the knowledge
transfer and innovation agenda and are focusing on increasing
their brokering activities and funding knowledge transfer as well
as encouraging business and other user collaboration in the delivery
of research. As such, the Councils wish to ensure that the significant
funding available through HEIF is deployed to complement Councils
Should research funding be based on selection
How should quality be defined and assessed?
How might this drive behaviour across the sector?
33. Each year the Research Councils invest
around £2.3 billion in excellent research and training supporting
the work of tens of thousands of researchers in universities and
other research institutions across the UK. This funding gives
the best researchers the resources, time and support to pursue
their research ideas and helps to train talented graduates and
postgraduates who will go on not just to careers in research,
but also into business, finance, education and the public sector.
The Research Councils fundamentally believe that the allocation
of research funding should be based on quality and will continue
to employ independent expert peer review for assessing proposals.
This system is regarded as an international benchmark of excellence
in research funding, and this provides a guarantee of the quality
of UK research.
34. In terms of the allocation of QR funding
the Research Councils believe that this too should continue to
be made on the basis of quality. However, the Councils also believe
that whilst having had a positive impact on the HE sector in the
1980s and 1990s the bureaucracy of the RAE has become counterproductive
to the challenges facing the research base. As such, the Research
Councils welcome the announcement of a new framework for research
assessment and funding announced in the Pre-Budget Report (December
2006) and look forward to working with the Funding Councils in
developing appropriate metrics that give sufficient encouragement
and reward to multidisciplinary research, practice based research,
knowledge transfer and economic development activities.
How can leading research universities reach internationally
competitive levels of funding?
Should limited central-government funding be directed
35. The Research Councils have a national
remit and adopt a UK-wide strategic view on research capability.
All Councils' policy is to fund the highest rated proposals they
receive, regardless of institution or geographical location.
How well do universities manage their finances,
and what improvements, if any, need to be made?
36. The Research Councils undertake a programme
of "Dipstick Testing" at universities in receipt of
Council funds. This provides assurance to Research Council Chief
Executives on the propriety and regularity of expenditure on research
grants awarded to these universities. Following the implementation
of FEC Dipstick Testing will also be used to examine expenditure
in relation to studentships funded by the Research Councils.
37. The process is generally well-received
by universities who view it as "light touch"" but
helpful in terms of helping to identify weaknesses in research
grant administration. Dipstick Testing has provided the Research
Councils with a high level of assurance in respect of the propriety
of research grant expenditure by universities. In the rare instances
where areas of concern have been identified, Councils have worked
with the research organisations concerned to develop agreed action
plans to remedy any issues.
Is the current structure of the HE sector appropriate
and sustainable for the future?
How well do structures and funding arrangements
fit with "diversity of mission"?
Is the current structure and funding affecting
growth of HE in FE and part-time study?
How important are HE in FE and flexible learning
to the future of HE? Would this part of the sector grow faster
under different structure and funding arrangements?
Can, and should, the Government be attempting
to shape the structure of the sector?
Is the government's role one of planning, steering,
or allowing the market to operate?
Should there be areas of government planning within
HEeg for strategic subjects?
What levers are available to the Government and
how effective are they?
38. Concerns about the sustainability of
the UK research base and about research provision have grown over
recent years. The issues are wide ranging, and include rebuilding
and maintaining the physical and scientific environment for conducting
research (buildings, major equipment and facilities), the attractiveness
or not of careers in research, maintaining international standards
of excellence across the entire research base, and the funding
structures and mechanisms for supporting research.
39. There is a need for all interested parties,
including Research Councils, Funding Councils and the universities,
to work in partnership to ensure that research capacity across
the research base is maintained. This issue is being specifically
addressed through the UK Research Base Funders Forum, who are
initially focusing on the short term problems around health of
disciplines and have developed of a set of metrics to help DfES,
the Funding Councils, OSI and Research Councils create and implement
evidence based policy on intervention in subjects giving cause
40. RCUK produced a summary of areas where
there is a concern over the future supply of researchers and health
of disciplines, together with information on grade profile and
demographic analysis. This analysis reveals that the question
of what constitutes a healthy research base cannot be answered
simply: the answer is discipline dependent and not solely a function
of numbers of staff or trends in student numbers. For example,
there is universal agreement that the decline in numbers of full
time staff in the physical sciences is of concern. However, there
is also concern over the development, retention and recruitment
of world class researchers in business and management, despite
an overall increase in numbers of staff in these disciplines.
Also, overall upward trends may mask shortages in key sub-disciplines,
for example the biosciences appear healthy overall, but this masks
gaps in whole animal physiology and some aspects of health services
41. The Research Councils are working with
the Higher Education Funding bodies to identify where demand is
likely to have an effect on the long-term health of certain research
disciplines and to encourage the adoption of policies and support
initiatives to enhance recruitment and retention where necessary.
42. Through the UK Research Base Funders'
Forum, the Research Councils have been working closely with the
Funding Councils over the past year to develop a range of metrics
for monitoring the strength of research disciplines and sub-disciplines.
This activity complements the work of the Higher Education Funding
Council for England (HEFCE) on strategically important and vulnerable
subjects in Higher Education.
43. The Research Councils recognise the
attractiveness of the UK as a destination for the best researchers.
They are committed to the ideal that the UK must remain the best
place to undertake research and research training. We have, for
example, raised the profile of the EU Charter and Code for Researchers
in the UK and developed strategies for its effective incorporation
into UK practice whilst maintaining the momentum to further develop
UK practice (eg through a new Code of Practice for Researchers).
The Research Councils have also engaged with partners (ONS, HESA)
to contribute to the OECD project to track the Careers of Doctoral
Holders. This will deliver greater understanding of the distribution
and roles of doctorate holders in the UK economy and enable comparisons
with other countries.
44. It is a key aim of the Research Councils
for the UK to produce internationally competitive postgraduates.
The Research Councils collectively support 15,500 (mostly full-time)
doctoral students of whom approximately 12% are from other EU
member states. The Research Councils provide support for a limited
number of non-UK students through sponsorship and operation of
the Dorothy Hodgkin Postgraduate awards and through project studentships
driven by the needs of peer-reviewed research projects. The Councils
aim to assist the universities to improve the quality of UK doctoral
programmes and to enhance the international attractiveness of
UK research training noting that the HE sector is already an attractive
destination for non-UK doctoral students. Of 58,000 full time
doctoral students in 2004-05 48% are non-UK and 14% are from other
EU member statesin addition of 54,000 part-time doctoral
students 33% are non-UK and 11% are from other EU member states.
45. The Research Councils' interest in the
Bologna Process prior to the Berlin ministerial summit in 2003
focused mainly on the impact of the developing two cycles of HE
and in particular the developing 2-year Masters model in other
EU member states. The Research Councils also had concerns that
difficulties could emerge for the UK if the second cycle came
to be adopted as a normal entry route to doctoral studies. The
Councils' interest has extended significantly since the Berlin
ministerial summit identified research as an integral part of
European HE and the doctoral level was incorporated as a third
cycle within the Bologna Process. The Research Councils note that,
although doctoral candidates in the UK are students, they observe
the appropriateness of the often-used description of the doctoral
cycle as the third level of education and the first stage of a
46. The Research Councils have, through
the RCUK Research Careers and Diversity Unit, taken steps to engage
fully with the development of the doctoral cycle of Bologna. In
particular participating alongside representatives of the HE sector
in agreeing the 10 Salzburg principles as the official outcomes
of the Doctoral Programmes Projects run by the European Universities
These outcomes were endorsed by the Bergen ministerial summit
in 2005. The Research Councils have additionally incorporated
Bologna discussions into postgraduate policy events run by the
programme such as Profiting from Postgraduate Talent
in September 2005 and 2006.
47. RCUK has continued its involvement with
the Bologna Process following the mandate from ministers to the
EUA to further develop the basic principles for doctoral qualifications.
In doing this RCUK has co-operated strongly with the UK Higher
Education Sector Europe Unit with the overall objective of maintaining
the position of the UK as an attractive destination for doctoral
studies and to continue to ensure the high quality of its doctoral
graduates. RCUK assisted the Europe Unit in producing a co-ordinated
view from the UK HE sector on the doctoral cycle A key outcome
of that collaboration was publication by the Europe Unit of a
briefing note outlining the UK position and highlighting examples
of UK good practice with regard to 10 key areas of doctoral education.
48. RCUK was represented at the official
Bologna Process seminar on Doctoral Programmes in Europe (Nice:
Dec 2006). The draft conclusions of this seminar were broadly
supported by UK delegates who had contributed to all debates and
who were able to influence the thrust of the final draft document.
Since the seminar UK delegates have contributed views to the EUA
which will finalise the document for presentation to ministers
at the London ministerial summit.
49. The Research Councils perceive that
the Bologna Process has resulted in increased attention being
given to the Masters cycle. Whereas the advantages of a common
approach to degree structures in Europe are clear, the Councils
have been concerned that a momentum could develop leading to a
Masters degree becoming a necessary step en route to a PhD. This
would have major funding implications if it were expected that
this should become the norm in the UKnot least because
of the traditional division of responsibility for funding mechanisms
for undergraduate and postgraduate HE.
The agenda for discussion at the 2007 meeting
in Londonclarifying the UK position
50. The Research Councils are supportive
of the draft outcomes from the Nice Bologna Process Seminar. In
particular they wish to:
Stress the importance of the diversity
of purpose, duration and delivery of doctoral education in Europe.
Encourage the continued development
of transferable skills within doctoral training (an area where
the UK has significant experience to share with other countries).
Ensure the importance of institutional
autonomy in defining entry requirementsparticularly in
relation to Masters degrees and entry to doctoral programmes.
Continue to emphasise learning outcomes
from doctoral programmes and avoid rigid stipulations about the
duration of study.
The implications of a three-phase structure of
higher education awards for to one-year Masters and short undergraduate
courses (HNCs, HNDs, and Foundation Degrees)
51. The Research Councils strongly support
the need for flexibility in progression to doctoral level. The
Councils recognise that in certain disciplines doctoral students
have often already obtained a Masters qualification (either stand-alone
or as an integrated undergraduate degree) whereas in other disciplines
there is no tradition of a Masters stage. They note that the pattern
of progression for doctoral students supported by the Research
Councils differs markedly by disciplineillustrated in the
|Research Council||Typical/dominant Higher Education Path
|Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
(AHRC and ESRC)
|Dominant model is:|
3-yr Bachelor's degree + 1-yr Masters + 3-yr PhD
|Life sciences (BBSRC)||The developing model is predominantly |
3-yr Bachelor's degree + 4-yr PhD (up from 3 since 2004)
|Environmental and Medical sciences |
(NERC and MRC)
|Variable by HEI/discipline|
(MRC and NERC allow flexibility of length at HEI discretion leading to longer than 3 year average PhD)
|Engineering and Physical Sciences|
(EPSRC and PPARC)
|Dominant model is:|
4-yr 1st integrated Bachelor's/master's degree + 3-4 year PhD (PPARC is considering a preferred 4-year PhD; EPSRC has 4- year Engineering Doctorate and flexibility in PhD through DTAs)
52. It is clear from this that any move to require the
intercalation of a Masters degree between the undergraduate and
postgraduate stages would lead to increased cost with no clear
system-wide benefit in terms of the training of future researchers.
If a 2-year Masters stage were to become the norm the value would
be even less clear.
53. The Research Councils would have grave concerns if
a Masters qualification became an eligibility requirement to undertake
a PhD. The Councils note a potential problem for the standing
of UK doctorates if the entry level were perceived to be lower
(Bachelors) compared to the rest of Europe (Masters). They also
wish to alert the Committee to the potential impact on mobility
within the EHEA if students could not progress directly from a
UK Bachelor's degree to doctoral studies in other European countries.
54. The Research Councils therefore support the draft
recommendation of the Nice Seminar that "The Bologna commitment
that the second cycle gives access to the third cycle should be
maintained, but access to the third cycle should not be restricted
to this route."
Awareness and engagement in the Bologna Process within HEIs
55. The Research Councils have observed that since the
Berlin ministerial conference in 2003 the UK HE sector has engaged
more fully with the issues impacting on doctoral education. In
particular RCUK has engaged with the UK Higher Education Europe
Unit and has welcomed the level of awareness that it has achieved
through its briefings. RCUK has also participated alongside representatives
of the sector in those Bologna Process seminars with a focus on
doctoral education and has contributed directly to the formulation
of particular outcomes. RCUK was fully supportive of the outcomes
of the EUA "Doctoral Programmes Project" giving rise
to the "10 Salzburg Principles" presented to and adopted
by the Bergen summit and the draft outcomes of the Nice Doctoral
Programmes Seminar which
will form input to the London summit.
Opportunities to enhance the mobility of students from the
56. Although mobility in itself is not a responsibility
of the Research Councils, RCUK is aware of the benefits that can
accrue from researchers who have experienced education and research
in other countries. RCUK is nevertheless alert to the potential
impact on mobility within the EHEA if students could not progress
directly from a UK Bachelor's degree to doctoral studies in other
The possible implementation of a European Credit Transfer System
(ECTS) and a focus on learning outcomes and competencies
Quality Assurance systems in HE (teaching and research): the
compatibility of UK proposals and Bologna
57. The Research Councils do not have responsibility
for accreditation of degrees or QA issues in UK HE but have a
strong interest in the maintenance of high quality education and
research in a strong autonomous HE sector. The Councils perceive
flexibility to be a strength of UK HE and do not support a single
model of doctoral training in the UKfor example the Engineering
Doctorate contains significant taught and formally industrially-
relevant components and is available in addition to the PhD. A
number of new models have been developed in recent years in the
UK including Professional Doctorates, the New Route PhD and within
the PhD itself there is a trend towards greater structure and
inclusion of taught components. The HE sector is not in favour
of the introduction of credit at doctoral level and supports the
principles of flexibility and institutional autonomy.
58. The Research Councils participated fully in the development
of the QAA Code of Practice for Research Degree Programmes in
the UK and would anticipate taking an interest in any relevant
development at the European level.
59. RCUK, through its Research Careers and Diversity
Unit, represents the UK on the Steering Group for Human Resources
and Mobility supported by DG Research. The SGHRM advised the European
Commission on the development of the European Code and Charter
for researchers and is monitoring its implementation.
Degree classification reform in light of Bologna
The broader impact of Bologna across Europe: a more standardised
Europe and the consequences for the UK's position in the global
market for HE (Bologna and the second phase of the Prime Ministers
Initiative for International Education (PMI 2))
60. Moves towards a strong European University sector
able to attract excellent candidates to its universities are congruent
with the objectives of government for the UK HE sector and are
supported by common degree structures. The Research Councils'
objectives in relation to doctoral education sit within this framework.
The Councils are concerned that moves to a common degree system
should not compromise the attractiveness of the UK as a destination
for the best potential researchers from Europe and overseas.
61. In some European countries PhD candidates may have
employee status. In contrast those supported by the Research Councils
are typically students. The UK's National Postgraduate Committee
sees considerable benefits in this, notably exemption from income
tax and National Insurance. The UK HE sector believes it is important
that doctoral candidates are treated as professionals with access
to skills training and development (including Continuing Professional
Development (CPD) and that their status is a matter for each country
"Survey of factors affecting science communication by scientists
and engineers", Royal Society, RCUK and Wellcome Trust, June
2006, available at www.royalsoc.ac.uk under "Our Work/Engaging
with the public". Back
HESA Student Statistics 2004-05. Back
Note that the UK delegation at the Nice Bologna Process seminar
on Doctoral Programmes in Europe was second only in size to the
French delegation. Back