6    Progress and review arrangements

6.1 Student performance and monitoring of progress

The University expects research students to make good progress in their studies and to complete their research within the normal study period for the award. The progress of research students is monitored to ensure that student completion rates remain high and in order to comply with statutory reporting to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

All research students must be monitored in terms of attendance and performance and if, at any time, a student’s progress is identified as being unsatisfactory, or the standard of their work is below that which is expected, the enhanced academic support process in Section 6.3 must be followed. If academic progress remains unsatisfactory, the procedure in Annex 3 will be initiated. The faculty must provide clear guidance on progress review processes and systems. The main supervisor must make the student aware of these requirements.

6.1.1 Research degree programmes that contain a taught component

The assessment, monitoring and progression requirements of any taught components that are part of a research degree programme must be clearly set out.  The relevant sections of the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes apply to the assessment of any taught components.

6.2 Annual progress review

The annual progress review gives research students the opportunity to engage in dialogue about their research and explore ideas with other academics. It should provide useful preparation for oral examinations and excellent training in academic discourse.

A student’s personal and professional development should form a component of the review as a consideration of their whole progress and development. See also the Personal and Professional Development Policy for Research Students in Annex 10.

Disabled students should be offered reasonable adjustments that take into account their disability for the purpose of assessment. Research students should be signposted to Disability Services for a Disability Support Summary, which will make recommendations for reasonable adjustments appropriate for the student in any assessment, such as progression processes, presentations, or the oral examination. Students and staff should contact Disability Services for advice about reasonable adjustments to assessment.

Continued registration for a research degree (doctoral and Masters) is conditional upon making satisfactory progress. The purpose of the mandatory annual progress review process is to establish that progress is satisfactory and, if not, to ensure that remedial action is taken promptly. Both full-time and part-time research students must be reviewed annually. The expectations for the annual progress of part-time students should be adjusted appropriately to reflect their part-time status.

Annual progress reviews vary from faculty to faculty, but must always involve:

  • a written report or piece of work, and completion of a review form by the student;
  • an independent assessment of the submitted work and student’s progress during the review period; and
  • comments from both the student and the main supervisor.

All comments, feedback and recommendations arising from the annual progress review will be evaluated by the relevant Graduate Education Director.

The student will see and comment on the written report on their progress.

The normal outcome of the annual progress review is that the student progresses to the next year, either unconditionally or subject to the completion of specific targets.

In addition to these minimum University requirements, there may be subject-specific or programme requirements for satisfactory progress, especially if the student is funded by an external sponsor. A student and their main supervisor must discuss a sponsor’s additional progress monitoring requirements at an early stage to ensure that these may be met in good time.

The University expects schools to set up a formal review of progress at least once a year, for three main purposes:

  1. to ensure that the student is well supported and able to overcome any practical or academic obstacles to progress;
  2. to enable the student or supervisor to communicate and explain any concerns about progress since the previous meeting; and
  3. to encourage the student to reflect upon, and plan for, academic progress alongside their own personal and professional development.

‌6.3 Enhanced academic support

6.3.1 Introduction

Where there are concerns that are affecting a research student’s academic progress, enhanced academic support within the school will be provided. Such support should be tailored to the individual and take into account any extenuating circumstances the student is experiencing. It may be appropriate to consider options such as suspension or part-time working.

If progress is still not satisfactory at the end of the period of enhanced academic support, the unsatisfactory academic progress procedure set out in Annex 3 will be initiated. Schools must ensure that students are made aware of this potential outcome when they enter into a period of enhanced academic support.

Written records must be kept of all informal and formal meetings at which a student’s academic progress is considered and will be copied to all participants and filed securely in the school. Students will be invited to sign off action plans to indicate that they have seen and understood the plans. Where feasible, students should be informed of progress decisions in person, but if this is not possible it should be via their University email address. Failure by the student to agree records, to acknowledge progress decisions or to sign off an action plan will not delay the enhanced academic support process.

Unless the context indicates otherwise, references within this procedure to an office holder shall refer to that office holder or to a nominee. References to the supervisor shall be taken to mean the student’s main supervisor or supervisory team, as appropriate. Where the student’s main supervisor is the school Postgraduate Research (PGR) Director or Faculty Graduate Education Director, a nominee will be appointed. (References  to the school PGR Director shall mean the holder of the equivalent office in schools or faculties where this title is not used).

6.3.2 The enhanced academic support process

A supervisor, a reviewer, a PGR Programme Director or a school’s PGR Director (or, exceptionally, another academic) may raise concerns about the academic progress of a research student at any stage in the programme of study. (If there is any disagreement between the supervisor and others about these concerns, the matter should be referred to the School’s PGR Director or, exceptionally, to the Head of School for a decision.) As soon as the concern is confirmed, the supervisor must immediately make the student aware of the situation and notify the student and the School’s PGR Director in writing that enhanced academic support has commenced. The student should be invited to say if there are any extenuating circumstances.

The supervisor and research student will meet as soon as possible to draw up a plan of activities (“Plan 1”) to be completed within the following three months (or six months for a part-time student). Plan 1 will include the activities and expected outputs, the likely frequency and duration of supervisory meetings, any other support that will be made available, and finally how progress will be assessed at the end of the period of enhanced academic support. The supervisor will then provide the student and the school’s PGR Director with a copy of Plan 1.

If at the end of the period specified in Plan 1, the supervisor and the school’s PGR Director agree that progress is now satisfactory, the supervisor will confirm this in writing to the student and the school and this procedure will immediately come to an end.

If at the end of the period specified in Plan 1, the supervisor and the school’s PGR Director agree that progress is still not satisfactory, the supervisor will notify the student and the Faculty Graduate Education Director (GED) in writing, copied to the school’s PGR Director. This will initiate the unsatisfactory academic progress procedure set out in Annex 3.

If the supervisor and the school’s PGR Director are unable to agree on whether or not progress is satisfactory, they must refer the case to the Head of School for a decision.

The enhanced academic support process is summarised in the flowchart in Section 6.3.3 

6.3.3 Flowchart of the enhanced academic support process

 

6.4 Interruptions and changes to study

6.4.1 Suspension of study

A suspension of study may be granted to research students who need to interrupt their studies. This is often because of circumstances largely beyond their control, for example ill-health, family or financial problems, but may also be agreed if the student wishes to take advantage of a specific career opportunity. Periods of suspension must be as short as is necessary to address, or to take advantage of, the situation. Suspensions will not be backdated for more than one month.

Where a student has suspended on health grounds that are related to an existing disability or a new health condition, which is likely to last 12 months or more, the student should be signposted to Disability Services to discuss appropriate support. More broadly, students who have suspended should be encouraged to check the availability of support with individual services as there may be limited access to some areas of Student Services for suspended students.

Students approaching the end of a period of suspension that has been granted for health reasons may be required to produce a letter from a medical practitioner confirming that the student is fit to return to studies. If towards the end of a period of suspension the student is not fit to return to studies, they must apply for a further suspension of study before the first one ends. 

A period of suspension does not alter the student's maximum period of study (see Section 4.3.1) and it will be included in the calculation of the maximum completion period (see Section 4.3.2). 

The University’s Fitness to Study policy is a point of reference in this area. Fitness to study relates to an individual’s capacity to participate fully and satisfactorily as a student, in relation to academic studies and life generally at the University.

6.4.2 Extension of study

Permission to extend the period of study may be granted in exceptional circumstances, with compelling reasons and support from the research student’s supervisor and school, provided application is made well before the period of study is due to end. Supervisors should therefore review a student’s progress no later than four months before they are due to finish. The student should make a request for an extension, if required, shortly after this review.

An extension will extend the maximum period of study and therefore increases the time taken by the candidate to complete the degree. It will also be included in the calculation of the maximum completion period (see Section 4.3.2).

An additional fee may be payable during the period of extension of studies.

The Graduate Education Director of the faculty in which the research student is registered may approve periods of suspension or extension of study for a maximum of 12 months in total. Any request that takes the total period of suspension or extension of study over 12 months requires the approval of the Academic Director of Graduate Studies (ADGS).

Requests for suspension or extension, made on the appropriate form, must be accompanied by supporting evidence. Such evidence should include medical reports as appropriate, relevant correspondence and a work plan covering the extra time requested. Medical evidence will be treated in confidence.

In all cases, the request for extension or suspension must be sent to the Graduate Education Director for the faculty in the first instance. Requests sent on to the ADGS must include a covering letter from the Graduate Education Director, summarising the main points and confirming faculty support.

Any suspension or extension of the period of study of a visa-holding student must be reported to the relevant Faculty Office as soon as it is known, in order to meet the reporting requirements of the UK Government.

Any funding body rules on extensions and suspensions will be additional to those of the University. The student must ensure that, where relevant, the approval of any relevant funding body has been obtained before a suspension or extension is granted by the University. 

6.4.3 Changes in mode of attendance

Research students may request to change their mode of attendance from full-time to part-time, or vice versa. Possible reasons for such a request could include changes in a student’s personal or employment circumstances. Health reasons however should not be considered unless medical evidence indicates that the change would be of assistance to the student. A suspension, as described in Section 6.4.1, would generally be more appropriate for ill health.

A student undertaking a research degree programme may change their mode of attendance a maximum of twice during the programme. The faculty Graduate Education Director will consider requests beyond this maximum if there are exceptional circumstances.

A Research Council or other funding body would need to be informed of, and may need to give approval for, changes in the mode of attendance for a sponsored student. The University’s regulation on changes to the mode of attendance is necessarily subordinated to the sponsor’s conditions in those cases.

It is not possible for international students who are studying in the UK on a Tier 4 student visa to study part-time and they must therefore be registered on a full-time degree.