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17 February 2004
To  Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions
Heads of universities in Northern Ireland
Direct Line 0117 931 7300
Direct Fax 0117 931 7203

Circular letter number 04/2004

For further information contact Dominic Freda, tel 0117 931 7064, e-mail

Dear Vice-Chancellor or Principal

Improving standards in postgraduate research degree programmes: statement on progress

1.    In May 2003, the four UK higher education funding bodies issued the formal consultation on 'Improving standards in postgraduate research degree programmes' (HEFCE 2003/23). The key issues arising from the consultation are summarised in Annex A.

2.    Responses demonstrated clear and continuing support for the principle that institutions should adopt high standards of supervision and training in order to qualify for postgraduate research funding.

3.    A key concern centred around the introduction of a separate set of standards when a Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) code on postgraduate research programmes already existed. Following the consultation with the sector and in light of subsequent discussions with the QAA, the funding bodies are now considering with QAA a possible way forward, under which minimum standards for postgraduate research degree programmes (RDPs) are embedded within the QAA code of practice. Key issues arising from the consultation will inform our discussions with the QAA. It is envisaged that work on the revision of the code of practice will be undertaken during the current academic year. This is in keeping with the funding bodies' commitment to announcing minimum standards for RDPs by the summer of 2004, prior to their implementation in 2005-06.

4.    Each of the funding bodies will consider individually how to make the link between postgraduate RDP standards and funding in due course. HEFCE's position on this is set out in 'Review of research funding method' (HEFCE 2003/38).

Yours sincerely


Howard Newby
Chief Executive, HEFCE


Annex A
[ MS Word 42K | Zipped Word 10K | Adobe PDF 18K | Zipped PDF 15K ]


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