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‘More collaboration needed’ on PGR training in Scotland

Image: Edinburgh [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

Scottish Funding Council is taking applications to its advisory group on supporting Scotland’s postgraduate researchers

Scotland’s universities could do with more collaboration on training postgraduates, but some institutions find the idea of collaborating “threatening”, according to a new report.

The research, published by the Scottish Funding Council on 24 June, found that institutions in Scotland “vary in terms of the structures they have in place to provide support to PGRs”.

Report author and PhD researcher Maggie Mroczkowski found there is “further potential for a collaborative approach to training within and across institutions”, Mroczkowski found.

But there is some resistance among institutions for more collaboration, as centralising training for Scottish PGRs “can be a threatening idea to institutions” that want their postgraduate researchers to feel “loyal and connected” to their own school or institution.

The SFC is currently taking applications from people interested in becoming members of its SFC Advisory Group on Supporting Scotland’s Postgraduate Researchers, which will explore how to help PGRs in their careers.

Elsewhere in the report, one respondent felt that treating PGRs as staff members in universities has “not yet been explored enough”, and another suggested that not counting PGRs as staff members is “a limitation of the UK PGR context”.

UK Research and Innovation is working towards a “new deal” for PGRs, which is exploring funding and financial support for postgraduate researchers.

But earlier this month, the Russell Group of research-intensive universities, which has two Scottish institutions, warned against changing the legal status of PGRs to employees, arguing it is “not in the interest” of PGRs.

Some respondents felt the term “training” should be replaced with “professional development” for PGRs, and that “doctoral researcher” should be used instead of “student” to improve their identity as researchers.

In the report, Mroczkowski concluded that improved signposting of support for PGRs would help the landscape become “more navigable” and offer more opportunities for support.

“Given its size and diversity, the Scottish PGR landscape could be an ideal testbed for further research into how to widen access and improve conditions for PGRs,” Mroczkowski added.

Commenting on the report, University and College Union Scotland official Mary Senior told Research Professional News that although doctoral students “produce high-level research and also deliver teaching”, many universities still “don’t consider this to be work and instead regard them as students”, meaning that they miss out on employment benefits.

“This is unacceptable, and Scottish universities have the opportunity to lead the UK by providing PGRs the benefits they deserve,” she said.