Attracting quality postgraduates
Over the past 8 years the University and the Vice-Chancellor in particular has embarked on an active strategy of increasing internal funding and raising donor support for postgraduate scholarships and bursaries. This has been focused primarily on black and female students with preference given to South African nationals and permanent residence holders. This has been a highly successful strategy with annual funding for Honours, Master's and PhD student prestigious scholarships increasing from R635 000 (35 awards) in 1999 to R2 210 000 (62 awards) in 2005. Continued funding is ensured by regular contact with donors, detailed reporting in line with donor needs and a strict policy of funding based on student quality which is not compromised even if it results in the funding available in a particular year not all being utilized. In addition to these competitive scholarships the University awards automatic scholarships to third year and Honours students who obtain first class passes and Master's students obtaining distinctions. In addition, students are supported by awards from the NRF, MRC and other funding organizations. The total scholarship and additional financial aid awarded for postgraduate study has increased from approximately R3.5 million (350 awards) in 1999 to R9.9 million (750 awards) in 2004. Scholarship and other postgraduate financial aid schemes are extensively advertised and communicated internally, in the regional and national press and through the HEI network. All applicants are screened by the Research Office and a short list of applicants compiled in consultation with the Faculty Deans. After approval of acceptance by the relevant departments the final awards are made by a committee of Deans, chaired by the Vice-Chancellor.
The administration of all postgraduate funding programmes is the responsibility of the Postgraduate Financial Aid Administrator assisted by the other staff in the Research Office. This is a very time consuming task requiring interaction with funders, advertising of funding opportunities, initial screening and broad ranking of applications, extensive reporting to funders and constant daily interaction with students to deal with queries, process funding allocations and providing a contact point for general postgraduate advice. This service and other more general support is a highly valued and essential part of postgraduate studies at Rhodes.
Postgraduates particularly of good quality are also attracted to Rhodes because of factors such as the national and international significance and relevance of most of its research programmes, its areas of research strength, the quality of the Rhodes degree and the high rate of employment of its successful postgraduates. A further factor which attracts postgraduate students, as with undergraduates, is the safe, residence based environment (the recently established Gavin Relly Postgraduate Village being a major attraction) and the infrastructure provided for research.
Admission into Honours programmes requires a minimum of 60% (and usually higher) in the major to be studied. Unfortunately, based on past experience, graduates from some other institutions are often not sufficiently prepared for the academic rigour of many of the Rhodes University Honours programmes and a grade higher than 60% is required before these graduates can be admitted. Acceptance is departmentally determined but authorized by the Dean and is also dependant on the supervisory and resource capacity in the department. The effectiveness of this admissions process and subsequent support mechanisms for Honours students can be measured by the 96-100% pass rate by these students.
A much more rigorous process of acceptance into Master's and PhD study has been introduced across all Faculties which requires both the applicant and potential supervisor to complete forms for approval by the Head of Department and Dean. Issues relating to the field and topic of research, supervisory capacity and expertise, funding and infrastructure amongst others are addressed in the applications.
Recognition of prior learning is taken into account in the ad eundem gradum admission into Honours and Master's study. Such admissions require Faculty recommendation and Senate approval.
Student Support and Development
New postgraduate students are introduced to Rhodes through a process of departmental orientation, peer orientation, a University based orientation day and special information sessions by the Library and IT Division. Postgraduate students in residence are also included in residence orientation programmes. The orientation of new students particularly foreign postgraduates has not always been as effective as it could be with some students expressing concerns about the time taken to integrate into the campus and the community. Interaction with the new International Office and Dean as well as the Postgraduate Liaison Committee (PGLC) will hopefully alleviate this and will provide ideas to improve the orientation process. The PGLC was formed in 2003 and is composed of representatives from all departments and organizes regular meetings and functions for postgraduates. It is also a sub-committee of the JRC, has representation on the JRC and interacts closely and reports though the Dean of Research.
All postgraduate students on registration are provided with a copy of the Higher Degrees Guide, a comprehensive guide to most aspects of postgraduate study at Rhodes including responsibilities of supervisors and students. The guide also contains copies of all relevant forms, contacts, etc and is regularly updated and edited. Specific workshops on aspects of the Guide are arranged either within departments or by the Dean of Research and Postgraduate Liaison Committee. These include supervision, thesis and report writing and research methodology workshops. This is an aspect of research student support which could be strengthened with additional resources to conduct more workshops and other support services. An area of increasing need for support is with writing skills particularly for second language English speakers. With increasing numbers of such students studying at Rhodes workshops on writing skills are conducted by the Academic Development Centre and there are plans to expand this service. In certain disciplines and some scholarship programmes formal mentorship schemes are in place to assist new postgraduates both academically and in a more general sense.
Additional, more project based support and development, is provided by peers, supervisors and departmental seminars and journal clubs in which opportunities are also provided for improving written and verbal presentation skills. In this regard conference presentation of research data is also encouraged and financial support for conference attendance, mainly local, can be applied for from the JRC. Almost all applications by Master's and PhD students to make presentations at local conferences are supported but there is very little opportunity for international conference presentation due to limited funding. Funding is also needed to enable new research students to attend conferences without necessarily making presentations.
Services supporting postgraduate such as the Library, IT and other infrastructure are essentially the same as those outlined under the staff section. In addition, postgraduate students have access to a dedicated computer laboratory and thesis preparation computer facility (both being interventions in the past few years arising from feedback from the Postgraduate Liaison Committee) in addition to internet connections in all residences including the Postgraduate Village. Funding is provided for Master's and Doctoral students to attend and present research papers at local conference with very limited support being available for International conference attendance other than that which may be available through their supervisors individual research grants.
Proposal preparation and approval
Master's and PhD project proposals are initially prepared by the student in consultation with the supervisor. The proposals then go through a process of departmental approval which varies between departments and may include input from several members of the department in addition to the supervisor as well as a presentation of the proposal at a departmental seminar. This allows the student to strengthen their proposals through a thorough process before the proposals are submitted to the Faculty Higher Degrees Committees for approval. The Higher Degrees Committees have as broad a representation as possible and members are selected by the faculty for their known ability to uphold academic standards and in many cases for their research and supervisory experience. Supervisors and/or Heads of Departments are invited to attend those parts of the meeting when their student/s proposal is considered and if required the committee provides feedback for the student to further strengthen the proposal. This process works extremely well and efficiently even if some students find it a difficult hurdle to overcome. As a result of this thorough process almost all proposals submitted to higher degrees committees are accepted on the first submission with minor alterations in many cases. Those that are referred back are generally all accepted after revision.
The Science and Pharmacy Faculties currently do not have Higher Degrees Committees but consideration is being given to the introduction of a similar process in these faculties.
Besides the normal monitoring of progress on research projects by supervisors and Heads of Department, the university has a formal Policy on Supervision of Master's and PhD theses which requires both students and supervisors to complete an annual progress report as outlined in the staff section. These reports are collated by the Deans and a summary presented to the Vice-Chancellor.
Students wishing to upgrade from a Master's to PhD are required to present a comprehensive report on progress including evidence of research outputs together with a full motivation for consideration by the Faculty Higher Degrees or Upgrade Committee which makes a recommendation to Senate.