Criteria for the Award of a Research Degree
Regulation 7.2 (and guidelines provided by Student Services and Systems) specifies the presentation and formatting requirements for each RDP, including the requirements for a creative practice research submission, and the requirements for the PhD by Published Works submission.
Regulation 7.3 outlines the criteria for a Master’s degree by Research, including the expected abilities and qualities of the holders of the qualification.
Regulation 7.4 outlines the criteria for a Doctoral degree, including the expected abilities and qualities of the holders of the qualification.
Final Assessment Procedures
The final assessment of a RDP comprises both the written submission (thesis), and an oral examination (viva). For Professional Doctorates and Integrated PhDs, the assessment will also have included the assessment of taught elements at earlier stages of the RDP.
Regulation 7.5 outlines the procedure for submitting or re-submitting a thesis for examination.
Roles and Responsibilities
Regulation 7.6 outlines the criteria used in appointing examiners. Examiners have an obligation of confidentiality regarding the thesis and the examination. Schools appoint the internal examiner (Microsoft Word) and the independent convenor (Microsoft Word); and nominate the external examiner(s), for approval by the Chair of the Research and Postgraduate Committee (or nominee). The immigration status of a nominee must be obtained by the School before submitting the nomination form for approval. Following appointment, Schools must conduct a right to work check in line with the University procedure. Further guidance is available at http://www.qub.ac.uk/directorates/HumanResources/recruitment-and-selection/eligibility-to-work/.
A formal appointment letter is sent to the external examiner, along with links to appropriate regulations and guidance. The letter will also indicate a neutral point of contact within the School to whom the external examiner can raise any concerns prior to the completion of the Independent Report. This ensures that the internal and external examiners have not been in contact before they have completed an independent assessment of the thesis, and so assures the quality of the examination process.
The Head of School designates a member of staff to make the arrangements for the oral examination, in consultation with the student and the examiners. This should not be the internal examiner, in order to assure the quality of the examination process.
The external examiner is a specialist in the subject area of the thesis and will take the lead in the examination. The internal examiner is a full examiner, and is expected to have sufficient knowledge and understanding of the topic to provide a judgement on the quality of the thesis and to play a full part in the examination.
In any instance where an internal examiner is not appointed (see regulation 7.6.2), the Head of School appoints an independent member of the internal staff to co-ordinate the examination process.
A Director of Research (or nominee of equivalent experience, i.e. senior lecturer or above) is appointed as an independent convenor of the oral examination panel. The independent convenor is in attendance to monitor the conduct of the examination and provide a report.
The following guidelines outline the role of the independent convenor:
- The convenor is responsible for ensuring that the oral is conducted in a fair manner, and must be present for the duration of the examination. However, the convenor is not one of the examiners and will not participate in the examination of the student, nor is there a requirement to read the thesis.
- The convenor introduces those present at the oral examination, and ensures that all parties understand the procedures to be followed, and the expectations of each member. The convenor offers assistance and facilitation where necessary.
- The convenor is responsible for ensuring that the oral is of a reasonable duration. Where the oral is longer than two hours, it is recommended that the student be offered a short intermission. Where difficulties arise, the convenor will decide whether an adjournment is required.
- The convenor intervenes if there is a danger of unfairness, bias or unprofessional behaviour.
- Towards the end of the oral examination, the convenor asks the supervisor to withdraw so that there is an opportunity to say anything that the student would prefer to say without the presence of the supervisor.
- At the end of the oral examination, the convenor asks the student to withdraw while the examiners deliberate.
- If the examiners wish to advise the student of their decision, the convenor ensures that the student knows that this decision is provisional only. The student must await a formal letter from Student Services and Systems.
- The convenor is required to submit a report on the standard template provided by Student Services and Systems covering the procedural conduct of the examination.
Only one supervisor may attend the oral, with the agreement of the student, and may speak only with the examiners’ agreement. The supervisor’s main role is to comment on any practical or administrative difficulties in the pursuit of the research raised by the student.
The Preparatory Period Prior to the Oral Examination
In order to provide an opportunity for students to become familiar with the typical examination conditions, requirements and expectations of the oral examination, all postgraduate research students should be invited to experience a mock viva approximately two weeks before the student’s scheduled oral examination. It is recommended that the principal supervisor meets with the student for approximately one hour to role-play the viva experience, taking on the role of the external examiner, and questioning the student about the thesis and associated research areas, and then providing feedback to the student at the end of the session. The Graduate School provides additional information and student resources regarding preparing for the oral examination.
Guidelines for students on the submission process are provided by Student Services and Systems, which is responsible for sending the thesis to the examiners, along with the template examination reports.
The research and the written submission must be the student’s own work. An examiner who, in reading a thesis, discovers evidence of plagiarism, fabrication of results or other research misconduct, should report the matter immediately to the Head of School. Any allegation of plagiarism or duplication will be dealt with under the Procedures for Dealing with Academic Offences. Any other allegation of research misconduct will be dealt with under the Regulations Governing the Allegation and Investigation of Misconduct in Research. The examination will not continue until this process is complete, and may not continue at all if a substantive misconduct in research case is established.
Each examiner is required to complete an Independent Report on the thesis before the oral examination, without consulting the other examiner. Each examiner indicates in this preliminary report whether the thesis provisionally satisfies the requirements for the research degree, and makes an appropriate provisional decision subject to the outcome of the oral examination.
The internal examiner contacts the external examiner(s) a few days before the oral (once the Independent Reports have been completed) to discuss how the examination is to be handled. This enables them to identify the major issues which will be raised in the examination and to decide whether the student needs to submit any additional material (e.g. raw data). The internal examiner informs the supervisor at once if additional material is needed. In any instance where an internal examiner is not appointed, the Head of School appoints an independent member of the internal staff to co-ordinate the examination process.
Examiners meet briefly before the oral examination starts, to exchange and discuss the Independent Reports.
The student may not communicate with the examiners about the thesis before the examination.
A period of six to eight weeks is normally allowed for reading and examining a thesis, including the oral examination of the student.
The Oral Examination Process and Communicating the Result to the Student
Regulation 7.7 outlines the oral examination process, award decisions, and the procedure to be followed if the examiners cannot reach agreement on a decision.
An oral examination is compulsory for all RDPs (including for all resubmitted theses following major revisions), and is normally held in the University. It may serve a number of different functions, including the following:
- It provides the student with the opportunity to defend the thesis through high-level debate with experts in the subject.
- It gives the examiners an opportunity to explore any doubts they may have about the material presented in the thesis.
- It can be used to determine that the student is the author of the written materials submitted.
- It enables the examiners to check that the student has a thorough understanding of the theoretical framework, issues, methods and statistical analysis involved.
An agreed Joint Report, signed by both examiners, is completed after the oral examination, and submitted to the School normally within five working days of the oral examination. The Joint Report reflects the examiners’ assessment of both the written submission and the student’s performance at the oral examination, and includes a decision in accordance with regulation 7.7.5. It need not repeat comments already made in the Independent Reports. The Joint and Independent Reports taken together should be of sufficient length and provide sufficient evidence to justify the examiners’ decision.
If the examination decision requires thesis corrections or revision and resubmission, the examiners list the required amendments within the Joint Report. If, in accordance with regulation 7.7.5 iv, the examiners have recommended that the thesis be revised and resubmitted for the Doctoral degree, and have also proposed a possible alternative option for the award of a Master’s degree subject to corrections, the examiners should list the amendments required for each scenario so that the student can decide on the preferred option. (The student must confirm the preferred option with Student Services and Systems within ten working days of the date of the examination outcome notification letter, which is sent by Student Services and Systems.)
The independent convenor submits a report covering the procedural conduct of the examination, to the School, normally within five working days of the oral examination.
The Chair of the School Postgraduate Research Committee (SPRC), or Head of School nominee, considers the Independent Reports, the Report of the Independent Convenor, and the Joint Report, and may refer the case back to the examiners if the Joint Report does not justify the decision made. Otherwise, the Chair of the SPRC, or Head of School nominee, signs the Joint Report to confirm that the result has been justified. The Independent Reports, Joint Report, and Report of the Independent Convenor are sent to Student Services and Systems, normally within eight working days of the oral examination.
Upon receiving the examiner report forms, the Head of Registry Services signs the Joint Examiner report and viva outcome letter. Student Services and Systems then notifies the student of the outcome of the examination, and sends the student a copy of the examination reports (containing the list of required amendments, if appropriate), normally within two weeks of the oral examination. Amendments must only be made as directed by the examiners, and not to other areas of the thesis.
Following approval of the corrections received within the deadline set by the examiners, an examiner (normally the internal examiner) signs off the Thesis Deposit forms certifying that all corrections have been completed within deadline. The Thesis Deposit forms should be bound into the front of each of the hard bound copies of the thesis which the student submits to Student Services and Systems. Student Services and Systems confirms that an electronic submission has been made via Pure, where required (see information on Open Access and Thesis Embargo below). Student Services and Systems then notifies the student that the award has been approved.
Students who fail to submit a corrected or revised thesis by the date set by the examiners will normally be regarded as having failed the examination and the decisions of the examiners will lapse. If, in exceptional circumstances, the student is granted a period of temporary withdrawal following the original submission of the thesis, the deadline for submission of a corrected or revised thesis will be adjusted accordingly. This will be managed in the normal manner by the School, unless the student has/will exceed the cumulative maximum of two years’ temporary withdrawal from the programme. In this instance, the student/School should submit a RDP Exception Request - Temporary Withdrawal Form (Microsoft Word) by email to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration by the Research and Postgraduate Committee. The School should update the examiners, and notify Student Services and Systems as appropriate, if a temporary withdrawal period has been granted.
Open Access and Thesis Embargo
Increasingly, Open Access is becoming an essential component of how research is disseminated and communicated at universities. From September 2019 onwards it has been compulsory for all RDP students to make their thesis open access (OA) through uploading to Pure, which is the University’s Current Research Information System. All RDP students, moreover, are responsible for undertaking clearance of third party copyright in their dissertations. Where possible, and in line with current copyright legislation and publisher license restrictions, the final corrected version of the thesis will be made available open access on the Research Portal. In all instances, it is the responsibility of the author to ensure that they meet the OA requirements outlined above.
Regulation 7.9 outlines the library regulations. The author of a thesis may, with the written approval of the Head of School and supervisory team, place an embargo on access to the thesis for up to 5 years. Requests for further 5-year extensions should be made 6 months before the embargo is due to elapse, to Academic Affairs for consideration by the Director of Information Services and the Director of Academic and Student Affairs. Access to a thesis may also be withheld on the instructions of Senate to protect the interests of the University.