UK Universities Aim to Doctor Their Image

Article excerpt

AMERICAN-STYLE graduate schools are being set up in a growing number of UK universities to boost the profile of postgraduate study and reduce the isolation of doctoral students. The universities of Warwick, Manchester, Durham and Sheffield have recently set up graduate schools and many others, like Nottingham, Leeds, Essex and Hull, are considering the move.

Previously only the London School of Economics organised postgraduate study in this way, although Britain has a handful of purely postgraduate facilities, including Cranfield University, the Royal College of Art and the postgraduate institutes at London University.

Graduate schools work to improve the academic and social aspects of postgraduate study, promote related interests, monitor the quality of courses, and organise scholarships and new courses. They are increasingly being seen as the key to building up a strong research reputation under today's highly competitive funding regime.

The University of Warwick's graduate school, launched in 1991, was the first in the wave. Warwick deliberately set out to draw on US experience: staff visited Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and Wisconsin Madison University, and gathered information from many others, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California at Berkeley. Professor Bob Burgess, chairman of the graduate school, said: "We were not trying to superimpose the US model on a UK university but to remove the salient points and adapt them to the particular situation of Warwick."

Warwick chose to set up a university-wide graduate school, he said, because it "pulls together all areas of the university and gives graduate studies a high priority". The school is governed by a board, which includes six postgraduate students as well as faculty representatives and senate appointees. The board is represented on all the key committees of the university for deciding academic policy and allocating resources. Student representatives are appointed by Warwick's postgraduate association, set up by students at the same time as the graduate school with the blessing of the university.

The association is both a social focus for students and a forum for discussing academic and other needs. In two years the graduate school has done much to reduce the marginalisation of postgraduates and ensure they get adequate supervision and training in research skills. It is the university's main quality assurance team for postgraduate study and it reviews every programme every three years.

All postgraduates at Warwick now receive some research training. In the social sciences the training requirements of the Economic and Social Research Council form the basis of a training programme for all PhDs that takes up 60 per cent of their first year and continues into the second and third years.

In the arts, students receive a three month faculty-wide induction programme in research design and methodology, writing, publication, library and information technology skills. Each department also provides specific training tailored to an individual student's needs. And in the sciences, departments provide both specific training and general training in scientific ethics, lab skills and health and safety. …