The mission of the Aston Graduate School is to provide a supportive environment across the University which both enriches the experience and facilitates the development of postgraduate and early career researchers. Its objective is to provide world class training and facilities, thus enabling the development of a vibrant and supportive postgraduate research community. It will aim to promote excellence in all Aston’s research degree programmes so that all postgraduate research students are able to realise their full potential, whatever career path they choose. It also brings together under one umbrella the quality assurance and development of core research and transferable skills across the University. The intention is that the Aston Graduate School will also interface with other Graduate Schools in the Midlands region .
The different Schools of Study are still seen as the major centres for the delivery of subject-specific postgraduate training and development. The Graduate School will provide a focus for the sharing of ideas and best practice such that these can be implemented across the University. The Graduate School will support and promote cross-School and cross institutional working, and is in the process of establishing a network of School-sponsored student societies to promote both formal and informal events that will bring students together. It hopes in the future to support postgraduate scholarship funding bids at both the individual and institutional level and aid in the arrangement of research exchange visits to other institutions including short placements visits to industry and public sector organisations (e.g. the NHS) thus enriching the student experience.
The University Research Degrees Committee (RDC) will become the Aston Graduate School Management Committee. A Graduate School webpage is in development shortly to be launched and will contain links to Regulations, Training and Development,Support etc. There will be a Graduate Development Team, with experts in different areas (Staff Development, BPU, RSO, Library, LDC, Careers) who collectively provide a range of training and development opportunities for research students. The Graduate Development Team is a dedicated team coordinated by the Centre for Staff Development (CSD) which provides doctoral student training in generic and transferable skills,giving access to a range of development opportunities aligned to the RCUK Skills Statement and the new forthcoming Researcher Development Framework. Engagement in these opportunities provides an excellent forum for exchange of ideas and information across discipline-boundaries, and is an important part of the overall research student experience. Whilst in-house courses are part of this provision, CSD together with Schools also organises poster competitions, tying into regional Vitae events, and there is active promotion of a wide range of Vitae events to doctoral students. CSD also hosts and runs Vitae events, including some joint provision with the University of Birmingham.
The stimulus to form a Graduate School came in part from the Senior Management away day in September 2009 (subsequently endorsed by the Executive) and also from the preparations for the QAA Audit in 2008. The Research Degrees Committee was asked to review research degree programmes and this resulted in a list of action points, one of which was to review the processes and paperwork associated with research student milestones (eg application, Qualifying Report, interim end of year assessments,viva etc). This action point was endorsed by the QAA Audit team and has been undertaken during this academic year by an RDC Task and Finish Group with the aim of having consistent practice and processes and administrative procedures across the University. In future there will be a centrally organised Welcome event for all research students in November and May each year to which a Guild representative and other key personnel will be invited. Student information eg handbooks will be standardised such that they contain sections on School-specific information and sections on University information.
RDC has also set up a Task and Finish Group to review skills training, in view of the new Researcher Development Framework, chaired by the Head of Staff Development. There will be consistent mapping of the existing central provision of skills training against the requirements of the newly proposed Researcher Development Framework.
In addition, John Walter and Jo Ladwa from Registry have led a group looking at Entry to Aston, including consistency of admission arrangements in the Schools. To address issues raised, an enquiry and application system is being put in place, including a new website aimed at research applicants and an online application form.
Words by Prof Martin Griffin
Pro Vice Chancellor Research
26 May 2010