This blog is a reflection of the BU Graduate School story so far as the first incarnation of the Graduate School makes way for a new vision. When I was asked to set up the Graduate School in November 2002 as 0.2FTE of my time, it was in the wake of two RAEs where BU had been criticised for its lack of institutional support of its PGRs and a stream of complaints from our postgraduate researchers via the Student Union. The first step was to examine the processes and systems in place across both campuses which quickly revealed that the seven Schools had seven different sets of processes and systems and, even more challenging, it transpired that we had somewhere between 80 and 147 PhD students but nobody quite knew how many. When looking at the qualification rates at that time BU was only managing to get 11% of its PGRs through within 4 years and some researchers had been registered for more than 13 years! Eight years on the Graduate School has implemented a Code of Practice and a set of processes that are now common across BU’s six Schools, overseen the introduction of new and innovative doctoral programmes and help improve our qualification rates. The systems that the Graduate School has put in place were deemed to be so effective that members of the panel that came to BU for the institutional audit contacted the VC to ask if they could adopt the BU model for their own institution. BU was also one of the first handful of universities to introduce a credit bearing training programme for its supervisors, something that is now becoming commonplace across the sector.
The support provided by the Graduate School to our PGR students has reduced the isolation and the complaints received from PGRs but there is still a long way to go to ensure that we have the correct systems in place to create a best practice research environment. The introduction of myBUILD as an online research student log and compliance system met with considerable resistance but was innovative at that time and BU was one of the first institutes across the HEI sector to introduce an online log. The lack of resources has meant that it was not possible to continue to develop the platform as the numbers of researchers increased but even though myBUILD has probably long gone past its “best before” date, it is vastly superior to the varied and somewhat unusual mixture of record keeping that was found in the individual Schools. There is an urgent need to redevelop the online system to make it more intuitive and better integrated with the other platforms across BU.
BU now has well over 300 PhD students and the qualification rates, particularly those of our part-time researchers, is vastly superior to that of 2002. The Graduate School introduced the Annual PGR Conference which has been enormously successful and was an integral part of the Special Audit of PGR programmes, a working member of the EUA’s programme on improving the quality of doctoral programmes across Europe and was the hub for BU’s application to ESRC and AHRC for doctoral support bids (the former falling foul of the spending cuts but the latter achieving success). It is hoped that Graduate School will move from strength to strength as the importance of the postgraduate segment of our student body becomes more significant as we move forward in the 21st century.