7. Research Degrees
1. Section 6 of the Academic Quality Handbook should be read in conjunction with the Regulations for Research Master’s and Doctoral Degrees and the Regulations for the Submission and Examination of Research Degree Theses which can be found online here.
2. In all section of this chapter, the term ‘External Examiners’ refers to External Examiners for research degrees.
7.2 Induction and Training
1. On admission, each postgraduate research student is referred to the Code of Practice for Research Postgraduates on the Graduate School website which sets out in detail, amongst other things, the respective roles of the student and supervisor.
2. Further guidance on the induction of research students, and the University’s Researcher Development Programme, can also be found on the Graduate School webpages.
7.3 Supervision of Research Students
1. It is the University’s policy that each student will have a minimum of one main supervisor, who will be part of a supervisory team. At least two members of staff must be involved in the supervision of each research student. Further guidance on joint supervision, the criteria for appointing supervisors, the responsibilities of the main and second supervisor, and the normal supervisory load, are provided in section 4 of the Handbook for Supervisors of Research Degrees, which is available online and from the Graduate School.
2. Training for supervisors is provided on a regular basis by the Graduate School, via the Centre for the Development of Staff and Academic Practice.
7.4 PhD theses in alternative format
1. The Alternative Format allows a doctoral student to submit material that is in a format suitable for publication in a peer reviewed journal rather than a traditional thesis. Apart from the inclusion of such materials, the Alternative Format thesis conforms to the same standard and is governed by the same regulations as the traditional PhD thesis. Detailed information is contained in the Regulations for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
2. Full-time and part-time PhD students wishing to submit their thesis in Alternative Format must submit a request by the end of their second year of registration (FT) or fourth year (PT). Note that this option is not available to MPhil students.
3. Interested students should make enquires to their supervisors early in their research if they feel that their output may be suitable for the Alternative Format. If they wish to apply formally, students should complete the Alternative format PhD form and submit it to their Institute. The Institute Research Monitoring Committee will decide whether an Alternative Format submission is appropriate and report this to the next Graduate School Monitoring meeting; if approved, the form should be sent to the Academic Quality and Records Office which will enter this on the student record. If the application has not been accepted, the Institute will explain the decision to the student.
7.5 Research Monitoring
*This section is currently being revised
7.6 Extensions to time limits
1. Research Degrees students who are Tier 4 Visa holders must consult the University’s Compliance Officer for advice prior to making an extension request.
2. Applications for extensions to the time limits for the submission of theses by research degree students will be considered by the Head of Graduate School. All applications will be considered rigorously to ensure fair and consistent treatment of students across the University. Decisions will be reported to the Research Degrees Committee. Details of the normal deadlines for different postgraduate study schemes are given in the Annex to this document.
3. Extensions should only be requested in exceptional circumstances. It is expected that students and departments will make every effort to avoid seeking extensions. All postgraduate students should be aware of their final deadline and should be working towards it. Staff supervising postgraduate students should stress the importance of meeting the deadline, both for the students themselves, and for the University, which must be able to demonstrate to external bodies that it achieves satisfactory submission rates.
4. With regard to doctoral theses, Research and Funding Councils place particular emphasis on the achievement of satisfactory submission rates. It is essential that PhD projects are developed and planned from the outset with the aim of completing the research within the registration period. Students are likely to enter employment after completing the registration period and thus any work remaining to be completed in the ‘writing up’ period should be limited to what can be achieved within the pressure of employment.
5. It is the responsibility of departments to present to the Head of the Graduate School a full and reasoned case on behalf of students seeking extensions. Applications should be forwarded to AQRO well in advance of the deadline for submission of the thesis to allow time for consideration of the request. Applications should include:
(i) An application form, available online, giving full details of the student and candidature, to be signed by the supervisor, head of department and Institute Director of Postgraduate Studies.
(ii) A letter from the student explaining the reasons for the request.
(iii) A supporting letter from the department confirming that the grounds advanced by the student are genuine and have prevented the submission of the work, and that given the additional time the student will be able to submit work for examination.
(iv) Independent corroborative evidence of problems cited, e.g. medical evidence, evidence from employers.
(v) A statement prepared by the student and supervisor outlining the progress so far and a schedule of work leading to completion within the extension period.
(vi) Where candidates are funded by Research Councils, evidence that, where appropriate, the Council concerned has also approved an extension.
If any of the required material is not provided, the request will be referred back to the department and consideration of the request delayed.
6. It is expected that any significant problems with the student or the research project will be recorded at the time they occur at the relevant Research Monitoring Committee meetings, and appropriate action taken. Longstanding problems of which the Institute has not been made aware should not form the basis of last minute extension requests.
7. Applications can only be made on the following grounds:
(i) Medical grounds. Clear evidence of the problem and its impact on the student’s studies, from a doctor, must be provided.
(ii) Serious domestic difficulties, e.g. divorce/breakup of long-term relationships. Evidence is required, focusing on the impact of the problem on the student’s work.
(iii) Compassionate grounds, e.g. bereavement. Evidence is required, focusing on the impact of the problem on the student’s work.
(iv) Unforeseen research difficulties. The nature of original research is such that students are likely to encounter difficulties which must be overcome. Projects should, however, be devised to allow for successful completion within the deadline in spite of such difficulties. Extensions can only be considered under this heading where significant and unforeseen problems arise which cannot be tackled without extra time being allocated.
(iv) Inordinate professional commitments. It is expected that full-time students in their writing up period will obtain employment, and that part-time candidates will be in employment. Projects should be devised which can be completed despite this. Extension requests under this heading must involve more than the normal pressures of these types of employment and require evidence from the employer.
8. Note that wherever possible students should attempt to submit work for examination within the original deadline. Extensions should be sought where substantial difficulties have prevented students from completing their work on time. It is not intended that extensions should be sought to allow students to improve the standard of their submission in the absence of substantial problems. In such cases, work should be submitted for examination and if not of the required standard, extra time may be allowed by the examiners for resubmission.
9. Normally only one extension will be allowed. Extensions may be sought for any period, but normally will be for six or twelve months. Institutes will need to make the case for an appropriate length of extension. Extensions may also be requested where students are resubmitting theses for examination, and where students cannot meet deadline for corrections to these following the viva.
10. Once the Head of Graduate School has considered an application, AQRO will communicate the outcome to the department and Institute. The department is expected to inform the student. AQRO will also amend the student’s record accordingly and notify the Research Degrees Committee.
11. The Higher Degree Extension - Request Form.
7.7 Membership and Terms of Reference of Examination Boards
Form and Structure of the Examination Board
1. Candidates for Research Degrees are examined by means of a thesis and an oral examination. Every thesis shall be examined by a board consisting of a:
(ii) Internal Examiner
(iii) External Examiner
Appointment of the Examination Board
2. Members of the Examination Board shall be appointed as follows:
(i) Chair: The Chair of the Board shall be drawn from a pool of trained staff. The Graduate School arranges training and maintains a register of trained staff. The Regulations set out the criteria to be considered as a Chair; this should be a senior academic staff member with appropriate experience.The role of the Chair is to ensure that procedures are correctly and consistently followed across the University.
(ii) Internal Examiner
(iii) and External Examiners
The members of the Board shall be appointed in accordance with the University's Regulations and the Standing Orders for the Degree. The candidate's supervisor shall not be appointed Internal Examiner. Where staff candidates are being examined the Internal Examiner shall be replaced by a second External Examiner. A second External Examiner may also be appointed in circumstances where a suitably qualified Internal Examiner cannot be identified.
Duties of the Members of the Examination Board
3. The Board is required to examine the thesis as well as conduct an oral examination of the candidate. Where an examination of a re-submitted thesis is being conducted, and it is not deemed to be a clear pass or pass with straightforward corrections, an oral examination must be held. This may be waived in exceptional cases only, on the recommendation of the Examination Board and with the approval of the Head of the Graduate School.
4. The Chair of the Examination Board is responsible for ensuring that the correct administrative procedures for the submission and examination of the thesis are caried out, that all documentation is completer and that all members of the Examination Board are aware of their separate responsibilities.
5. The Chair of the Examination Board is responsible for ensuring that the examination, including the written report and the oral examination, is carried out in line with the University's policies and procedures. The Chair will, as far as possible, ensure the examination is fair and unbiased and will notify the University of any suspected issues in this regard.
6. The Examiners, in examining the thesis, will:
(i) Consider the thesis and abstract(s), or, in the case of PhD by Published Works or creative arts degrees, the published works and creative works and critical analysis submitted by the candidate, or;
(ii) Report on the scope, character and quality of the work submitted;
(iii) Satisfy themselves that the candidate possesses a good general knowledge of the particular field of learning within which the thesis falls;
(iv) Apply the University's criteria for the award of the degree.
7. Examiners are requested to notify the Academic Quality and Records Office (AQRO) immediately if they receive draft theses for comment and return prior to commencement of the formal examining process and must decline firmly any suggestion that a thesis should be returned to a candidate for improvement and re-consideration prior to completion of the Examining Board's formal deliberations. External Examiners are also requested to inform AQRO if they receive the thesis direct from the candidate or direct from the Department. The thesis may only be sent to the External Examiner by AQRO.
8. Any part of the thesis which has already been accepted or is being concurrently submitted for any other degree or qualification in the University or elsewhere must be excluded from the examination.
Timetable for the Examination
9. The Examiners are expected to complete the examination of the candidate and submit their report as soon as reasonably possible - normally no later than twelve working weeks from receipt of the thesis and in advance of the date of the oral examination. If this proves to be impossible, Examiners are asked to notify the Chair of the Examination Board of the reasons for the delay. The University is concerned to avoid candidates facing lengthy delays during the examination process.
10. The Examiners’ Report and Notification of Results Forms are are intended as instruments for the reports of Internal and External Examiners, and are for use by the Examination Board when making a formal recommendation to the University on the outcome of the examination process. Examiners are advised that, under the terms of the Data Protection Act 1998 and the subsequent Freedom of Information Act 2000, candidates have the right of access to any comments made about them in these reports. A report form is also required in instances of resubmission.
11. The External Examiner should complete section 1.1 of the Report on Thesis form and take the whole form to the oral examination. The Chair of the Examination Board should arrange for the Internal Examiner’s report to be typed in, or otherwise attached to, Section 2 'Internal Examiner's Report on Thesis'.
12. The form and content of the Examiners’ reports should be sufficiently detailed to allow members of the University’s staff to assess the scope and significance of the thesis and to appreciate its strengths and weaknesses. Reports should, as far as possible, be expressed in terms that may be understood by those who are not specialists in the particular field of the thesis.
13. In completing their reports examiners are asked to address the following specific points:
(i) Summarising and analysing the argument
(ii) Structure and coherence
(v) Originality and contribution to knowledge
(vi) Whether and how the research might be published
14. The oral examination will normally be conducted at the University, in accordance with the Regulations for the award of the degree. At the discretion of the Head of Graduate School, however, and in exceptional circumstances only, the oral examination may be conducted at another place.
15. The following must be present at the oral examination:
(i) The Chair
(ii) The Internal Examiner
(iii) The External Examiner (or the Chair and two External Examiners in the case of staff candidates)
16. The candidate’s supervisor(s) may be invited to the oral examination with the candidate’s agreement, but may only speak at the invitation of the Chair.
17. The purpose is threefold:
(i) To enable the Examiners to assure themselves that the thesis is the candidate’s own work;
(ii) To give the candidate the opportunity to defend the thesis and to clarify any obscurities in it;
(iii) To enable the Examiners to assess the candidate’s general knowledge of his or her particular field of learning.
18. The Examination Board should not communicate to any candidate any indication of the outcome of the examination until the examination is complete and all reports are finalised.
19. In exceptional cases, the Head of the Graduate School may, given sufficient notice, consider giving permission for oral examinations to be conducted by electronic means. A separate set of guidelines is published for this purpose and Examiners who have been asked to conduct an oral examination by such means are asked to familiarise themselves with its contents. Guidelines for the Conduct of Viva Voce Examinations by Electronic Means can be found online at: http://www.aber.ac.uk/en/regulations/viva-voce/
20. It is possible for Examiners to disagree to a greater or lesser extent in their evaluation of the work. It is, therefore, desirable that the Examiners confer before the oral examination so that, should significant divergences of opinion be identified, a strategy may be devised which would resolve these differences by agreed means (which might include the careful structuring of the oral examination). Although it is desirable that the Examiners strive to resolve their differences, should it prove impossible for them to do so, the Chair of the Board should report this fact to AQRO, and no recommendation for any, or no, award should be made. In these circumstances recourse to an additional, Arbitrating External Examiner may be had, as detailed in the regulations.
21. The oral examination is an integral part of the examination process for a research degree, with the specific purposes set out above, and Examiners are asked to exert great care to avoid giving the impression at any time during the oral examination that the oral examination is, in any sense, a mere formality.
7.8 Criteria for the Awarding of Research Degrees
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
1. The degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) may be awarded by the University in recognition of the successful completion of a scheme of further study and research, the results of which are judged to constitute an original contribution to learning and to give evidence of systematic study and of ability to relate the results of such study to the general body of knowledge in the subject.
2. In judging the merit of a thesis submitted in candidature for the degree of PhD, the examiners shall bear in mind the standard and scope of work which it is reasonable to expect a capable and diligent student to present after a period of two or three years (as appropriate) of full-time study, or its part-time equivalent.
3. On completion of a Doctoral degree, graduates will have attained Level 8, as defined by the QAA’s Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Doctor of Philosophy by Published Works
4. The criteria for the award of the Degree of Doctor Philosophy by Published Works shall be the same as those established for the Degree of PhD. Published works may be defined as works which are in the public domain or which have at least been accepted for publication (provided that the candidate can provide adequate proof that this is the case). Works submitted for examination should not normally have been published more than ten years previous to the date of registration.
5. On completion of a Doctoral degree, graduates will have attained Level 8, as defined by the QAA’s Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
6. The criteria for the Professional Doctorate shall be the same as those established for the Degree of PhD except that the contribution may be to learning or to an area of professional practice and may lead to professional or organisational change in the candidate’s workplace/profession.
7. On completion of a Professional Doctoral degree, graduates will have attained Level 8, as defined by the QAA's Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Master of Philosophy (MPhil)/LLM by Research
8. The degree of Master of Philosophy may be awarded by the University in recognition of the successful completion of a course of further study and research, the results of which are judged to constitute a critical evaluation and analysis of a body of knowledge and/or an original contribution to knowledge.
9. On completion of an MPhil, graduates will have attained at least Level 7, as defined by the QAA's Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
7.9 Results of the Examination of Research Degrees
1. At the conclusion of the Oral Examination, the Interim Result form should be completed and given to the student to confirm the result, and who will inform the student of any required corrections.
2. Following the Oral Examination, the External Examiner should complete Section 1.2 Report on the Oral Examination, and, if appropriate, 1.3 Matters of General Concern and Interest [...]. The External should then, together with the Internal Examiner, complete Section 3, Joint Report by External and Internal Examiners.
3. The Examiners should then arrange with the Chair of the Examining Board for the completion and signature of the final form Examiners’ Formal Recommendation on the Outcome of the Examination. The appropriate outcome option should be indicated by means of ticking the relevant box (see immediately below for notes on the various options). The form should then be signed by the Examiners and by the Chair of the Board, who should also enter the date. Examiners are again asked to be aware that candidates have the right to request access to any comments made about them in these reports.
4. The Report form stipulates the available categories of result from which members of Examination Board must select the appropriate outcome. For PhD candidates, who have corrections or revisions to undertake, Examiners should also indicate whether an MPhil can be awarded based on the submitted thesis.
7.10 Completion of the Examination Process
1. The Chair must ensure that all sections of the Report and Result Form are completed immediately after the viva and that all sections are signed appropriately.
2. Where the candidate is successful,the University requires Examiners to return temporarily bound theses directly to the Chair of the Examining Board after the examination is complete. Where the candidate has passed, but the work requires minor or typographical corrections, the Chair should arrange with the candidate for the necessary corrections to be made and for both copies of the thesis to be permanently bound in the form required for deposit in the libraries. It is the responsibility of candidates to make the required corrections and to have their work bound. Once this has been done to the Chair’s satisfaction, he/she should send the completed Examiners’ Report and Notification of Result forms to AQRO.
3. The forms must not be sent to AQRO until the work has been permanently bound.
4. The Chair should dispose of the bound copies of successful theses as follows: 1 copy direct to the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, SY23 3BU; 1 copy to the University Library. Any notes or marginal comments made by examiners in theses must be erased prior to their deposit in libraries.
5. In additionto the permanent bound volumes deposited in libraries, candidates must deposit an electronic copy of the final version of the thesis in the University’s Institutional Research Repository. Theses so deposited will be made available by the University to external repositories and search tools including the digital collection of the National Library of Wales and the British Library's UK database of theses.
6. The candidate will be expected to sign a declaration that the electronic copy as deposited in the electronic repository is identical in content to that deposited in the Library, and that the candidate has obtained the appropriate copyright permission for the inclusion of any third party content within the thesis so that the work can legally be made available in an open access repository.
7. Material accepted for the institutional repository should conform to guidelines issued from time to time by Information Services.
8. When a thesis is subject to a bar on access, it will not be deposited in the open access electronic repository until the expiry of that bar. Students may request that the thesis is deposited in hard copy in the Libraries, but not made available electronically.
9. Where the candidate is unsuccessful: the student must receive written and clear feedback on the points which the examiners felt warranted the decision that the thesis must be re-submitted. The Chair is responsible for the collation of the feedback and ensuring it reaches the candidate. It is then incumbent on the candidate to ensure that the re-submitted thesis clearly addresses these points.
10. Both copies of unsuccessful theses should be returned to the candidate. Any notes or marginal comments made by the Examiners in theses must be erased prior to their return to the candidate.
11. In the event of a dispute between the Examiners as to the result of the examination, the Examiners’ Formal Recommendation on the Outcome of the Examination should not be signed, but instead the Chair should notify AQRO. AQRO will issue guidance and report forms for use by arbitrating external examiners.
7.11 External Examining of Research Degrees
1. All External Examiners for Research Degrees are ultimately responsible to the Senate, which is responsible for the conduct of all examinations at Aberystwyth University.
Criteria for the appointment of External Examiners
2. No External Examiner may be appointed who has advised the student or commented specifically on the work that they are submitting for examination..
3. Institutes should take care to ensure that they do not overuse a particular examiner.
4. Only persons of sufficient seniority and experience to be able to command authority should be appointed as external examiners. The External Examiner must possess specialist knowledge and expertise in the subject of research.
5. Examiners from outside the university system are appropriate where professional expertise is required but such appointees must have suitable experience of research degree examinations. Where this is not the case, the internal examiner should be a senior member of staff with extensive experience of research degree examinations, or a second external examiner from a university may be appointed.
6. Former members of staff at Aberystwyth University who have joined the staff of another university may not be invited to become External Examiners before a lapse of at least five years, or sufficient time for students supervised by that member of staff to have passed through the system, whichever is the longer.
7. Former members of staff at Aberystwyth University who have retired will not normally be nominated as External Examiners. Members of staff of other Institutions who have retired during the preceding 3 years may be invited without such a lapse of time to act as External Examiners at Aberystwyth University.
8. Former students of the University may not be invited to become External Examiners before a lapse of at least five years, or sufficient time for students acquainted with that former student to have passed through the system. Former students should not act as external examiner for candidates supervised by their own PhD supervisor.
9. In addition to the points above, external examiners should not be nominated if there is any other conflict of interest, or perceived conflict of interest, that would:
- impact upon the independence of the examiner
- give rise to any perception of a lack of independence
- in any way undermine or appear to undermine the integrity of the examination
This is necessary to protect students, examiners and the university from any suggestion that awards are not made objectively.
10. External examiners appointments shall be made on behalf of the Vice-Chancellor and shall be approved by the Head of the Graduate School.
Guidance for Examination Boards for Research Degrees
11. Upon appointment, each External Examiner shall be supplied with copies of the relevant Regulations of the University, Section 6 of the Academic Quality Handbook, the Guidance for Examining Boards for Research Degrees and the appropriate examination Result and Report Forms.
12. Examiners are asked to ensure that they are familiar with the content of the Guidance (which will be issued to them upon appointment) and that they act in accordance with them.
Unacceptable Academic Practice
13. An External Examiner who, either in the course of the examining process or subsequently, considers that a candidate has engaged in Unacceptable Academic Practice shall immediately report the circumstances in writing to the Chair of the Examining Board concerned. Further guidance on Unacceptable Academic Practice is to be found in Section 3.6 of the Academic Quality Handbook.
14. The University attaches considerable importance to the External Examiner’s report and payment of the fee is conditional upon its receipt. In accordance with the University’s Standing Orders an External Examiner will be asked to report upon the work as soon as possible, and normally within twelve working weeks from the date of submission of the work by the candidate.
15. When a dispute arises between the External Examiner and Internal Examiner(s) the usual Report and Result Form should be marked by the Examiners and Chair so as to indicate that the Board has been unable to agree upon a recommendation.
16. In such a case it is within the power of the Head of the Graduate School to resort to another external examiner who shall be asked to arbitrate.
15. When selecting an Arbitrating External Examiner the Head of the Graduate School may take into account any written reports submitted by the members of the Examining Board and may also take into account – but need not be bound by – any nomination made by the original Board.
17. Upon appointment, an Arbitrating External Examiner shall be given a copy of the candidate’s work together with the reports of the original examiners and the Report and Result Form and ‘Notes for Arbitrating External Examiners’.
18. When considering the candidate’s work an Arbitrating External Examiner may choose whether or not to refer to the reports of the original examiners (and if so, when he/she might do so). He/she may also choose to conduct a further oral examination and, if so, whether or not the original examiners may be invited to attend.
19. When the Arbitrating External Examiner has concluded the consideration of the work, the outcome should be communicated to the Chair of Examining Board, in the first instance. The Chair shall arrange for the Report and Result Form to be completed, signed and returned to the Academic Quality and Records Office.
7.12 Postgraduate Teaching Activities
*This section is under development
7.13 Information, Forms and guidance for Internal and External Examiners Research Degrees
Guidance for Examining Boards - Research Degrees Guidelines for the Conduct of Viva Voce Examinations by Electronic Means
Information for External Examiners
Code of Practice for External Examiners Research Degrees External Examiners Expenses Claim Form Travel and Subsistence Information Expenses Notes
Rules and Regulations
Regulations for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy Regulation for the award of the Degree of PhD by Published Works Regulations for the Degree of Master of Philosophy Regulations for the Submission and Examination of Research Theses
Result and Report Forms
Interim PhD & MPhil Confirmation Form MPhil Result and Report Form PhD Result and Report Form Final Result and Report Confirmation Form