This section of the Code of Practice for Research Degree Programmes (RDPs) relates to Indicator 13 of the UK Quality Code, Chapter B11: Research Degrees.
Regulations to support progress within the RDP are outlined in regulation 6 of the Study Regulations for Research Degree Programmes. These include regulations for:
- Effective supervision.
- The development and updating of the research plan.
- An initial review of the feasibility of the project and the research plan, taking account of the required timeframe for the RDP.
- Regular progress monitoring by the supervisory team, including the requirement for a minimum of six (but normally ten for full-time students) formal, recorded meetings per year between the supervisor(s) and student to monitor progress against the research plan; and mechanisms to identify and deal with progress issues at an early stage.
- Annual Progress Review (including differentiation).
Annual Progress Review
Student progress is reviewed annually, by an independent progress review panel, until the student has completed the Research Degree Programme (RDP). Schools should provide details of the type of student submission that is required for students completing each year of study, including any other information/requirements that the School deems appropriate for the discipline.
The Study Regulations for Research Degree Programmes, regulation 6.5 outlines the requirements for Annual Progress Review (APR). While the exact format of the Annual Progress Review is determined, at School level, by discipline, year of study and full-time/part-time status, it must contain the following three elements:
- A written submission from the student.
- A meeting with the student, whereby the student can be questioned about their work by the progress review panel.
- A documented outcome of the review and the progression decision.
All returning students registered for RDPs (including those engaged in the research elements of a Professional Doctorate) must have their progress reviewed annually by independent progress review panel members, in a meeting at which they are present to discuss their work, prior to registration for the next academic year. The following subsections should provide guidance on good practice to support APR.
The School shall appoint a progress review panel for each student. This should normally comprise two independent members of staff. One of the independent members should be a senior member of staff within the School. The other member may be a lecturer on probation who has significant knowledge of the research area.
As it is expected that panel members will not have had substantial co-authoring or collaborative involvement in the student’s work as a result of APR, panel members would be eligible to act as internal examiners at the final oral examination. If Schools are concerned that there may have been substantial involvement with a student, Academic Affairs should be contacted for further guidance.
One member of the supervisory team, preferably the principal supervisor, may be present to provide input, but may not take part in making the final recommendation concerning the student’s progress. If a supervisor is in attendance at a panel meeting, the supervisor should be asked to leave the meeting for a few minutes so the student can openly discuss the supervisory process. Schools may wish to consider how they will receive feedback from supervisors, regarding the supervisory process, particularly if the supervisor does not attend the meeting.
Types of Meetings and Student Submissions
For year one full-time students on the PhD programme, the APR meeting should comprise the differentiation interview, and take place approximately nine months after the student first enrols on the programme. (For late enrollers, who would not be expected to differentiate until the next academic year, a light touch APR meeting should be held, such as that arranged for year one part-time students. Once differentiation has been completed at the appropriate time, these students should fit in with the normal cycle of APR meetings in subsequent years.) Students being considered for differentiation should normally submit a differentiation report, a research plan, and a training record for consideration by the progress review panel.
For full-time students in year two and beyond, APR meetings may comprise a student presentation on their research followed by a question and answer session. Students should normally submit a training record, an updated research plan/completion timetable, and one or more of the following: a progress report, PowerPoint presentation, chapter outline, thesis overview, and thesis chapter(s). Schools may also consider a report from the supervisors. These types of meetings could also be used with the majority of students on Professional Doctorate programmes.
For part-time students, Schools may wish to implement the approach outlined above at the end of the second, fourth and sixth years. A lighter touch approach (e.g. reduced student submissions regarding progress, and brief progress review meetings) could be implemented at the end of the first, third, and fifth years.
For external students, and those who are studying away from the University, it would be acceptable to host the meeting between the progress review panel and student via Skype or alternative videoconferencing or teleconferencing approaches.
For students who are on an approved leave of absence when the School is completing APR, a light touch approach could be implemented when the student has returned to studies and has had sufficient time to prepare the written submission, with advice from the supervisory team. It would be good practice for the student to submit a brief research progress report to date, and a research plan for the next period, which is discussed during a brief meeting with the progress review panel.
All students who may need to register in the next academic year in order to have a final version of the thesis approved prior to graduation must complete the APR process. For students who are very near submission (as acknowledged by the principal supervisor), or who have submitted their thesis but are awaiting a viva, a light touch approach would be appropriate. This is to act as a formal way of ‘keeping in touch’ in case there may be progress issues, whilst recognising that a full APR at this stage would not be appropriate. These students may benefit from submitting the outline of their thesis and one or more chapters for consideration by the panel.
For students who are completing corrections within a deadline which occurs in the next academic year, a very light touch approach would be appropriate. Students who have been asked to revise and resubmit their thesis for re-examination may benefit from submitting draft revised work to the progress review panel, and experiencing a mock viva regarding the corrections. For students who are completing corrections, the student submission may simply be a brief report on progress with the corrections, and the expected date of completion and submission of the corrections, and the APR panel meeting could be a very brief meeting to ensure that the student is on track and that there are no issues that would delay the completion.
Any students who are completing corrections within a deadline which occurs in the current academic year will not have to complete the APR process. These students would be expected to register in the next academic year in order to graduate only.
These examples are not prescriptive, but should be seen as guiding Schools in determining the most appropriate way of reviewing, documenting and verifying the progress of their research students.
Feedback after the APR Meeting
Students should receive written feedback from the progress review panel once the progress recommendation has been approved by the School Postgraduate Research Committee. It would be good practice for the supervisory team to receive a copy of this feedback to support the future progression of the student.
Timing of Progress Review Panel Meetings
As stated in the Study Regulations for Research Degree Programmes, regulation 6.5.1, registration at the beginning of an academic year shall be dependent on the completion of a satisfactory progress report by the end of the previous academic year, for returning students. Schools can determine when in the second semester that APR shall take place for their students. Timing may vary depending on the student’s year of study/progress, but appropriate information should be disseminated to all students in advance to allow for the required preparations.
For students who are required to differentiate to Doctoral status (e.g. PhD students), it is recommended that reviews are held within nine months to allow for any remedial actions arising from the review to be completed within the year.
Schools may wish to hold APR meetings for students on each year of study at different times within the second semester. This may enable the School to effectively schedule and administer APR, and to ensure that students receive feedback at a time that would benefit their future research. It is recommended that initial APR meetings are held early enough to allow students to complete any remedial actions required for progression before they need to register for the next academic year.
Registration at the beginning of an academic year is dependent on the completion of a satisfactory progress report by the end of the previous academic year. Students who are dissatisfied with the outcome of the progress review may submit an academic appeal (Research Degree Programmes) if an appropriate ground for appeal can be evidenced.
Students registered for the PhD by Published Works normally complete the programme within one year of registration, and therefore are not expected to engage in Annual Progress Review.
It is considered good practice for draft differentiation reports, papers or thesis chapters/sections, as appropriate, to be submitted to the University’s similarity checking service (Turnitin) for feedback purposes, prior to Annual Progress Review. The supervisory team should provide support to the student to help interpret the Turnitin report and, where required, offer advice on correct writing and citing of sources in line with the conventions of the discipline in which they are studying. Further information is available in the Good Practice Guide on the Use of Turnitin Software for Postgraduate Research Students.