There has been a great deal of debate in recent years regarding postgraduate teaching/training largely due to the former AHRB’s Postgraduate Review (November 2002) and its subsequent imposition of new requirements in its funding of doctoral students. The English Subject Centre Report on this subject, which was published in February 2003, addresses many of the concerns expressed by colleagues. Some of the implications of this fast-changing scene were reviewed at a Subject Centre workshop in Bristol in January 2006.
There seems to be general agreement about what the core research methods at the postgraduate level in English should be. While there are fears about the pressure of moving towards generic and transferable skills, there is also an understanding of the usefulness of a discussion about the needs of postgraduate students which stretches across the country and across disciplines. The fear that the diversity of the discipline cannot be addressed through a generic approach should be balanced by the insights gained speaking to colleagues working in other Humanities disciplines.
There are legitimate concerns about the ability of small departments to offer the range and depth of training opportunities for their postgraduate students that larger departments can offer by virtue of their size. This pressure is exacerbated by the push towards better completion rates. The new collaborative training initiative, which is being funded by the AHRC, may go some way to remedy this problem, however, the logistics of such collaboration are still in an early phase.
The advantage of the debate that has been instigated on this subject is that it has raised questions about the purpose and outcomes of a research degree. The sense in which the degree is increasingly being seen as a stepping stone on the way to a range of employment opportunities, both in and outside of academia, has generated interest in higher education in the public and has, as a result, galvanised colleagues into presenting their work in a more inclusive way. The new developments that will come out of the ARHC’s current initiatives in this area will force a further articulation of strategies and aims that may well help to sustain the healthy postgraduate research culture that exists in English.
Conscious of the complexity of the arguments surrounding the taught MA, the Subject Centre commissioned a report from Samantha Smith. This report, which draws on statistical evidence and on interviews with colleagues and with MA students, was published in the autumn of 2007. The report was followed up by a well-attended day conference at De Montfort University in April 2008, The Future of the Taught MA in English.
In considering the training of postgraduates, the Subject Centre is very aware of the different constituencies involved. Programmes, we believe, should do justice to the legitimate needs of those who take an MA without seeing it as a stepping stone to a PhD or an academic career. But for those who are interested in a career in universities, we believe in the importance of an experience that goes beyond research training to incorporate what is now widely known as as ‘academic practice’: the range of activities and roles (including of course teaching) involved in being a good citizen of the academy.
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