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Annual Report of the Board of Graduate Studies for 2005-06

The BOARD OF GRADUATE STUDIES beg leave to report to the Council as follows:

This Report covers:

(a) business of the Board of Graduate Studies conducted during the academical year 2005-06 in response to external bodies, recommendations concerning policy matters, and changes to the portfolio of graduate courses;
(b)a statistical section covering:

Business of the Board of Graduate Studies

1. External developments

(a) HEFCE news

The Quality Assurance Agency reviewed the University's postgraduate research degree programmes and pronounced them 'satisfactory'. The Board's draft Code of Practice for Research Degrees (see under Research Degrees, below) was commended.

(b) Transferable skills training

In 2005, the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) introduced a requirement for research training for doctoral students and provided a per capita payment to support such training. To bring AHRC policy into line with that of the other Research Councils, the payment was extended in 2005-06 to cover transferable skills training.

(c) Research Councils

The Board were pleased to note the success of nearly all departmental applications in the 2005 competition for ESRC (Economics and Social Research Council) funded studentships in the period 2006-07. It was evident that the ESRC was keen to encourage innovative training programmes and consortia, and the University benefited from this. A quota system, whereby studentships were allocated to departments which could then recruit students directly, was introduced for studentships beginning in 2006.

The ESRC Training Development Board (TDB) submitted their final report following on their visit in March 2005. Progress made in response to their findings included the setting up of the Review of Graduate Education (see section 2 below). The TDB subsequently asked for a report on progress since their visit, and the Secretary compiled an institutional response.

The Board also compiled institutional responses to both the AHRC Report on Doctoral Research in the Arts and Humanities and to the AHRC review of its studentship competition.

(d) AUT action

The Board issued guidelines to Degree Committees on how to handle the effects of the AUT action on the marking of graduate examinations.

2. Academic developments

(a) Degrees

Research degrees

After consultation with Degree Committees, Schools, Colleges, the Graduate Union, and others, the Board published a new Code of Practice for Research Degrees. The Code clarified routes to the Ph.D., stating a requirement of a minimum of three years' doctoral study preceded where required by a one-year research training Master's course. The established pattern is now recognized as 1+3 years or 2+2 years (where a candidate takes two distinct Master's courses en route to the Ph.D.) or direct entry for 3 years if the candidate has already obtained suitable preparation for research. These patterns are in line with Research Council policy and funding.

As a corollary, the practice of differentiating between registration for an M.Phil. 'only' and M.Phil. 'in the first instance' was discontinued, as was the exemption, at the outset of the doctoral programme, of research terms on the strength of a Master's degree (also known as 'backdating'). An exemption of terms may still be sought, but only towards the end of the doctoral course if the candidate is ready to submit the thesis and only if the Master's dissertation is directly relevant to the Ph.D. thesis. The Board agreed to introduce this arrangement for candidates admitted in 2007.

The Board approved clarification of the word limit for the Ph.D. in the Judge Business School.

Classification of research students for HEFCE purposes

In order to comply with funding council requirements, the University must record students in Research Activity Surveys as 'full-time', 'part-time', or 'writing-up'. The Board agreed on a strategy for classifying students under these headings (terms 1-9 to count as 'full-time', and terms 13+ 'writing-up', with term 10 normally 'full-time' and terms 11 and 12 normally 'writing up') and set in place a mechanism for collecting the data as part of termly supervision reports.

Doctor of Engineering (Eng.D.)

Following the approval of an amendment to Statutes by Her Majesty the Queen at a Council held in February 2006, the General Regulations for the Eng.D. were approved to come into effect on 1 October 2006. The Board's regulations were amended to accommodate the new degree.

Part-time research degrees

The Board started admitting students to part-time research degrees in 2003-04. The following table shows how numbers of students, registered Departments, and Colleges have increased since 2003.

Total no. of
Total no. of

Master's degrees

In 2005, the Board had returned to a number of recommendations remaining outstanding from the General Report of the Committee established to review M.Phil. provision ('Strathern report') 2002. Having consulted Degree Committees, it now agreed, for its part, that:

These recommendations were forwarded to the General Board Education Committee for consideration. The Board also put forward suggestions designed to clarify the nature, structure, and function of the currently heterogeneous group of M.Phils. Further work is needed in the light of changing Research Council policies and European developments.

The Board noted the new HEFCE definition of postgraduate research (PGR) Master's degrees, changed to be in line with QAA precepts for research degrees, and agreed that its gloss on the 2004 definition covered the requirements in the new definition.

The Board noted that all external examiners had assessed the 2004-05 University M.Phil. and M.St. courses as being of appropriate standard; comparable with similar programmes in other UK institutions; and conducted in a sound and fair manner. The Secretary wrote to some Faculties asking for their response to the examiners' comments.

Changes to courses (date from which effective in brackets)

New courses introduced, or approved:

M.Phil. in Public Health (2006)

M.St. in Jewish-Christian Relations (within the Faculty of Divinity) (2007)

Courses rescinded, or approved for withdrawal:

M.Phil in Management Studies (2005)

M.Phil. in Materials and Modelling (2007)

M.St. in Public Health (2006)

Diploma in Public Health (2006)

Courses for which changes to the Special Regulations were approved:

M.Phil. in Political Thought and Intellectual History (2006)

M.Phil. in Environmental Design (2006)

M.Phil. in Modern European History (2007)

M.Phil. in Technology Policy (2006)

Diploma in Economics (2006)

Certificate of Postgraduate Study: History (2006)

M.Phil. in English Studies (2006)

M.Phil. in American Literature (2006)

M.Phil. in Medieval and Renaissance Studies (2007)

Changes in course title:

M.Phil. in Materials Modelling to become M.Phil. in Materials and Modelling (2006)

M.Phil. in Advanced Chemical Engineering Practice to become M.Phil. in Advanced Chemical Engineering (2006)

(b) Examining


After further consultation with Degree Committees, the Board of Examinations, the Proctors, and the University Advocate the Board published a policy for managing cases of suspected plagiarism. It was agreed to review the policy in 2006-07. The Board recommended that a 'plagiarism panel' under the aegis of the Boards of Graduate Studies and Examinations might provide a suitable vehicle for making rapid decisions on cases of plagiarism.

M.Phil. and M.St. external examiners reports

The Board were generally very pleased with the reports submitted by the external examiners on examinations taken during 2004-05. However, they recommended that it should be made clear to all external examiners exactly what their duties entailed; and that if they were asked to act as a third examiner in any particular case, they should mark 'blind'.

(c) Supervisors and supervision reports

The Board repeated its now well-established series of eight lunchtime seminars for graduate supervisors in the Lent Term. The take-up remained disappointing, although again those who came gave very positive feedback. Attendance at the November induction training for new supervisors was as usual well attended, mainly by supervisors from the Schools of Biology and Clinical Medicine, with only one or two representatives from each of the other schools.

Over the course of the year, CamGRAD, the online reporting system for supervisors of graduate students introduced in Michaelmas 2003, was linked to CamSIS, the student record system. Some difficulties were experienced in creating this link; nevertheless some 550 research and M.Phil. reports were completed via CamGRAD in Michaelmas 2005, 359 in Lent 2006, and 1,286 in Easter 2006.

At the end of the academical year a review of CamGRAD was begun.

(d) Graduate admissions processes and policies

Throughout the year the Board worked with the Graduate Tutors Committee (GTC) to develop a more efficient and transparent admissions procedure, including collaboration on the new approach to financial guarantees (see 3, Graduate Student fees and finances).


Last year, the Board had been pleased to note that 17% of the applications received for entry in 2005-06 (the first year this had been possible) were made online. This proportion rose to 27% for applications for 2006-07 entry. In order to encourage online applications, the Board in February agreed that an application charge of £40 should be introduced for paper applications, the online charge remaining at £25. However the matter was re-considered in June and it was agreed to postpone introduction of a charge for paper applications to 2008 at the earliest.

Graduate Prospectus

During July 2006 the Board published 30,000 paper copies of the Graduate Studies Prospectus for admission in 2007-08. From a high of 60,000 in 2003-04, the number of paper copies produced has been steadily decreasing each year as use of the internet increases, resulting in significant financial savings for the University.

English language condition

The Board continued to recommend the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) for language proficiency testing. They noted that the alternative, the Princeton Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), was gradually replacing its computer and paper-based tests with an internet-based test.

College places

The Board welcomed a commitment by the Colleges collectively to guarantee single College accommodation to anyone to whom they had made an offer and who met their conditions before 31 July.

(e) Other academic developments

The Board approved changes to the constitutions of the Philosophy and the Clinical Medicine and Clinical Veterinary Medicine Degree Committees.

The Secretary represented the Board on the General Board Review of Graduate Education Panel chaired by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education).

The Secretary represented the interests of graduate students on the Research Ethics Working Group, with advice from Dr Gelsthorpe as required.

(f) Reports received

Intellectual Property Rights: Third Report of the Council and the General Board

The Board wrote a flysheet in support of the unamended Report, which was signed by all members of the Board.

Report of the Working Group on International Student Recruitment, Selection and Support

This working group was convened by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education). The Board welcomed its recommendations, particularly the emphasis on 'quality not quantity of students' and the recommendation for immediate full funding for successful Overseas Research Studentship offer holders.

Burgess Report

The Board endorsed the General Board's critical response to this interim report on the classification of honours degrees and the introduction of national credit systems.

3. Graduate Student fees and finances

As a result of an initiative from the Board, the University and Colleges agreed to replace the lengthy process of verification of the financial status of applicants for admission with a more strongly worded financial guarantee to be signed by the applicant.

The University having agreed that differential fees for M.Phils. could be charged, the Faculty of Economics became the first Faculty to propose a higher fee for its M.Phils. for 2007-08.

Student loans

From January 2006 a change in procedure was agreed whereby arrangements for educational loans from the US and Canada to their nationals were handled centrally by the Board, rather than by the Colleges. The Board agreed a levy on Colleges to support part of the salary of a clerical member of staff at BGS plus a contribution to the costs of audit.

The Board agreed, for its part, that during 2006-07 the University should participate in a pilot scheme whereby Sallie Mae, a US loan company, would provide private loans for UK students. The involvement of the University would be confined to confirming registration and costs of courses. The Board welcomed this new source of funding for graduate students. It was agreed that the Board would administer the pilot scheme and be the lender's sole point of contact with the University for the pilot year.

Fee payments to non-University institutions

Candidates for the Cambridge Ph.D. may spend all three years at an approved non-University institution (NUI) within 15 miles of Cambridge. This arrangement is underpinned by a transfer of one half of the University Composition Fee (at the home rate) to the NUI. The Board agreed that the arrangements be varied in respect to the Sanger Institute only from 2006-07, to the effect that the Institute would be repaid the difference between overseas and home fee rates for overseas students.

4. Membership of the Board

Professor Jacobus was re-elected by the General Board, and Professor Amaratunga by the Council, for a further four years to 31 December 2009.

The Board agreed to co-opt Dr Gelsthorpe and Professor Sahakian for a further term, finishing on 31 December 2007.

The Board agreed that where the student member elected to the General Board was a different person from the Graduate Union President, both should be invited to attend open business. Following on this decision, Mr R. Whittaker attended the July meeting as the graduate student member elected to the General Board, and Ms B. Bowers attended as GU President.

Dr Hewett took the Chair for the Easter Term 2006 during the sabbatical of Professor Brown. Former members Dr F. Leeper and Professor M. Daunton were co-opted for the Easter Term to cover the sabbaticals of Professor Hawthorne and Professor Osborne.

Professor Brown was re-elected Chairman as the Vice-Chancellor's Deputy for the year 2006-07.

5. Staff changes at the Board

Ms Jane Wilkinson, previously PA to the Secretary and Chief Clerk of the Graduate Students and Information Team, was appointed Administrative Officer to work on transferable skills for graduate students and postdoctoral workers, for one year in the first instance from June 2006. Ms Sally-Ann Gannon of Edinburgh University was appointed Administrative Officer working with the Admissions Team and the Studentships team, for two years in the first instance from August 2006.

There was some internal re-organization within the Board. The Continuing Students Team (headed by Mrs Sarah Pickard) and the Reception and Information Team (headed by Dr Nichola Tooke) were replaced by the Graduate Students and Information Team (Mrs Sarah Pickard) and the Graduate Records and Examinations Team (Dr Nichola Tooke).

The minutes of the Board's open meetings from May 2006 were made available on the web at http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/offices/gradstud/minutes/.

Statistical report

The data reported here refer only to those applicants, students, and courses for whom the Board of Graduate Studies is the admitting authority and do not include, for example, candidates for the M.B.A., M.Ed., P.G.C.E., and certain diplomas.

1. Admissions and student numbers

(a) Applications for admission (Table 1a-d)

Overall, application figures remained very similar (down less than 1% from 2004-05). However, within this there were some discernible trends: a 10% reduction in applications from home candidates, in large part compensated for by an 8% increase in applications from EU candidates; a 2% decline in the overall numbers of male applicants; and a small increase in the numbers of female applicants. Applications from overseas candidates (about two-thirds of the total) remained much the same as last year although again within this figure there was a small increase in the number of female candidates and a corresponding decline in the number of male candidates.

The continuing decline in the number of home applications, which this year reached the lowest number within the last ten years, caused the Board some concern. They agreed that efforts should be made to identify further sources of funding for home students, especially for research preparation masters' courses, which are now routinely required as a step towards doctoral training.

Applications for M.Phil. courses were up slightly, again with a higher increase in EU applicants. However for reasons of consistency the figures in Table 1b for the first time in 2005 include applications for the Graduate Diplomas in Economics, International Law, Legal Studies: applications for these courses comprise about a third of the overall increase.

Applications for research courses were down for the second year running; in fact they were at their second lowest for ten years, with actual reductions for all categories of student except EU (Table 1c). The figures improve slightly when taking into account the 101 applications for Graduate Diplomas (see above) which are no longer included in research application figures.

Applications for other, taught, postgraduate courses (Table 1d) fell by 7% compared to 2004-05. The only slight increase was in applications from female EU candidates. Overseas applications held up reasonably well: the greatest reduction (22%) was seen in applications from home candidates.

(b) Offers of admission and confirmation of admission (Tables 2a-d and 3)

The total number of offers for admission under the jurisdiction of the Board were reported for the first time last year. The numbers for 2004 entry and for 2005 entry are set out in Tables 2a and 2d respectively. Overall the number of offers has remained much as last year, with a slight decrease in offers to home applicants being compensated for by an increase in offers to EU and overseas applicants. In percentage terms, the figures show that overall 39.9% of applicants received an offer in 2004, whereas in 2005 this had risen to 40.3%.

Offers in 2005 for the M.Phil. Degree were 15% higher than in 2004 and again the highest ever (Table 2b). The main increase was in offers to overseas applicants (20% higher than in 2004).

However, offers for research courses continued to decline, being by some way at their lowest level for ten years, and 17% lower than in 2004 (Table 2c). Offers for other taught postgraduate courses (Table 2d) remained fairly constant, although there was a 17% drop in offers to home candidates.

Of the total number of offers made, about half are confirmed each year as candidates meet the conditions set; this proportion (the 'take-up rate' ) is influenced by many factors, such as availability of funding and national and international contingencies, but has varied rather little over the past ten years.

The overall take-up for 2005 courses was on the high side of this average at 57%. A large proportion of this was made up of increased take-up from overseas candidates, particularly for research courses (a rise from 28% acceptance in 2004 to 47% in 2005) (Table 3).

(c) Numbers of new graduate students coming into residence (Table 4a-f)

The distribution of new entrants among the M.Phil. courses is shown in Table 4a. The numbers of M.Phil. candidates varies markedly between courses and between disciplines and Schools. There are also considerable differences between Schools in the balance between UK, EU, and overseas candidates. The distribution of all new entrants for graduate courses among the 25 Degree Committees is shown in Table 4b.

Annual figures for the proportion of new entrants by School (below) show little change from the previous year.

                              Entry in academical year beginning (%):
Arts and Humanities
Humanities and Social Sciences
Physical Sciences
Biological Sciences
Clinical Medicine
- 5.2*

* figures for Clinical Medicine were included with Biological Sciences prior to 2003.

For the first time this Annual Report shows the fee status of new entrants by School (Table 4c).

The overall numbers of new entrants in 2005 was the highest recorded (Table 4d), being 10% higher than in 2004. No difficulties were reported in placing candidates in Colleges.

The distribution of new entrants among Colleges is shown in Table 4e.

In 2004, the number of Cambridge graduates staying on to take graduate courses had increased by 25% compared to 2003 and was the highest, both in absolute numbers and in proportion to non-Cambridge graduates, for ten years. In 2005 nearly a fifth of all new graduate students were previously at Cambridge University. The numbers of graduates of other UK universities showed an even bigger rise, from 600 in 2004 to 954 in 2005, an increase of 59% (Table 4f). Together, graduates of Cambridge and of other UK universities made up almost the entire increase in overall numbers in 2005 over 2004.

(d) Graduate students on the register and in residence (Tables 5a-b)

The numbers of graduate students on the Board of Graduate Studies' register at December 2005, and the number of these in residence (that is, excluding those having leave to work away or writing up) are shown, disaggregated by type of qualification, sex, and fee status, in Table 5a.

The distribution of registered graduate students on the register among the Departments and Faculties in December 2005 is shown in Table 5b.

Historical data on the numbers of registered graduate students are shown in Table 5c. These reveal that, over the ten years from 1995 to 2005:

The proportion of women on the register, compared with proportions of women applying and receiving offers, shows no significant differences between these populations within any given year, but an overall increase in the proportion of women in all groups over time (Table 5d).

The distribution of graduate students by College (December 2005) is shown in Table 5e.

2. Submission for the Ph.D., approval and non-approval for Degrees (Tables 6-8)

The proportion of research students submitting their dissertation for examination for the Ph.D. by the end of their fourth year was slightly up for the cohort starting in 2001 at 69% (Table 6a). These four-year submission data vary widely between Schools and there is considerable fluctuation between cohorts of students in some Schools (Table 6b). Overall, the University's submission rates compare well with other institutions. The numbers of candidates approved for Degrees during the academical year 2005-06 are shown in Table 7 (figures up to 2004 are for the calendar years shown). The numbers of degrees awarded per annum are always fewer than the total number of candidates admitted in the relevant years because a proportion of entrants are not candidates for a degree, but for a diploma or certificate.

No candidates were approved for the Ph.D. Degree under the Special Regulations during the year.

The numbers of candidates not approved for the qualification sought during the academical year 2005-06 are shown in Table 8. In 2005-06, failures comprised fewer than 0.5% of all examinations for full-time degrees and 3% of examinations for part-time degrees (M.Sts.).

During the period October 2005 - September 2006, the Board approved six candidates for the Sc.D. Degree, five for the Litt.D. Degree, three for the LL.D. Degree, and two for the D.D. Degree.

3 Awards

(a) ORS (Overseas Research Studentship) Awards 2006 competition (Table 9)

ORS funding for 2006 allowed for 15% fewer awards than in 2005. However, there was a change in the procedure for the awarding of studentships. The competition was devolved from Universities UK to institutions. This resulted in the awards being announced much earlier than in previous years. In line with the enhanced role for the University, the Board increased the size of its ORS Committee to involve at least half the Board's members from as wide a range of disciplines as possible.

The new system meant that if any candidate declined an award, the funding could be offered to a candidate on the reserve list. This happened in several cases. Another consequence of local decision-making was that candidates could be offered an award by more than one university. The Board agreed that it was therefore important that the University was in a position to offer full funding as soon as possible after the ORS awards were announced.

(b) Dorothy Hodgkin Postgraduate Awards

In April 2004, the government announced the Dorothy Hodgkin Postgraduate Awards scheme (DHPA), which provides full-cost studentships, each co-funded by a Research Council and an industrial partner, for research students from the developing world. Cambridge received thirteen awards for students starting in October 2004, a further ten for those starting in October 2005, and five more for those starting in October 2006.

(c) Other awards (Table 10)

Details of awards made by the Board's Committee on Grants in 2005 and 2006 (with 2004 for comparison) are shown in Table 10.

The Committee agreed that from 2006 the value of the Allen, Meek, and Read, and the Le Bas Scholarships should be increased to £5,000. This would go some way to address the funding gap experienced by M.Phil. students.

4. Regulations for the review of the results of examination for postgraduate qualifications (Statutes and Ordinances, 2005, p. 406)

During 2005-06, only two new cases were considered. This represented a significant decrease over previous years (between 5 and 10 new cases had been considered in each of the previous four years). In both cases the Board agreed that there were grounds for an allowance. Of four ongoing cases, three were referred to the Review Committee and there was as yet no resolution. The fourth had previously been referred to the Review Committee, and in this case the degree was awarded after re-examination of the thesis.

November 2007  
C. R. HILEY   

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