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The analysis uses a new method to calculate rates of qualification from postgraduate research degree study (Note 2) and replaces the research degree qualification rates (RDQRs) method that has been used by HEFCE since 2007. This updated method means that the data are not directly comparable with those calculated and published by HEFCE previously. It is intended to provide more relevant information and be less burdensome to HEIs and HEFCE than the previous one, which involved verification of data going back several years (Note 3). The new method is consistent with the one we use to calculate completion rates for undergraduate students, and aims to be more objective, fair and reliable (Note 4).

Rates of qualification from research degree study are projected for students living in the UK and EU, who started full-time research degrees at English HEIs in 2008-09 and 2009-10. Qualification rates are provided by HEI, projected over periods of 7 and 25 years. We take 7 years as the first point by which there is a reasonable expectation that the majority of students who will ever complete their qualification will have done so. We take 25 years as the point where any student who will ever complete has done so.

The data show the proportions of full-time research degree starters that are in each of three end states that have been projected at 103 HEIs in England (Note 5). That is the proportion of the cohort expected to have:

  • qualified
  • transferred to another institution, or
  • become absent from higher education.

Proportions of students starting in 2009-10 projected to reach each of these stages after 7 and 25 years are shown in the table below.

Outcomes% of 2009-10 starters
  projected over
7 years
projected over
25 years
Qualify with research degree 67.6 75.6
Qualify with another postgraduate research qualification 2.7 3.1
Transfer to another institution 2.2 2.3
Leave with no award or transfer 15.7 18.2

The report, 'Rates of qualification from postgraduate research degrees: Projected study outcomes of full-time students starting postgraduate research degrees in 2008-09 and 2009-10' (HEFCE 2012/10), can be accessed on the HEFCE web-site.

Notes

  1. The term postgraduate research degree is used to refer to all doctorate degrees obtained primarily through advanced supervised research written up as a thesis/dissertation. A student is defined as qualifying when they have been awarded a postgraduate research degree and the qualification obtained has been returned through the individualised HESA student record. This will typically be up to a year after the student submitted their thesis for assessment.
  2. Rates of qualification from postgraduate research degree study are calculated using a method derived from that employed by table series T5 of the UK higher education performance indicators. The table T5 methodology is long-established and relatively simple; it has been used by HEIs and others for a variety of purposes. The new method used in this report is an extension of the table T5 methodology to postgraduate research degree study.
  3. HEFCE published RDQRs in 2007 and 2010. In the method then used, a cohort of students were tracked from the year they entered an institution across seven academic years, with the RDQR being the number of that cohort found to have qualified within the time frame, divided by the total population. The drawbacks to this method are that the resulting data are inevitably old (the 2010 publication focused on students who had commenced their study between 2000 and 2003), and generating the data is resource-intensive for both HEFCE and HEIs due to the need to verify historical data. 
  4. We have consulted HEIs on our new method. In November 2011, English institutions previewed both the method and their own results. Some institutions’ results are suppressed where data error has led to misleading results.
  5. Results have been suppressed for 11 HEIs because of problems they have identified in the underlying data they returned to HESA which led to misleading qualification rates being calculated.
  6. Recent patterns of student behaviour at an institution have been used when making these projections. Each HEI’s rate is presented alongside a sector-adjusted average (benchmark) and, where appropriate, an indicator which highlights significant variation from the sector-adjusted average.
  7.  We expect to develop methods to examine retention of postgraduate students among non-EU domiciled students, research degree starters in institutions with small postgraduate populations, part-time research degree starters, and starters on other forms of postgraduate research study (such as masters courses, and other professional qualifications at postgraduate level).
  8. The decision to calculate qualification rates after 25 years is in line with that of the method in relation to undergraduate students. For first degree students, who we expect to mostly qualify at the end of 3 years, the undergraduate method makes the projections over a period of 15 years (i.e. five times longer than the 'typical' time to completion). Because we have observed that postgraduate research degree students typically take longer to qualify than undergraduates, we have increased the period over which projections are made from 15 to 25 years. In both cases it is intended that the period of projection allows for the projected results to be representative of the final outcomes.