Academic Quality Handbook
- Full Handbook Contents
- 1 - Teaching and Learning at the University of Aberdeen: An Overview
- 2 - Quality Assurance in Higher Education: An Overview
- 3 - The Assurance and Enhancement of Academic Quality and Standards in Teaching and Learning
- 4 - Student Recruitment and Admissions
- 5 - Student Guidance and Learner Support
- 6 - Teaching and Learning Policies and Academic Administration
- 7 - Assessment and Examination Policies and Practices : Taught Courses and Programmes
- 8 - Research Students
Section 8 - Research Students
This Section of the Academic Quality Handbook should be of particular interest to research students, Supervisors and Heads of School
8.1.1 The University Senate has ultimate responsibility for assuring the quality of its educational provision and the academic standards of its awards, but the powers prescribed under the various higher degree regulations are exercised on its behalf by the Academic Standards Committee (Postgraduate). The Committee has, in turn, delegated the day-to-day responsibility for several administrative functions to Postgraduate Officers, who are appointed on the recommendation of relevant Heads of College, after appropriate consultation. College Postgraduate Officers are appointed for each of the ‘Areas of Study’ and, working through the Registry, they deal with all administrative matters relating to the admission, progression and examination of individual research students. The ASC’s remit is given in Appendix 3.3 to Section 3.
- PhD (Doctor of Philosophy);
- EdD (Doctor of Education);
- EngD (Doctor of Engineering);
- MD (Doctor of Medicine);
- MPhil (Master of Philosophy);
- ChM (Master of Surgery);
- MLE (Master of Land Economy);
- LLM (Master of Laws);
- MLitt (Master of Letters);
- MMedSci (Master of Medical Sciences);
- MSc (Master of Science);
- MTh (Master of Theology);
- MRes (Master of Research).
8.2.2 In addition, some students undertake research as a Registered Postgraduate Student (RPS). Their period of study is usually less than six months and there is no formal assessment. Transfer to a degree programme of longer duration may be recommended and backdated to the original start date, if appropriate, therefore the normal admissions process should be followed.
8.2.3 Details of the admission requirements and the minimum and maximum study period requirements are prescribed in the relevant regulations in the University Calendar, which can be accessed at www.abdn.ac.uk/registry/calendar/
8.2.4 Heads of School are responsible for considering applications for admission to a research degree and for recommending acceptance or rejection. Completed application forms should be submitted to SRAS [in the case of the Colleges of Life Sciences & Medicine and Physical Sciences via the Graduate School], indicating the Head of School’s nomination of a supervisor(s) for the applicant, the period and mode of study, and any conditions to be satisfied prior to entry, where appropriate. SRAS will then seek the approval of the relevant Postgraduate Officer in regard to a formal offer of admission and appointment of the supervisor.
8.2.5 Appendix 8.1 outlines the postgraduate application procedure giving the approximate turn-around time of each stage of the application process.
8.3.1 A Code of Practice: Postgraduate Research Students (see Section 5, Appendix 5.4) was approved in 1997 (revised May 2009) and describes, inter alia, the responsibilities of Research Students, Supervisors, Heads of School, Heads of Graduate School and College Postgraduate Officers in relation to research student supervision. The Code does not state or replace regulations, but summarises the University's practice, and should be read in conjunction with this Section of the Academic Quality Handbook.
8.4.1 While the University’s services and facilities relating to student guidance and learner support, which are described in Section 5, are available to all students, it is hoped that research students will develop a close working relationship with their supervisor(s) in terms of academic guidance and support. To foster this relationship, the University has put into place two mechanisms in regard to monitoring the progress of an individual research student and to ensure that, as far as possible, the thesis is submitted within the student’s registration period. These mechanisms are described in paragraphs 8.4.2 and 8.4.3 below.
Monitoring Progress: Postgraduate Assessment Form
8.4.2 Since 1989 all research students have been subject to monitoring assessments to ascertain whether progress has been satisfactory. It is a requirement that research students are monitored on a bi-annual basis.
8.4.3 Assessment forms vary across the Colleges and will be circulated to supervisors for completion electronically or in hard copy by the relevant Graduate Schools. The assessment form should be completed by the Supervisor(s) and the student, and the Head of School, and returned to the relevant Graduate School.
8.4.4 It is a formal record of the student’s progress and their generic skills training, and gives Supervisors, students and Heads of School an opportunity to comment on progress and supervision. It is thus very important that these forms are completed. Where a research student’s progress is flagged as “unsatisfactory” in the bi-annual assessment form, Heads of School (or Heads of Graduate School in cases where supervisors are also the Head of School) would be contacted by the Graduate School and asked to meet with the student.
8.4.5 Students registered for research training programmes such as the MRes in Psychology or the MLitt in Visual Culture are exempt from completing the assessment form as long as they are completing Student Course Evaluation Forms at the end of each course taken (Section 3, paragraph 3.5.4 refers).
Postgraduate Structured Management Framework
8.4.6 Generic Postgraduate Structured Management Frameworks were approved in 1997 for 3 year and 5 year PhD programmes and for other research degrees in 2000 (Appendices 8.2 to 8.7, respectively). It is intended that Schools and Colleges should modify the Frameworks to suit their needs, while retaining a core element to ensure consistency of quality supervisory practice. The Frameworks have three components:-
- development of a strong interactive relationship between the research student and supervisor(s);
- monitoring of the research student’s progress and supervisor performance at the School level by the Head of School;
- ensuring the quality assurance of postgraduate progress, education, training and development across Schools by a University-wide monitoring system.
8.4.7 From 2009/10 a new electronic package Skills Forge is being phased in, commencing with new starts. This online package will be used by the student and supervisor to record training needs, attendance at skills training courses, and record meetings between the student and supervisor. In time, it is planned that it will also replace the Postgraduate Monitoring process (see 8.4.2-8.4.6).
Monitoring of Postgraduate Research Degree Provision: Student Feedback
8.4.8 The University operates an annual on-line questionnaire which research students are asked to complete. It is designed to help institutions enhance the quality of postgraduate research degree provision by collecting feedback from current research students. Information arising from the questionnaire will be considered by the Academic Standards Committee (Postgraduate) and Heads of Graduate Schools, and discussed with individual Schools.
Problems and Difficulties
8.4.9 While the University aims to provide a welcoming and supportive environment for the conduct of research studies by postgraduate students, occasionally students will encounter academic problems and difficulties. The procedure for dealing with these is detailed in the Code of Practice: Postgraduate Research Students (Section 5 refers).
Research Student Administration
8.4.10 Research students and supervisors are directed to Section 6 of the Academic Quality Handbook which describes in detail practical issues and procedures relating to academic administration.
8.5.1 Various induction programmes are arranged for research students by their School and/or the College. In some Colleges, such programmes are compulsory for research students. Candidates who successfully complete such programmes are entitled to apply for the award of a Postgraduate Certificate or Postgraduate Diploma in Research Methods. Regulation 7 for Research Degrees applies. Full-time students completing an MRes programme prior to undertaking a PhD will be registered for four years of study (1+3 programme).
8.5.2 One feature of the Postgraduate Structured Management Framework is a training needs analysis. Research students may be required by their Supervisor to attend taught courses relating specifically to their research training and development, which may be stipulated as a condition of entry.
Preparation and Submission of Theses
8.6.1 The thesis is expected to form a coherent whole with a consistent argument or series of arguments running through it. The incorporation of material published by the candidate during the period of registration for the degree is permitted but it must be accompanied by written commentary on publications submitted. Furthermore, the footnoting/end noting must make clear which sections of the thesis are based on published material and how much individual responsibility the candidate has for any jointly authored work. Such material must be property and stylistically incorporated into the thesis.
8.6.2 Notes on the presentation of theses are produced by the Library. They can be accessed at www.abdn.ac.uk/library/guides/gen/qggen009.pdf. The Notes include information on upper word limits of thesis length. Also see the relevant regulations in the University Calendar at:- www.abdn.ac.uk/registry/calendar/
8.6.3 Students should inform the Registry of their intention to submit their thesis by completing an Intention to Submit Form (available at www.abdn.ac.uk/registry/download). This form should be submitted at least one month before the intended date. By doing this, it is anticipated that examiners will be appointed by the time the thesis is submitted and the thesis can be sent out for examination straight away. If the Intention to Submit Form is not submitted prior to submission of the thesis there will be a delay in the thesis being sent out for examination whilst examiners are appointed.
Nomination and Appointment of Examiners
8.6.4 The Court and Senate have delegated to the Academic Standards Committee (ASC) (Postgraduate) the power to approve the appointment of examiners for higher degrees examined by thesis and oral examination. Such appointments are approved on behalf of the ASC by the relevant College Postgraduate Officer.
8.6.5 Once research students submit to the Registry the relevant form to intimate their intention of submitting a thesis or other work for a higher degree, the Registry formally requests the relevant Head of School to nominate internal and external examiners by sending a Nomination of Examiners form for completion (available at www.abdn.ac.uk/registry/download). In identifying examiners, Heads of School are expected to liaise with the candidate’s supervisor and indicate reasons for proposing the external examiner. Any contact between a candidate and the nominated external examiner during the candidate’s career should also be indicated.
8.6.6 If a candidate is a full- or part-time member of the academic staff in the University, at least two external examiners must be appointed in addition to an internal moderator. In all other cases, normally one internal examiner and one external examiner is nominated.
- an internal examiner should be appointed for all higher degrees examined by thesis. In those instances where it is necessary for two or more external examiners to be appointed (e.g. when the candidate is a member of academic staff), the internal moderator’s responsibility is to oversee the examination and, in particular, to ensure that standard University procedures and policies are followed;
- a candidate’s supervisor (past or present) cannot be appointed as an internal examiner;
- a member of an associated research institute who holds a University of Aberdeen appointment may be appointed as an internal examiner;
- a former member of staff who has left the University since a candidate completed his/her research may be appointed as an internal examiner and offered the same fee as an external examiner;
- in all other cases an internal examiner or moderator must be a contracted employee of the University (excludes honorary members of staff);
- where the examiners appointed do not include a contacted employee of the University, a moderator should be appointed to oversee the examination arrangements;
- Heads of School should identify on the nomination form those theses where confidentiality might appropriately apply. As part of the appointment process, the attention of the external examiner will be drawn to this matter by the Registry. It is expected that the imposition of confidentiality restrictions would only be used exceptionally.
8.6.8 Heads of School are also asked to ensure that the proposed internal and examiners are aware that they are being nominated. Students should submit to the Registry two bound copies of their thesis for examination.
8.6.9 It is University policy that all candidates for the award of a higher degree by research should be required to submit to oral examination unless there are exceptional reasons why the oral examination should be dispensed with. In such cases, the exceptional reasons should be given in detail on the examiners’ Joint Report Form (see below) and should be approved by the appropriate College Postgraduate Officer prior to processing of the result.
8.6.10 It is the responsibility of the internal examiner (or internal moderator) to make the arrangements for the oral examination. Oral examinations normally take place in Aberdeen but may be held elsewhere by the mutual agreement of all the examiners and the candidate. Supervisors and/or Heads of School may attend oral examinations only at the invitation of the examiners and with the agreement of the candidate.
8.6.11 The oral examination should normally take place within two months of the date of dispatch of the candidate’s thesis to the examiners. The internal examiner (or internal moderator) should keep the candidate and the Registry fully informed if there are any delays in regard to the oral examination.
8.7.1 Examiners are required to submit two reports. Each examiner is required to prepare an independent written report on their assessment of the thesis on the Independent Report Form. This must be prepared independently before the day of the oral examination. A Joint Report Form indicating the joint recommendation of the examiners and containing details of the oral examination must be submitted after the oral examination along with a list of any required corrections.
8.7.2 Independent and Joint Reports should normally be submitted to the Registry immediately after the oral examination and within three days at the latest. The Independent and Joint Reports will only be made available to candidates if the Examiners grant their permission.
8.7.3 The examiners’ recommendation (see below) is considered by two College Postgraduate Officers who have delegated power to recommend to the Senate, on behalf of the Academic Standards Committee, whether a thesis be sustained and the relevant degree be conferred or whether the thesis be referred or failed.
8.7.4 Where a thesis is referred the reason must be provided. For re-submission the examiners must give details of any conditions (paragraph 8.8.1 refers).
8.7.5 Where the recommendation by examiners is that the thesis be sustained, subject to minor corrections, the internal examiner is normally appointed by the examiners to ensure that the required corrections are made satisfactorily.
8.7.6 Schools should be aware that the Data Protection Act 1998 entitles postgraduate research students to copies of their examiner’s reports (Section 1.12 refers).
8.8.1 Where the examiners recommend that the thesis be not sustained but that the candidate be given the opportunity to re-submit in a revised form, this should be within a stated period not exceeding 12 months. Examiners making this recommendation are required to submit to the Registry, in writing, their major comments on which the revised submission is to be based, which will be sent to the candidate. The candidates should consult with his or her supervisor when revising the thesis. The candidate and the examiners should not be in contact during this time. On re-submission, a copy of the comments will be sent to the examiners with the revised thesis by the Registry.
8.8.2 Where the recommendation by examiners that the thesis does not meet the requirements for the degree being examined but meets the standards (as defined by the Regulations) of a lower award, they may recommend that the lower degree be awarded. However, it should be noted that there is a recognised difference in standard between the degree of MPhil and other Master’s degrees relating to the length of the period of research and the level of research work undertaken, details of which are contained in the relevant sections of the regulations for higher degrees (Appendix 8.8, paragraph 2 refers).
8.9.1 Research student progress is monitored formally through bi-annual assessment forms (paragraph 8.4.2 refers). Research students who have any concerns about their progress should discuss these with their Supervisor as soon as possible. If still dissatisfied they should approach their Head of School and, thereafter, the College Postgraduate Officer for the relevant area of study through the Registry.
Representation Against Termination of Studies or Candidature for an Award
8.9.2 During the course of their studies, research students, whose studies or candidature for a degree or other qualification has been recommended for termination or is being considered for termination under the Regulations governing the qualification for which they are registered, have the right to submit representations against such termination to the Senate Postgraduate Students’ Progress Committee. The Senate has empowered this committee to hear and determine cases on its behalf, which will meet ad hoc to consider any such representations. A student has the right of appeal against the decision of the committee to the University Court, but only the basis which is outlined in Note 11 of the University’s Guidance Note for Students in Relation to: (a) Non-Progression on Academic Grounds; (b) Discontinuation of Attendance on Courses on Academic Grounds; (b) Termination of Studies or Candidature for an Award on Academic Grounds (see Appendix 5.17b to Section 5. Section 6, paragraph 6.13.14 also refers).
8.9.3 From time to time a research student may seek to appeal against a decision involving academic judgement taken, in terms of the Regulations for the degree or other qualification for which he or she is studying, among others, by the examiners appointed to examine a thesis for a higher degree, or by the relevant College Postgraduate Officer in relation to terms of study. Specific rights of appeal are very limited indeed but the Senate has a general duty to regulate and superintend the teaching of the University, and the Court has the authority to review any decision of the Senate which may be appealed against by a member of the University.
Examination Offences (including plagiarism)
8.10.3 Where there is reason to believe that cheating in a prescribed degree assessment has occurred a complaint should normally be made through the Head of the appropriate School; it should not be dealt with as part of academic assessment. The role of the internal and external examiners shall be restricted to the presentation of evidence; they shall have no role in deciding whether a student is guilty of cheating. They may, as appropriate, submit evidence to a disciplinary hearing. The Head of the School shall normally investigate the allegation with the student by following the procedures detailed in Section 7 of the Code of Practice on Student Discipline.
“Plagiarism is the use, without adequate acknowledgment, of the intellectual work of another person in work submitted for assessment. A student cannot be found to have committed plagiarism where it can be shown that the student has taken all reasonable care to avoid representing the work of others as his or her own (Section 2.1.1(h) of the Code refers).”
8.11.1 The Registry sends an Application to Graduate form to all those eligible to graduate. Further details are given in Section 7, sub-section 7.15. The onus is on the candidate to apply to graduate in absentia or at an in person ceremony.