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Focus On: The Postgraduate Research (PGR) Student Experience

Focus On: what is it?

Each year, QAA Scotland chooses a topic for the Focus On project in collaboration with the Scottish Higher Education Enhancement Committee (SHEEC).  Focus On topics are drawn directly from the outcomes of Enhancement-led Institutional Review (ELIR) to support the enhancement of policy and practice in the sector and provide a link between the outcomes of ELIR and the enhancement of practice.  At the start of each year, we invite all Scottish higher education institutions (HEIs) and students’ associations to tell us in what ways we can best provide support around the topic identified to ensure that what we deliver is useful, relevant and timely.

Why the postgraduate research student experience?

In the final year of the ELIR cycle, 2015-16, aspects of the postgraduate student experience were identified as areas for development in 4 out of 5 institutions reviewed.  Across the cycle, from 2012-16, aspects of the postgraduate student experience were identified as areas of development in 13 out of 18 ELIRs.  Within these areas for development, the following themes arose (the numbers in brackets indicate the number of institutions for whom this was an aspect of the area for development):

  • Training and support for postgraduates that teach (8)
  • Support for staff with research student supervision requirement (including staff workload allocation and research supervisor training) (5)
  • Oversight of the postgraduate student learning experience (3)
  • Developing a research community (3)
  • Managing the quality of student support in the context of increased postgraduate student numbers (3)
  • Monitoring and enhancement arrangements (2)
  • Postgraduate student representation (2)
  • Equivalence of the postgraduate experience across an institution (2)
  • Induction (1)
  • Consistency of information for postgraduate students (1)

The information above is taken from points arising in ELIR Outcome reports.  Further information on the postgraduate student experience is included in the longer ELIR Technical reports.  Full ELIR reports, and other thematic analysis, can be found on the ELIR webpages

In particular, we have produced a Thematic Report on the Postgraduate Student Experience, which summarises practice highlighted during the last cycle of ELIR (2012-2016).

Following scoping with Scottish HEI’s and students associations’ on what they wanted from the Focus On project, we concentrated specifically on the postgraduate research (PGR) student experience.

Project strands

Project work was divided into the four priority strands below. Project outcomes and resources can be found using the links below:

  1. Training and support for postgraduate students who teach (PGWT)
  2. Support for staff who supervise research students
  3. Building a research community for PGRs
  4. Student representation for PGRs

On 18 May 2017, we held a dissemination event in Central Glasgow.  This was an opportunity for institutional staff and students to engage with the key outputs of the project, as well as sharing their own practice.

Get involved

If you would like any further information or would like to be added to the Focus On mailing list, please contact Debra Macfarlane, Quality Enhancement Manager.

Related resources

You may also be interested in reading the QAA Viewpoint: Doctoral research students - what should they expect from their academic experience?