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Dear Vice-Chancellor

Board decisions on changes to QR RDP supervision funding

1. This letter announces decisions made by the HEFCE Board on 2 November 2016 to change the method for counting postgraduate research (PGR) students that inform Quality-related Research (QR) Research Degree Programme (RDP) supervision funding for 2017-18 onwards. For 2016-17, £240 million is being allocated through this element of funding. No action is required in response to this letter.

2. Alongside this change, new data that identifies different higher education providers participating in formal collaborative programmes for research training will be used to calculate QR RDP supervision funding for 2017-18 onwards.

3. We have a policy principle that any single PGR student should count no more than 3.0 full-time equivalent (FTE) over the duration of their programme towards the calculation of QR RDP supervision funding. This 3.0 FTE limit applies to their research masters and research doctoral study taken together, should they have chosen to do both.

4. The current method for QR RDP supervision funding counts as a volume measure the FTE of individual students for the most recent year for which data is available. However, that FTE is capped, where necessary, to ensure that the combined FTE for a student over 10 years is within the 3.0 FTE limit. This method is dependent on the accuracy of historical data, and our audit work has revealed that it is difficult and burdensome for institutions to record and retain accurate data on individual students’ patterns of study over this length of time.

5. We are therefore simplifying the method to reduce the data requirements, and we will have checks in place to ensure that our principle of funding research students for a maximum of 3.0 FTE per student is retained. The change will also enable us to incorporate new data on formal collaborative research training programmes more efficiently.

6. The new method will count PGR students in our funding calculations only if they are in years 1 to 3 of their full-time study, or in years 1 to 6 of their part-time study. Each eligible student will be counted at the rate recorded as their FTE in the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) Student Record. Full-time students in year 4 (or beyond) of their study will not be counted. Similarly, part-time students in year 7 (or beyond) of their study will not be counted.

7. By adopting this approach and implementing the checks and transitional measures described later, we can reduce the ten-year period across which each student’s FTE is summed to implement the 3.0 FTE limit per student to six years as a transition measure, and then to four years thereafter.

Checks and transitional measures

8. As our 3.0 FTE limit per student applies to the entirety of their postgraduate research study, covering both research masters and doctoral programmes, we will as now check back to see whether the student has already completed a research masters programme and we will adjust their data for funding purposes where needed.

9. There is also a risk that we do not accurately capture the activity of PGR students who switch their mode of study from full-time to part-time, and vice versa, at some point during their research programme. Students that switch from full-time to part-time study could be counted for more than 3.0 FTE and those switching in the other direction could attract less.

10. To reduce the unintended effects on funding caused when students switch their mode of study, we will look at the study pattern of each PGR student as, and if, they reach their fourth year, determine the total FTE they have accumulated up to that point, and adjust their funding for that year and future years, where needed, for up to six years.

11. As a transitional measure for the next two years, we will sum the FTE of individual students over a six-year period, and continue to apply the 3.0 FTE limit at this level. Thereafter, we can reduce to four years the period over which we sum the FTE of individual students to apply the 3.0 FTE limit per student retrospectively and prospectively. We will then inform institutions of any remaining FTE available for funding for individual students.

Formal collaborative programmes for research training

12. Prior to the 2015-16 HESA Student Record, individual PGR students could be reported in the Student Record by only one higher education institution (HEI) for the duration of their programme, irrespective of any collaborative supervisory arrangements. However, collaborative research training programmes, involving more than one provider, are increasing in number. We have had many requests asking that HEIs participating in collaborative programmes should have their individual contributions formally recorded and, in specific cases, directly funded through QR RDP supervision funding. Data on these collaborative programmes is being captured for the first time on the 2015-16 HESA Student Record. The new data will enable us to recognise the contribution of more than one provider associated with a formal collaborative research training programme and, in specific cases, directly fund the different providers.

13. For 2017-18 QR RDP supervision funding onwards, we will reflect these collaborations in our calculations. The next two paragraphs describe the two categories of collaborative arrangements and explain how data for each of these categories will inform QR RDP supervision funding.

Concurrent supervision

14. Concurrent supervision is where several institutions supervise the student concurrently and one institution has been nominated by the others as the reporting institution. The reporting institution records all the data for the student, identifying separately all the supervision undertaken by the other providers (or organisations). Though we will take account of the quality profile of the other institutions in calculating QR RDP supervision funding, once calculated all funding will be allocated to the reporting institution for distribution as agreed between the institutions concerned.

Sequential supervision

15. Sequential supervision is where the student first studies at one institution and then moves to a second institution, with the collaborating institutions agreeing a formal handover of the student. In such cases one institution stops recording the student and another institution begins recording the student from the handover date. We intend to split the associated QR RDP supervision funding across the institutions, reflecting the formal handover of the student.

16. This changed methodology will inform QR RDP supervision funding for 2017-18 onwards. We plan to review the proposed method two years after it has been implemented to assess its effectiveness and check whether any modifications are needed.

Yours sincerely

Professor Madeleine Atkins

Chief Executive


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Date: 6 December 2016

Ref: Circular letter 34/2016

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Finance, Planning, Research funding


Enquiries should be directed to:

Vasanthi Waller, tel 0117 931 7369, email or Alex Herbert, tel 0117 931 7266, email