Code of practice: research degrees


1. The University of Stirling is a research-led institution committed to generating new knowledge and ideas, sustaining its intellectual energy and making a significant contribution to the knowledge-based economy locally, nationally and globally.  

2. Research students, central to strategic institutional ambitions, and an integral part of the University’s community of researchers are encouraged to work with academic, commercial, public, private and voluntary sector partners.  

3. The University, as an active member of a number of Research Council Doctoral Training Partnerships/Centres (DTPs/DTCs), is an institution recognised for delivering excellence in research and research training.

4. This code of practice aims to:

  • ensure that research students at the University of Stirling are supervised effectively so that they reach their full academic research potential and that they complete their research within an appropriate time period;
  • ensure that research students and staff share a common understanding of their respective roles and responsibilities;
  • promote policies and procedures that protect the academic standards of the University’s research degrees.

5. The code sets out expectations and procedures in relation to the admission, training, supervision, support and progress of postgraduate research students and forms part of the University governance and regulatory framework. The code seeks to support and guide the operationalisation of Postgraduate Research Regulations, which ultimately take precedence over the code. As such this code should be read in conjunction with the regulations and relevant policy and procedure, including the Academic Integrity Policy and the Academic Misconduct Procedure, and the Attendance and Engagement Policy.

6. The code and the associated University of Stirling academic regulations that govern research degrees are consistent with the UK Quality Code for Higher Education, and are reviewed regularly to reflect changes in institutional policy and national guidelines and in order to continuously improve the research degree experience.

7. Any student or member of staff who wishes to comment on this code of practice, especially where suggestions for enhancement are being made should contact the Institute for Advanced Studies (


8. This Code applies to all University of Stirling research degrees.

Points of Policy

Research Awards of the University of Stirling

9. Ordinance 58 sets out the research degrees that may be offered by the University of Stirling. These are currently Master of Philosophy (MPhil), Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and a range of named Doctoral degrees in specific subject areas.

10. Research degrees are managed and governed as ‘research awards’ only once the student has completed any taught element and commenced the research element.

Governance Framework

11. The Institute for Advanced Studies (IAS), working in collaboration with Academic Registry and the Education and Student Experience Committee (ESEC), provides governance in respect of points of policy and procedure for research degrees as set out in this Code, and their implementation.

12. The IAS leads institutional enhancements for postgraduate research students. The activities of the IAS are summarised in the Institute’s Operating Manual.

13. The Dean of the Institute for Advanced Studies works with Directors of Postgraduate Research (or equivalents) in individual Faculties and the Deputy Principal (Education and Students) (through ESEC) to monitor and uphold the quality and standards of the University’s research degrees.

14. Institutional oversight of quality and standards is held by ESEC which considers annual reports on the following: 

  • number of new students starting;
  • external examiner reports;
  • length of time between submission and viva;
  • completion statistics;
  • exit survey data;
  • ESEC panel data on leaves of absence and appeals;
  • level of turnover in supervisory arrangements;
  • the numbers and distribution of students employed by the University.

15. The Academic Panel (Research), as a sub-committee of ESEC, is the principal decision making body in matters regarding progression and award for postgraduate research students at Stirling. ESEC receives reports on research student issues/cases from the Academic Panel (Research).

Academic Standards and Enhancing the Quality of Research Degrees

16. The University’s academic standards are governed and maintained through its regulation and policy framework. The  cover:

  • the periods and modes of study;
  • residence and attendance requirements;
  • progression requirements;
  • the nature of the assessment and broad requirements for achieving each award;
  • the examining committee and potential outcomes.

17. In addition, a number of specific mechanisms and arrangements support the continued assuring of the academic standards of research awards.  

  • Admissions - Care is taken to admit students who meet appropriate entrance criteria for research degrees;
  • Supervision - Appropriate supervisory teams are appointed and guidance, training and support for staff and students is provided;
  • Engagement - Students and supervisory teams are required to formally record and agree the content of their supervisory meetings at least once every three months.  Good practice would involve more frequent meetings/interaction and full recording of discussions and outcomes;
  • Progress monitoring - For assurance of satisfactory academic progress, supervisory teams and students are required to complete the annual progress review process, and to record formally the outcomes of these reviews;
  • Examining - Approved examining committees will have the appropriate seniority, knowledge and experience to carry out the assessment effectively and in accordance with the guidance for research degree examinations;
  • Enhancement - Periodic reviews of discipline areas consider research student activity, progress and outcomes.  Faculties are required to contribute to the annual submission of data to ESEC;
  • Sector benchmarking - There is a programme of institutional benchmarking on research policy, practice and performance.

18. The Examining Committee has a responsibility for maintaining academic standards of the research degrees awarded by the University.

19. External Examiner Reports are considered by Academic Registry. Examiners’ comments on process and operation of the research degree examinations are considered by the IAS Doctoral Committee and used to inform enhancement activities.

20. The University regularly gathers formal and informal feedback from postgraduate research students about their experience, and uses the results to inform the development of its provision. By considering reports on student outcomes and results from surveys, both national (PRES) and internal (alternate years PRES question set, exit survey, feedback questionnaires for training courses and events).

21. Student sabbatical officers and staff employed by the University of Stirling Students’ Union who support postgraduate students meet informally with the head of the Institute for Advanced Studies on a regular basis, are full members of the student experience working group and are invited to attend relevant meetings to provide postgraduate student feedback on specific issues.

22. The University uses the following indicators for monitoring research degree programmes:

  • Admissions, progression, submission and success rates for postgraduate research degrees against appropriate timescales and national requirements;
  • Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES);
  • Engagement with Research Compass, the progress monitoring system.

23. The Dean for the Institute for Advanced Studies works with Faculties where opportunities for enhancement are identified.

Key Points of Responsibility

24. Specified responsibilities of key participants in the research student life cycle are outlined throughout the code:

  • Faculties;
  • Postgraduate research tutors and Directors of Postgraduate Research;
  • Institute for Advanced Studies;
  • Academic Registry
  • Research students;
  • Supervisory teams;
  • Examining Committee, including the independent chair.

25. Faculties

As academic research is conducted within Faculties, most support for postgraduate researchers will be based there and the primary source of academic support will be the supervisory team.

All research students will have a lead supervisor and thus a ‘home’ Faculty where administrative responsibility will lie.  Supervisory teams, however, can be cross-faculty and/or include external supervisory expertise, whether academic or from ‘industry’.

26. Institute for Advanced Studies

All research students belong to a home Faculty which focuses on discipline specific research and professional practice. Research students are also automatically members of the Institute for Advanced Studies which:

  • focuses on professional and personal development; 
  • provides an academic and interdisciplinary focus for research students;
  • promotes good practice across the University in order to ensure both quality and consistency in approach and experience;
  • seeks to improve the postgraduate student experience.

Research Compass

27. Research Compass is the web-based system developed by the University to enable transparency of progress and process amongst students, supervisors and administrative functions. The system provides the mechanism to record supervisory meetings and associated actions, the annual review mechanism, portfolio development and a record of skills development.

28. Staff and students are required to use Research Compass for standard monitoring and progress reporting and to aid in project planning which ensures clarity of aims and objectives between the two parties.

29. In addition, Research Compass allows institutional oversight of achievement of milestones amongst the research student population and enables the identification of good practice for sharing and any particular areas for concern.


Roles and Responsibilities

30. Research students

Research students should be aware of their roles and responsibilities which are to:

  • enrol with the University before beginning their studies and at the start of each academic session, and pay the relevant fees;
  • ensure that they understand the roles and responsibilities of their supervisory team and the support structures operating in their faculty and across the University (eg Institute for Advanced Studies and Academic Registry as well as those within faculties);
  • adhere to all the University’s regulations, policies, procedures and guidelines (as set out in this Code and other Codes), including those relating to Ethics, Health and Safety and the policy relating to Academic Misconduct;
  • accept ultimate responsibility for the conduct of their own research activity and academic integrity;
  • maintain regular contact with their supervisory team, particularly when away from the University;
  • use Research Compass to record the plan for their research project, and to keep a systematic record of their engagement with their supervisory team in line with the Code of Practice for Attendance and Engagement;
  • maintain the progress of their research in accordance with the key milestones and those agreed with the supervisory team, including the presentation of written material in sufficient time to allow for comments and discussion at meetings;
  • comply with any conditions or requirements set out by funders;
  • take responsibility for personal and professional development identified through the skills needs analysis, through attendance at Institute for Advanced Studies activities including induction, skills development courses, conferences and other development opportunities as identified and required;
  • raise problems or difficulties (academic, professional or personal) affecting their research with the supervisory team or research administrator/postgraduate research tutor or if appropriate with the Institute for Advanced Studies;
  • submit the thesis in time and in accordance with the University’s guidelines for the submission of theses, and to respond appropriately and timely to any recommendations of the examining committee and in accordance with the University policies on Academic Misconduct;
  • be aware that if they are in receipt of a student (formally Tier 4) visa they are also subject to their student (formally Tier 4) visa responsibilities.

31. Research degree supervisors

The supervisory team expects commitment from the research student, who should respond accordingly to supervisory guidance and advice. The responsibilities of the supervisory team are to:

  • understand the appropriate University mechanisms for the recruitment, admission, enrolment and progress monitoring of research students;
  • undertake supervisory development programmes to enhance supervisory skills and knowledge, to maintain sufficient knowledge of the research area and research skills in order to be able to provide appropriate guidance on the research project;
  • ensure that the research student is familiar with and adheres to all University policies, procedures and regulations;
  • guide the research student in their research project, to provide clear guidance on the key monitoring milestones and to keep a systematic record of meetings and progress via Research Compass;
  • be accountable for reporting on research student progress to the Faculty and the University and to raise any issues for concern with the Faculty’s Director of Postgraduate Research;
  • maintain contact with the research student; agree a schedule of meetings (at least monthly, which may be in person or via videoconference), provide appropriate guidance and constructive feedback and to provide this in an appropriate timeframe; 
  • assist the research student, through Research Compass and the skills needs analysis, in identifying and satisfying research, professional and personal skill development needs whilst recognising that doctoral study as a broad training opportunity for a range of careers.  Students will be encouraged and supported in developing their career options;
  • encourage the research student to engage in professional and personal development activities including attending the Institute for Advanced Studies skills development programme courses, relevant seminars series, and publication of conference papers and journal articles and any relevant activities within their faculty or their sector-wide subject discipline;
  • discuss with the research student any inadequate progress, problems or difficulties affecting their research and be able to direct them to other support services if necessary;
  • provide appropriate guidance and support on thesis preparation in a timely manner; 
  • assist with the timely preparation and arrangement of the viva voce (in liaison with the appropriate research administrator), to prepare the research student for the viva voce, advise on the outcome and encourage timely response to any recommendations of the examining committee.

32. Faculties

Faculties are expected to provide adequate and appropriate space and facilities to enable the student to undertake their programme of study. Faculties are responsible for:

  • developing and operating a structure, e.g. through Directors of Postgraduate Research to oversee progression and administrative activities of their research students and disseminating the knowledge of this;
  • ensuring that the supervisors of research students have sufficient time, formally allocated in the workload allocation model, to provide adequate support for each student;
  • reporting to IAS via the Doctoral Committee on any issues of concern and opportunities for enhancement;
  • managing the supervisory arrangements in the event of a change in direction of the project, absence (more than two months) of supervisory team members or at the request of the student or supervisory team.

33. Professional Services

A range of the University’s professional services are required to enable and assist the lifecycle and performance of research students at the University of Stirling. These include:

  • Academic Registry;
  • Institute for Advanced Studies;
  • Library and Information Services;
  • Student Support Services;
  • Students’ Union.

34. It is expected that each service area continuously monitors the appropriateness of its services for research students, responds effectively to issues and feedback and works to provide solutions as appropriate for individual cases. IAS works with service areas to ensure that responses to student feedback are timely, appropriate and communicated back to students.

Selection and Admission

35. Entry Requirements

The general minimum admissions requirements for entry to research degree programmes are:

  • an upper second class honours Bachelor’s degree or higher qualification, for some studentships and programmes of study a suitable master’s degree may be specified;
  • a candidate whose first language is not English is required to provide evidence of English language proficiency that would meet the equivalence of an IELTS 6.5 (at least 6.0 in all bands). Where a student (formally Tier 4) visa is required for study based in the UK, evidence of English language proficiency equivalent to a minimum level of IELTS 6.5 (at least 6.0 in all bands) is required. English language qualifications and waivers;
  • a research proposal that is appropriate for the degree and agreed with the proposed lead supervisor;
  • the availability of suitable supervisory and resource arrangements.

36. Selection

Applications for doctoral degrees are made via the University’s dedicated recruitment portal for research degrees. There is supporting information available to candidates on the PGR application webpages to provide guidance on requirements and eligibility.  The Directors of Postgraduate Research in each Faculty have responsibility for acceptance or rejection of applications. This process is monitored via the IAS Doctoral Committee to ensure decisions are made and communicated to applicants as quickly as possible, and that all University requirements and obligations on equality of opportunity and widening access are upheld.

37. Finding a supervisor

If applicants have not already identified appropriate potential supervisors for their field of study, then they should consult the University’s web site, and in particular the ‘Find a Supervisor’ tool before submitting an application. Directors of Postgraduate Research will assist applicants in identifying appropriate supervisors if required.

The Graduate Admissions Team provides applicants and academics with guidance on the admissions process.

38. Interview

It is generally the case that the supervisory team is keen to meet or speak to a potential Postgraduate Research student.  This is an important step in terms of gauging the ‘fit’ of the supervisory relationship.  Interviews can be undertaken via video-conferencing technology if appropriate.

39. Funding

Details of funded research degree opportunities are listed in the scholarships finder. Applicants are requested not to apply to the University or to engage with potential supervisors unless they have considered their funding options.

40. Offer letter

A successful applicant will be issued a formal offer from the University. The offer letter will detail the tuition fee payable, the programme and period of study and may list any outstanding conditions of the offer. The applicant can accept or decline the offer.

Enrolment and Induction

41. Enrolment

Before a new research student can enrol they must activate their University of Stirling student computer account.  This can be completed prior to arrival or on a University networked computer.  Details of the process are provided in the pre-enrolment email.

Enrolment is completed online and is the point at which a student is expected to check the information held about them and update if necessary, to pay their tuition fees where appropriate and to confirm their agreement to enrol at the University.

Research students can enrol at the start of any month, although they are encouraged to start on the following dates: 1 October, first working day in January, 1 April and 1 July.

Research students are expected to complete their degree within the stated periods of study.  The minimum, expected and maximum periods of study for each research degree is set out in paragraph 23 of the regulations. Research students must enrol with the University when they begin their studies and annually thereafter. Continued registration is, in all cases, subject to satisfactory progress.

42. Induction

All new research students will receive appropriate information about the environment in which they will be studying and pursuing research, including the names and contact details of all those involved in guiding and supporting them within their faculty and in the wider University. 

All research students should attend a co-ordinated programme of induction events at faculty level that introduces them to the information they will need to begin their programmes. Faculties should determine what is covered at their respective levels.

All research students are required to attend IAS induction where they will receive information about University regulations and policies including: 

  • supervisory expectations;
  • attendance and engagement requirements;
  • progress monitoring and review through Research Compass;
  • regulations that apply to the degree for which the student is registered;
  • institutional codes of practice that apply to the research degree programme;
  • the learning infrastructure and how to access it, including arrangements for remote access, to include equipment, library and computing facilities;
  • effective use of the university library and its resources;
  • the University’s expectations of the student’s responsibilities;
  • the opportunities available for the student to develop subject-specific and transferable skills;
  • arrangements for meeting students' personal, social, welfare and recreational needs, including information about facilities, opportunities and support available within the University.

43. Duration of study

It is expected that full time research students should complete their doctoral studies within three years (within two years for MPhil and pro-rata for part time students).  An applicant wishing to transfer to the University of Stirling from another higher education institution may apply for a reduction in the periods set out in paragraph 13 of the research degree regulations. To transfer into the University of Stirling applicants must demonstrate evidence of satisfactory progress in their previous institution. The minimum period of study at the University of Stirling may not be reduced to less than one year (full-time) or two years (part-time).


44. The supervisory team

All research students are allocated a supervisory team when they are offered a place to study for a research degree. The offer letter gives details of the supervisory team which: 

  • will comprise a minimum of two supervisors, at least one of whom must hold a doctorate;
  • at least one of whom must have previously successfully supervised one or more research students from registration through to completion;
  • will have expertise in the relevant subject or discipline area of research and knowledge of those methodologies and skills required for the research.

Wherever possible, the lead supervisor should have both the requisite experience and qualification and will assume overall responsibility for the research student, including responsibility for: 

  • the direction of the research programme;
  • all administrative matters related to the registration.

It is envisaged that supervisors would normally supervise no more than six full-time research students (or equivalent), as the lead supervisor.

Supervisors whose staff status changes to that of Emeritus Professor before the completion of a students’ postgraduate research degree may remain as a member of the supervisory team, but not normally as lead supervisor, unless there is a short period until thesis submission.

If a member of the supervisory team is unavailable for a significant period of time (i.e. more than two months), it is the responsibility of the Faculty/ies to make alternative arrangements for supervision.  Staff on research leave are expected to continue their role as part of the supervisory team.

The supervisory team may be adjusted or augmented as the research programme progresses, as proposed by the Faculty and confirmed by the IAS Doctoral Committee.

45. Supervisory development

It is important that all supervisors undertake development to enhance their supervisory skills and knowledge and to maintain sufficient knowledge of the research area and research skills in order to provide appropriate guidance on the research project. As such, supervisors are expected to engage in development opportunities and to meet any requirements for continuing professional development.  Faculties are required to ensure that their supervisors engage in supervisory development activities as set out below. 

Working closely with the faculty, Institute for Advanced Studies, Human Resources and Research and Innovation Services provide development opportunities for all those involved in the supervision of research students.

46. Established supervisors

Those supervisors, who have successfully supervised one or more research students to completion, should undertake development to:

  • maintain their knowledge and skills about best practice in supervising research students;
  • update their knowledge about any changes to policy (external or internal) or process in relation to research degrees;
  • be involved in the exchange of best supervisory practice amongst Faculties;
  • help facilitate the development of a strong research network across the University.

47. New supervisors

Training for new supervisors is compulsory for all those who are new to supervision at doctoral level, normally prior to engagement as part of a supervisory team, in order to provide them with the necessary knowledge required to supervise research students in the context of internal and external regulatory frameworks.

Formal training will be provided through a combination of training supported through online resources and sessions to address specific themes or topics.

As supervisory teams must include at least one established supervisor, new supervisors will also receive informal mentoring through this process of supervision.

48. Departure and absence of a supervisor

In the event that a supervisor leaves the University, the Faculty will be responsible for ensuring that appropriate new supervisory team arrangements, including a comprehensive handover between supervisors, are in place for the research student without any undue delay. 

Where a supervisor is absent for an extended period (at least two months) then the Faculty will make appropriate temporary/interim adjustments to the supervisory team.

Changes to supervision may also occur as a result of a change of the direction of the project or other reasons, and could be at the request of the research student as per 44 above.  Requests for changes to supervisors should be made to the Faculty Director of Postgraduate Research.

All changes to the supervisory team must be confirmed at IAS Doctoral Committee and reported to Academic Registry.

Progress and Progress Monitoring Arrangements

49. The nature of the research degree is such that progress can be dictated by the relationship between the research student and the supervisory team.  To help ensure that adequate progress is made, the University has formal monitoring and progress requirements including regular and formally recorded supervisory meetings, and formal Annual Progress Reviews.  The outcomes of these Reviews are recorded via Research Compass, and the IAS Doctoral Committee will consider the appropriate remedial action to recommend in case progress is judged to be insufficient.  Supervisory teams and faculties may encourage, suggest and require additional progress monitoring activities, over and above formal University requirements, but these must be appropriate and justified. In addition, it is recognised that students can experience a range of personal circumstances whilst undertaking a degree and in monitoring a student’s progress, a supervisory team may decide that it is appropriate for a referral to be made to the University’s Fitness to Study Procedure.

50. Some funding organisations stipulate requirements in addition to those of the University for satisfactory progress and progress monitoring, such as an enhanced minimum number of meetings per year, and/or annual reporting of specific activities.  It is the responsibility of the individual student to be aware of any such requirements as apply to them, to and meet these requirements and to report on them to the appropriate organisation.

51. Milestones

The University has established a suite of key milestones to assist students in completing their studies in a timely manner.  Milestones are designed to be indicators of progress rather than hurdles to progression.  Concerns raised in annual progress reviews (see 8.5) or regarding lack of progress generally (see 8.7) may impact a student’s progression through their programme.  The key milestones for research students on a full time PhD programme are:

  • Attend IAS induction;
  • Complete skills needs analysis (with the guidance of the supervisory team and within the first three months of study);
  • Record supervisory meetings - students are encouraged to record all supervisory meetings and a minimum of one every three months as per the Student-Supervisor Concordat;
  • Undertake annual progress review.  The first annual progress review carries requires the submission of a substantial written piece and must be completed by 12 months for full-time students and 24 months for part time students.

Note: The milestones are compulsory points of contact for students sponsored under student (formally Tier 4) visa and failure to engage fully with these points of contact will result in the University withdrawing visa sponsorship. Information on Additional points of contact and further information for overseas students studying on a student (formally Tier 4) visa.

Milestones for PhD
Column one lists the month, column two lists the full time PhD meetings, column three lists the part time PhD meetings.
Month Full time PhD Part time PhD
3 Meet 1, attend induction, skills analysis  
6 Meet 2 Meet 1, attend induction, skills analysis
9 Meet 3  
12 Meet 4, annual review 1 (upgrade) Meet 2, annual review 1
15  Meet 1   
18  Meet 2  Meet 3 
21  Meet 3   
24  Meet 4, annual review 2 (minimum submission date)  Meet 4, annual review 2 (upgrade)  
27  Meet 1   
30 Meet 2 Meet 1
33 Meet 3  
36 Meet 4, annual review 3 (expected submission date) Meet 2, annual review 3
39 Meet 1  
42 Meet 2 Meet 3
45 Meet 3  
48 Meet 4 (maximum submission date) Meet 4, annual review 4 (Minimum submission date)
54   Meet 1 
60   Meet 2, annual review 5
66   Meet 3
72   Meet 4, annual review 6 (Expected submission date)
78   Meet 1
84   Meet 2, annual review 7
90   Meet 3
96   Meet 4 (maximum submission date)

Milestones (indicative) for a full-time professional doctorate:

Note: professional doctorate programmes are comprised of a taught element followed by a research element. The timeline below refers specifically to the research element and the ‘month of programme’ is indicative based on the taught element taking 18 months to complete (36 months part time).  The length of the taught element may vary across programmes.

Progression from the taught element to the research element is based on the student’s appropriate academic achievement as determined for each programme.  An IPR document is required for professional doctorate students.

Milestones for full-time professional doctorate
Column one lists the month, column two lists the full time professional doctorate meetings, column three lists the part time professional doctorate meetings.
Month Full time professional doctorate Part time professional doctorate
18  Thesis stage commences  
21  Meet 1  
24  Meet 2, annual review 1 (minimum submission date)  
27  Meet 1   
30 Meet 2  
33 Meet 3  
36 Meet 4, annual review 2 (minimum submission date) Thesis stage commences
39 Meet 1  
42 Meet 2 Meet 1
45 Meet 3  
48 Meet 4 (maximum submission date) Meet 2, annual review 1 (minimum submission date)
54   Meet 1 
60   Meet 2, annual review 1
66   Meet 1
72   Meet 2, annual review 3
78   Meet 1
84   Meet 2, annual review 4
90   Meet 1
96   Meet 2 (maximum submission date

52. Supervisory meetings

Lead supervisors should take the initiative in making the first contact with their research students. The first meeting should normally take place within a week of a student’s registration.  After the first meeting it becomes a shared responsibility, between student and supervisor(s), to maintain regular and adequate contact, irrespective of the student’s location

First supervisory meeting – the following should be discussed:

  • the student’s outline research plan;
  • the schedule of future meetings;
  • any taught components of the student's programme, including the timing, nature and implications of non-completion;
  • the academic standards expected for the relevant research degree;
  • any training and skills development needs – a timescale to complete the skills needs
  • analysis on Research Compass should be agreed[1];
  • the use of Research Compass as the mechanism to record supervisory meetings.

[1] Students on professional/clinical doctorate programmes get access to Research Compass from year 2.

53. Skills needs analysis

All training and learning is unique to the individual involved. Postgraduate research students must therefore discuss their development needs with their supervisory team at the start of each academic year.  It is a formal requirement in year 1 that a ‘skills needs analysis’ is undertaken via Research Compass with the full support of the supervisory team.

The outcome of the skills needs analysis should inform a student’s personal and professional skills development plan; students are encouraged to consider the variety of development opportunities through Faculties, the IAS’ skills development programme, sector networks, doctoral training partnerships and centres and other University opportunities.

Students are encouraged to report on their training and development in their quarterly supervisory meetings so that on-going reflection of their skills needs can be discussed with their supervisory team and appropriate adjustments made to their training and development plan each year.

All research students are encouraged to take up to 10-days-worth of personal, professional and career development activities per year in addition to any discipline specific advanced methods training.

54. Annual progress reviews

The annual progress review process, undertaken at the end of each 12 month period for both full and part-time research degree students, is a fundamental part of the University’s progress monitoring system.  Students are encouraged to consider their progress, identify barriers to progress, and to outline their future plans.  The progress review report is also a place to highlight any specific difficulties, with the way the supervisory team functions, as an example.

The Academic Panel as a subcommittee of ESEC has oversight of progress reporting and has authority to make recommendations on continuation and supervisory arrangements based on the content of an annual report.

Research students are invited to complete an annual progress review report in the final quarter of each year of study (i.e. during the periods months 9-12, 21-24 and 33-36 for full time students, and pro-rate for part-time students).  Students are asked to confirm that the information held by the University about their programme of study and supervisory team is accurate and then to detail progress to date and to outline future plans.  Students are also asked to indicate their satisfaction with the level of supervision received.

The lead supervisor is asked to report on the student’s progress, to confirm that they are on track to submit within the expected period of study and that a plan exists to ensure timely completion.

Where a supervisor team feels that a student’s progress is unsatisfactory then a course of action to address shortcomings must be detailed and shared with the student, as per the University policy on Academic Misconduct and reported to the IAS Doctoral Committee. Remedial action will then be agreed with the student and supervisors.

55. First full Progress Review

The first full progress review – at the end of year 1 for full-time PhD students and the end of year 2 for part-time PhD students, are used to determine whether a student’s progress is satisfactory. This First Full Progress Review process must be completed by the end of month 12 for full time students, or by month 24 for part time students.

New part time students (in month 12) are asked to provide a description of the thesis topic, identified training needs and an initial timetable for the research in a short Interim Review with the format for this agreed with the supervisory team.

MPhil and professional doctorate students are required to undertake a similar review process. Timings will be determined by the particular degree pathway.

56. First Full Progress Review meeting

Faculties are expected to convene a panel meeting to discuss the First Full Progress Review report with the student.  The panel should consist of, at a minimum, two members of academic staff neither of whom should be the student’s lead supervisor.  The review meeting should be scheduled according to the timescale set out above.

57. First Full Progress Review report

The student is required to submit a report up to 10000 words that demonstrates a critical engagement with the literature and presents a feasible and robust research plan. The report should normally include:

  • an introduction which frames the research question(s) in the context of current literature;
  • a summary of research undertaken and outcomes in the period covered by the review;
  • a draft thesis plan – likely thesis structure, details of any anticipated publications;
  • plans for future work, including proposed methodologies and a draft timeline for outcomes;
  • evidence of ethical approval or how this will be secured in the next review period as appropriate;
  • reflection on any challenges or barriers that present a risk to completion within the expected period of study;
  • details of training undertaken and training needs identified for the coming year.

Faculties are required to address the minimum requirements set out above but can supplement these with other discipline specific requirements as appropriate.

58. First Full Progress Review outcomes

There are a number of possible outcomes of the First Full Progress Review. If progress is deemed satisfactory, then the student proceeds with the doctoral research according to the research plan agreed with supervisors.

Where the Review progress has found progress to be unsatisfactory then ESEC may:

  1. in the case of a student registered for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy transfer registration to the degree of MPhil;
  2. in exceptional cases defer a decision on progress for up to a further six months;
  3. require the student to withdraw from study.

(ii and iii apply for MPhil and professional doctorate students)

59. Second and Third Full Progress Reviews

The Second Full Progress Review must be completed by the end of month 24 for full time students or month 48 for part time students.

60. Format of the Second Full Progress Review

The minimum requirements for the Second Full Progress Review are as follows:

61. Review report

The student is required to submit a report up to 5000 words summarising progress against the plan presented in the First Full Progress Review.  The report could include:

  • a summary overview that frames the research question(s) in the context of current literature;
  • a summary of research undertaken and outcomes in year 2;
  • an updated thesis plan – thesis structure, details of any anticipated publications;
  • plans for future work, including proposed methodologies and a draft timeline for outcomes;
  • evidence of ethical approval where appropriate (as an appendix) which must also be noted on the student data sheet;
  • reflection on any challenges or barriers that present a risk to completion within the expected period of study;
  • details of training undertaken and training needs identified for the coming year.

62. Review meeting

Faculties are expected to convene a panel meeting to discuss the Second Full Progress Review report with the student.  The panel should consist of, at a minimum, two members of academic staff neither of whom should be the student’s lead supervisor.  The review meeting should be scheduled for month 24 (48 for part time students).

Faculties are required to address the minimum requirements set out above but can supplement these with other discipline specific requirements as appropriate.

63. Review outcomes

There are a number of possible outcomes of the Second Full Progress Review. If progress is deemed satisfactory, then the student proceeds with the doctoral research according to the research plan agreed with supervisors.

Where the Review progress has found progress to be unsatisfactory then ESEC may:

  1. in the case of a student registered for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy transfer registration to the degree of MPhil;
  2. in exceptional cases defer a decision on progress for up to a further six months;
  3. require the student to withdraw from study.

(ii and iii apply for MPhil and professional doctorate students)

64. Third Full Progress Review and annual Interim Reviews for part time students

Students at the end of year 3 (month 60 onwards for part time students) are required to submit a summary of up to 500 words on their progress in the previous year of study via Research Compass.  Students within the last year of study should detail their write-up plan  The student’s supervisory team must arrange a review session to consider this and the requirements for successful completion of the degree. The purpose of this review is to ensure that the student is fully ready to submit the thesis and any other materials for the award of the degree, and to prepare the student for the examination process

It is a requirement that the progress of all students, regardless of mode of attendance, is considered on an annual basis.

Students studying on a part time basis have their formal Full Progress Reviews at 24 and 48 months.  Part time students must also submit a summary of up to 500 words on their progress in the previous 12 months and timetable to completion, via Research Compass, in months 12, 36 and 60. This Interim Review will be considered by the supervisory team, and any concerns over progress discussed fully with the appropriate PGR Director and, if required, the IAS Doctoral Committee.

Students who have not submitted their progress reviews by the appropriate deadlines will not be permitted to enrol for the next year and may lose access to University facilities as a consequence.  Where there are extenuating circumstances (see 10.3) these will be taken into account.

For those sponsored under student (formally Tier 4) visa the University will not be able to continue sponsorship where a student is not enrolled or actively engaged with their studies.

65. Assurance of learning

The precise structure and expectations about how the content of the final thesis submitted for the award of a PGR degree is presented will vary between subject disciplines. For every student, however, the final thesis must contain appropriate methodological design and analysis of research findings to demonstrate that the programme learning outcomes for the degree have been met. Independent chairs of viva exams should ensure that both external and internal examiners are fully cognisant of the programme learning outcomes for the degree to be awarded. Annual Progress Review panels should also use the relevant PLOs when assessing student progress, and note any potential shortfalls in meeting them when reporting APR outcomes.

66. Lack of progress

Concerns about progress should be identified as early as possible so that support can be offered. Such concerns will normally include failure to:

  • arrange and attend meetings;
  • meet deadlines;
  • produce tangible outcomes of the research;
  • produce work to an appropriate standard.

If either the research student or the supervisory team have concerns about progress, they should:

  • discuss concerns or any difficulties relating to the research or other areas which may be affecting performance;
  • ensure that the faculty are kept informed and, if necessary, become involved;
  • agree and document a plan for improvement of progress, incorporating appropriate targets and a schedule for review.

The progress review is one mechanism to identify issues, but if more urgent or critical then supervisory meetings should be used or the issues should be raised directly with the faculty, specifically directors of research students (or postgraduate research tutors) or the IAS Doctoral Committee.

If at any point in the course of study, supervisory meetings identify inadequate progress is being made by the student, the Faculty PGR Director will write formally to the research student raising concerns, and the case discussed at the IAS Doctoral Committee.  Where inadequate progress is considered to be on-going then the Faculty can recommend to Academic Panel that the student should be withdrawn from their programme of study.

If inadequate progress is confirmed at a formal Full Progress Review meeting then the Faculty will recommend the appropriate action to ESEC.  If the recommended action is withdrawal then the details of the circumstances resulting in termination of studies outlined in paragraph 57 of the research degree regulations apply.  The research student is entitled to appeal against this decision using the code of practice for academic appeals.

67. Lack of contact

The principles governing lack of progress will also apply if the research student fails to maintain contact with their supervisory team.

The supervisory team, research administrator and Faculty will make every effort to:

  • contact the research student;
  • identify and discuss any reasons for lack of contact;
  • agree a plan to improve communication;
  • continue to monitor and review the plan.
  • If these steps fail to develop engagement and contact then it should be escalated to Academic Registry to consider and advise upon appropriate next steps, with the IAS Doctoral Committee notified of the case.

Faculties are required to monitor research student engagement, and should a research student fail to engage as expected, the following steps should be taken:

  • informal attempts to make email / telephone contact by supervisory team / research administrator and resolve situation at an early stage;
  • formal letter to request contact be made by the research student detailing reason for lack of contact;
  • formal letter to further request contact be made by research student;
  • formal letter to inform that steps will be taken to recommend withdrawal of  the student;
  • The faculty will notify of those students not engaging if necessary.

Failure on the part of the research student to respond to the third formal letter will trigger the withdrawal procedure.

The research student is entitled to appeal against this decision in line with the code of practice for academic appeals.

68. Changing mode of study

A student can request a change from full time study to part time study or vice versa via Research Compass within their expected period of study.  A student may transfer between full and part-time study with the approval of their supervisory team and Academic Panel and the maximum period of study and associated submission date will be adjusted on a pro-rata basis.

Permission will not be granted to change mode of study after the expected period of study has ended (i.e. within the final year of study for a full-time student (year 4)).

69. Changing study location

A student can request to study away from the University and this requires the approval of their supervisory team and Academic Panel.

Where appropriate to the subject matter and methodology of the degree, PGR students may be registered for remote supervision via the internet. The obligations and expectations for remote supervision in terms of student-supervisor engagement, reviews of progress and submission of written work are the same as those for students who study on-campus. Students pursuing their PGR degree remotely must meet their supervisors online using software tools supported by the University such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom, maintaining an equivalent frequency of contact as would be expected for on-campus study. Online Annual Progress Reviews must be conducted in the usual way with an equivalent review panel to those undertaken in person.

For PGR by remote supervision, the student-supervisor concordat agreement must include the following additional bullet point:
Remote supervision via the internet can be an effective mode of study leading to successful completion of a doctoral degree. Students studying remotely must agree with their supervisors how their contact will be managed using appropriate online tools. It is particularly important for students supervised remotely to provide written work at regular intervals for supervisors to assess progress, and to review the content and effectiveness of supervisory sessions.
During the course of a PGR degree undertaken at distance, there may be the opportunity for the student to visit Stirling to meet with their supervisors and experience campus life. Where this is possible, a programme should agreed in advance between student and supervisors to maximise the value from the visit and the student’s engagement with the on-campus community.

Where a student who is studying remotely wishes to change to studying on campus, this requires approval of their supervisory team and the Academic Panel (Research). In these circumstances, where the student would require a student visa to be able to study in the UK, prior approval of a change to on campus study will also be required from Academic Registry to confirm that the University is able to sponsor the student and therefore issue a CAS which would be necessary for a visa application. 

70. Field work

A student intending to undertake fieldwork away from the University for more than two weeks is required to notify the University via Research Compass.  Any student wishing to undertake fieldwork must first complete the faculty risk assessment process.

71. Extension

A student may be granted an extension to their maximum period of study at the request of their supervisory team.  Extensions may be granted on the grounds of exceptional circumstances causing delay to progress e.g. field work access problems, unavailability of laboratory facilities or chronic health issues.

Financial constraints are not grounds for extension as funding arrangements should be in place before students commence their studies.

The lead supervisor, with the support of the Faculty Postgraduate Research Director, must normally make the case by email to Academic Registry at the time the issue arises and not less than one month (ie month 35 for a full time student) prior to the end of the expected period of study. The maximum extension permitted over the entire period of study for any research degree is 12 months.

Requests for extensions are normally considered by Academic Panel (Research).

72. Withdrawal

A research student considering withdrawing from their programme of research is advised to speak to their lead supervisor in the first instance.  Support and guidance can also be sought from the faculty postgraduate research tutor, Academic Registry or the Institute for Advanced Studies.

More information on withdrawal is available.

Research Students as Teachers

73. Teaching is recognised as a valuable part of career/personal development as a research student. However, teaching commitments can be onerous and full time students should bear in mind that any paid teaching should not detract from their research. It is recommended that the total time spent (including preparation and marking) should not exceed an average of 10 hours per week. It is important to note that full time students undertaking any kind of activity outside their research project should ensure that it does not negatively impact their progress.

74. Some funders may stipulate lower levels of teaching or additional employment whilst studying.  Conversely some studentships carry contracted teaching hours above the guidance stated here.

75. The provision of teaching within the University is the responsibility of faculties, and is paid for at the normal University rate.  Research students who wish to teach must successfully complete the relevant training delivered by the academic development team.

Forms of Leave

76. Annual leave

Full time research students are entitled to 40 days annual leave (pro-rata for part-time), which includes 10 fixed/public holidays.  There are two fixed days at Easter and 8 fixed days at Christmas and the University is closed on these days.

It is the nature of undertaking research that there are times when the workload will be heavier than at other times. In planning the research and holidays it is important to take this into account.

Students are required to notify the University of their intention to take annual leave via Research Compass.  The number of days leave taken will be recorded on their student record.

77. Maternity Leave

A research student who becomes pregnant and the expected week of childbirth is during the period of registration, will be entitled to maternity leave (a leave of absence from their studies) for up to 12 months. They will subsequently be required to notify their faculty one month before they intend to return to their studies.

78. Paternity leave and shared parental leave

If a research student’s partner becomes pregnant and the expected week of childbirth is during the research student’s period of registration, they will be entitled to paternity leave of ten days, at any time during the partner’s pregnancy or within three months of childbirth. Paternity leave must be taken by arrangement with the supervisory team.  A student may be entitled to up to 50 weeks of shared parental (a leave of absence from their studies).

79. Adoption leave and shared parental leave

A research student who has been matched with a child and is the main adopter will be entitled to up to 12 months adoption leave.  A student who is the partner of an individual who adopts or the secondary adopter may be entitled to paternity leave or up to 50 weeks of shared parental (a leave of absence from their studies).

Students in receipt of external funding should consult with their sponsor regarding the relevant process for applying for maternity/paternity/adoption or shared parental leave.  If they are in receipt of a university studentship they should refer to the respective terms and conditions.

80. Leave of absence (extenuating circumstances)

If a student is prevented from carrying out their studies by illness or for personal reasons, they should inform their lead supervisor as soon as possible.  If the absence is for less than one month then the student should notify their supervisory team.

Where a student expects to be unable to engage in their studies for more than one month, then they should request a leave of absence and upload any relevant evidence to Research Compass (under ‘formal stuff’).  Leave of absence may be granted to account for circumstances beyond the control of the student, for example ill health, family or financial problems.  The period of leave (normally at least a month) should be as short as is necessary to deal with the circumstances and will not be backdated for more than one month.

Students approaching the end of a period of leave of absence which has been granted for health reasons may be required to produce a letter from a medical practitioner confirming that they are fit to return to studies.  If towards the end of a period of leave of absence the student is not fit to return to studies, then a further leave of absence should be requested before the first one ends.

Students must not be engaged in their studies during any period of leave of absence.  The student's maximum period of study (i.e. 48 months for a full time PhD student) will not change but the maximum submission date will be extended accordingly.  A student returning from a leave of absence is not permitted to submit their thesis for examination within three months of their return to study.

Any funding body rules on extensions and suspensions will be additional to those of the University. The student and supervisory team must ensure that, where relevant, the approval of any funding body is obtained.

Thesis Submission and Examination

81. Types of doctoral thesis

Traditional thesis

A standard PhD thesis consists of a series of linked chapters typically including an introductory or context chapter, and depending on the discipline a literature review(s) and overview of methodology, a series of chapters and a concluding chapter.

If any published articles are presented within the thesis, a short statement should be included on the chapter title page to clarify the student’s contribution to the paper.

PhD by Publication

The thesis for a PhD by publication is comprised of a suite (a minimum of three) of publications around a topic that are contextualised by a substantive coherent narrative or context chapter.

At least one of the publications must be published, the others may be in press in a peer reviewed journal;

Publications should be based on research carried out whilst the student is registered with the University;

Publications included in the submission for a PhD by publication must not have been used in the submission for another research degree;

Where a candidate includes jointly-authored publications in their submission, they should describe their contribution to the published work.  This statement should be bound with the other submitted materials.

PhD by Practice

The thesis for PhD by Practice combines recorded practical work and a substantive context and narrative about the practical component, including extensive self-reflection.

There must be a substantial permanent record of the practical work submitted with the ‘written doctoral submission’ at the same submission date. The substantial permanent record of practical work must be shown to have a direct intellectual relationship with the ‘written doctoral submission’. The permanent record must be such that the research activity involved must be fully open to scrutiny and examination;

The practical activity undertaken must be integral to the research project as a whole and practical aspects of the research must be made explicit;

The practical activity must be undertaken whilst the student is registered with the University. The practical activity included in the submission for a practice-based PhD must not have been used in the submission for another research degree;

The ‘written submission’ must include a reflexive analysis of the practical element.

82. Notification of intent to submit

Research students are required to notify Academic Registry of their intention to submit their thesis at least two months before the intended submission date, which enables the University to appoint the examining committee.

Students should complete and submit ARO 14 'notification of thesis title'.  Students are asked to give the title of their thesis, to indicate whether their thesis is a ‘by publication’ submission and to give a proposed thesis submission date.

The proposed date of submission is for planning purposes and students are not bound to submit on this date or with the specified title (unless it is the last day of the maximum period of study).

83. Form and presentation of the thesis

This section is designed to assist research students in the preparation of their thesis in accordance with the University rules. The following requirements must be adhered to in the format of the final thesis.

84. Word count

Maximum word limits that apply to theses for research degree awards are set out in the table below.  

It should be noted that these are maximum word limits and there is no expectation that theses should be written to achieve the maximum word limit.

A minimal level of tolerance (5%) will be applied by the University in respect of word limits that exceed the stated maximum. Where the word count of a thesis is excessive, the student will be required to reduce it.  

Maximum word limits include appendices but exclude footnotes and bibliographies.

The number of pages indicated below is based on a thesis printed with size 12 font and 1.5 line spacing (approximately 350 words per page).

Word count and page limits
Column one lists the research degree award, column two lists the maximum word limit.
Award Maximum word limit


50,000 words (approx. 150 pages)


80,000 words (approx. 250 pages)

PhD (by publication)

80,000 words (approx. 250 pages)

PhD (by practice)

40,000 words (approx. 120 pages)

Professional/Clinical Doctorate

60,000 words (approx. 180 pages)

85. Language

The thesis must be presented in English, except where specific permission has been granted at the outset of study by the Academic Panel (Research) on behalf of the University. Permission to present a thesis in another language must normally be sought at the time of application to enrol and is only likely to be given if the subject matter of the thesis involves language and related studies.

86. Format of thesis for examination

The thesis for examination should conform to the following requirements:

  • Presented in a permanent and legible printed format;
  • Good quality A4 paper (minimum 80g) must be used;
  • Double-sided;
  • Margins at the binding edge should not less than 35 mm and other margins not less than 20 mm;
  • One-and-a-half line spacing (except for indented quotations or footnotes where single spacing may be used);
  • The main text of the thesis should ordinarily be printed in black in a font of point-size 11 or 12, and care should be taken in selecting an easily legible font. Serif fonts such as Times Roman are traditionally used, but Arial is considered by some to be easiest to read;
  • Pages must be numbered in one continuous sequence, i.e. from the title page to the last page of type, in Arabic numerals from 1 onwards. This sequence must include everything bound in the volume, including maps, diagrams, blank pages, etc. Any material which cannot be bound in with the text must be placed in a pocket inside or attached to the back cover or in a rigid container similar in format to the bound thesis;

The title page must bear the following:

  • the approved title of the thesis
  • the candidate’s full name as registered
  • the institution name 'University of Stirling’
  • the degree for which the thesis is submitted
  • the month and year of submission

An abstract consisting of no more than 300 words should be included;

In each copy of the thesis the abstract should be followed by formal confirmation of ethical approval, a full table of contents (including any material not bound in) and a list of tables, figures, photographs and any other materials.

87. Submission of thesis for examination


Theses may be submitted for examination in a temporary soft bound form such as “perfect binding”.  The number of copies required depends on the number of examiners and the supervisory team will advise.  One copy for each member of the examining panel is required.


Hard copies for examiners are submitted to Academic Registry along with the Thesis Submission Form[2].

[2] At the time of drafting, submission of hard-copy theses is suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Electronic submissions are being accepted in the interim.

88. Examination

Viva Voce Examination

A viva (oral examination) is required for all research degree candidates. The viva may be held at the University or other appropriate location; or the viva may take place using video technology; see below, with prior agreement with Academic Registry.  All members of the examining committee should be present either in person or virtually at the viva.

The purpose of the viva is:

  • to enable the examiners to assure themselves that the thesis is the candidate's own work;
  • to give the candidate the opportunity to defend the thesis and to clarify any obscurities in it;
  • to enable the examiners to assess the candidate's general knowledge in the particular field of learning.

Examining Committee

Upon notification of a thesis title Academic Registry contacts the lead supervisor and invites them to nominate the examining committee.

The Examining Committee includes an independent chair, at least one internal examiner and at least one external examiner. Where the candidate is or has been a member of the academic staff of the University (according to the definition in the statutes) or in the absence of a suitably qualified internal examiner there should be at least two external examiners.

Where the candidate is or has been a member of the academic staff of the University there should be at least two external examiners. A candidate should be considered as a member of university staff if they have a substantive HR contract for an academic/research role.

The examining committee is approved by the Dean of Faculty and Academic Registry ensures that all appointments meet the criteria.

Members of the examining committee have the following roles and responsibilities:

Independent chair

An independent chair is not an examiner. An independent chair will not participate in any decision on the academic merit of the thesis, which is the responsibility of the examiners. Their role is a professional process management one.

The independent chair is a member of University of Stirling academic staff who is based in the same faculty as the candidate but has no previous connection to the candidate. The independent chair will have previously engaged with the research degree examination process in at least two of the following:

  • An internal or external examiner for a research degree;
  • A supervisor who has successfully supervised a PhD to completion;
  • Is experienced in the research award regulations of the University;
  • Is of appropriate seniority to confidently engage with the examiners;
  • Is able to deal with difficult circumstances with confidence and firmness.

The independent chair manages proceedings and has the following duties:

  • Read examiners' independent pre-viva reports;
  • Chair and introduce the viva including reminding the examiners of the appropriate regulations and protocols for the examination itself;
  • Act as student's supporter ensuring that due process is followed and that the student is offered a full opportunity to defend their thesis;
  • Advise on University regulations and examination protocol should queries arise;
  • Facilitate examiners' deliberations in reaching a decision and ensure the date for submission of any amendments or re-submission is set and agreed by the examiners;
  • Ensure all requirements for amendments or re-submission (as appropriate) are agreed by the examiners and clearly conveyed to the candidate before the conclusion of the examination and followed up with a written record of requirements within 10 working days of the viva.

Internal examiner

The internal examiner is a member of University of Stirling academic staff not directly connected with the student's work, but with knowledge of the general field. If there is one internal examiner, this examiner should not normally be a probationary member of staff. Honorary members of staff and those who are employed on Teaching and Scholarship contracts may be internal examiners where two internal examiners are required.  Internal examiners may not be/have been directly involved in the student’s supervisory team, nor have approved the outcome of any of the student’s annual review meetings.

The internal examiner has the following duties:

  • Arrange the viva and the pre-viva meeting amongst examiners;
  • Act as host to the external examiner;
  • Send their independent pre-viva report to the independent chair;
  • Examine the thesis;
  • Ask questions in the viva, ensuring that the student has opportunities to positively demonstrate their knowledge and defend their approach;
  • With the external examiner, produce an agreed report on the viva and the thesis;
  • Make recommendation for award of degree, or otherwise;
  • Specify corrections if required;
  • Check corrections have been made.

External examiner

The external examiner(s) is:

  • Independent to the candidate, the supervisory team and the University and a recognised expert in the field;
  • A research-active professor, reader, lecturer or other teacher of their institution (or of equivalent status).

To determine the suitability of any individual to act as external examiner who has not previously acted in this capacity for the University of Stirling, the Dean of Faculty should obtain a brief curriculum vitae which should be submitted to Academic Registry as part of the nomination process.

The following are ineligible for the role of external examiner:

  • No external examiner shall have been a supervisor of the candidate;
  • A member of staff of another institution should not be invited to act as an external examiner if s/he is a University of Stirling graduate who graduated within the last three years;
  • Ex-members of staff of Stirling who left the University less than three years previously and holders of honorary appointments for which remuneration is given at the University of Stirling should not be permitted to act as external examiners;
  • Emeritus professors and academic staff who have been retired for more than three years should not be permitted to act as external examiners unless it can be demonstrated that they continue to be research active.

The external examiner has the following duties:

  • Prepare an independent pre-viva report for discussion with the internal examiner(s) in advance of the viva;
  • Examine the thesis;
  • Lead questions in the viva, ensuring that the student has opportunities to positively demonstrate their knowledge and defend their approach;
  • Together with the internal examiner produce an agreed report on the viva and the thesis;
  • Make recommendation for award of degree, or otherwise;
  • Check corrections/amendment have been made, if required.

Nominations for examiners will be approved by the University. Academic Registry writes to the external examiners informing them of the terms and conditions of their appointment and their role as examiners. The letter will include a request that the examiner disclose to the University any conflict(s) of interest that might arise as a result of examining a candidate's thesis.

Academic Registry confirms their appointments to the members of the examining committee and receives the acceptance from the external examiner. Appointment to the role of external examiner is conditional on the University receiving evidence of the nominated examiner's right to work in the UK.

Arrangements for the examination

The internal examiner is responsible for making all necessary arrangements for viva and for ensuring that the external examiner is consulted regarding these arrangements. The faculty may delegate this role to administrative staff as appropriate.

Examining committees are normally expected to complete the examination of the candidate within 3 months of the date of submission of the thesis and then submit their completed report to Academic Registry within two weeks of the viva, via the independent chair. If this proves to be impossible, examiners are asked to notify Academic Registry of the reasons for the delay and the timeline in which it is proposed that the examination will be completed. The University is concerned to avoid candidates facing lengthy delays during the examination process.

Viva by video conference technologies

Where organising a timely viva is impractical due to travel restrictions or availability of examiners to attend; then a viva may be conducted virtually using appropriate video conferencing technology (i.e. using computer networks to transmit audio and video data) including Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams. In some circumstances, the University may specify that it is essential that a viva or all vivas take place via video conference technologies. 

The internal examiner organising the viva must request permission from Academic Registry for a viva to be conducted using video conferencing technology and requests will be considered under the following conditions:

  • all participants agree to use video conferencing;
  • that the viva will not be recorded
  • time zone differences are considered when scheduling the viva;
  • a two way connection is used (not three way) and video conferencing not teleconferencing is used;
  • all parties have access to and technical support for the appropriate technologies (software and hardware) and are comfortable with its use;
  • all parties understand that in the event of any failure with the technology before or during the viva it will not be possible for the examination to continue and it will be necessary for the viva to be rescheduled.

It is preferable that as much as possible, the number of locations from which individuals join a virtually held viva is kept to an absolute minimum, and that it is the external examiner participating via video conferencing with the candidate, independent chair and internal(s) examiners co-located. Where multiple locations are unavoidable, the Independent Chair will provide information to participants in advance on expectations of conduct during the viva, overall operation of the meeting and other practical matters as appropriate to ensure the appropriate and effective running of the meeting.

Appeals on the grounds that the assessment was unfair due to the setup of the viva will not be considered.

89. Criteria for research degree awards

Master of Philosophy

The degree of MPhil can be awarded where the candidate has satisfactorily completed a programme of study which includes the critical investigation and evaluation of an approved topic and has demonstrated an understanding of research methods appropriate to the chosen field and has presented and defended a thesis, by oral examination, to the satisfaction of the examiners.

Doctor of Philosophy

The degree of Doctor of Philosophy can be awarded where the candidate has satisfactorily completed a programme of study which includes the critical investigation or evaluation of an approved topic(s) and has demonstrated an understanding of research methods appropriate to the chosen field resulting in an independent and original contribution to knowledge and has presented and defended a thesis and or practical element, by oral examination, to the satisfaction of the examiners.

Professional doctorates

A named professional doctorate degree can be awarded at the conclusion of a period of advanced study to a candidate who has satisfactorily completed the necessary taught element and undertaken critical investigation and evaluation of a relevant professional practice or theory. The degree may be awarded following the oral defence of a submitted thesis to the satisfaction of the examiners.

Pre-viva reports and meeting

The internal and external examiners (but not the independent chair) are each required to complete and return a pre-viva report. Examiners are required to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of the thesis in relation to the criteria for the degree of PhD, as set out in the descriptors for level 12 of the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework, and to identify issues to be discussed during the viva. They are also required to comment on whether, in the opinion of the examiner, any part(s) of the work are publishable.

It is important that where a thesis reveals significant deficiencies which might lead to a report which is not unequivocally favourable, a representative sample of these should be drawn to the candidate's attention and time for explanation and defence allowed for within the viva.

It is possible for examiners to disagree to a greater or lesser extent in their evaluation of the work. It is, therefore, desirable that the examiners confer before the viva (chaired by independent chair) so that, should significant divergences of opinion be identified, a strategy may be devised which would resolve these differences by agreed means (which might include the careful structuring of the viva).

90. Examination recommendations

Each examiner is asked to consider the following questions:

  • Does the thesis indicate adequate knowledge of the field of study and associated literature?
  • Does the thesis indicate the ability to assess critical ideas and relate the investigations to a wider field of knowledge?
  • Is the thesis derived from a coherent study, reasonably achievable within the accepted timeframe? (See period of study)
  • Is the thesis properly presented, both in literary terms and overall structural terms?
  • Is the thesis properly and adequately referenced?
  • In the viva, did the candidate demonstrate an adequate defence of the thesis?

A consensus decision should be reached regarding the recommendation of the examining committee.

Within 10 working days of the viva, the examiners' report is sent to Academic Registry by the independent chair.

The possible recommendations that an examining committee can make are as follows:

  • Award the degree
  • Corrections - the candidate be awarded the degree subject to specific corrections to be signed off by a nominated examiner within one month.  The thesis requires correction of presentational and or/typographical errors before it is fit for the public domain.
  • Amendments  - the candidate be awarded the degree subject to specific amendments to be signed off by a nominated examiner within a maximum of six months (pro-rata for part-time students).  Work in the thesis requires re-presenting or existing text needs restructuring.
  • Resubmission - the thesis requires significant revision and/or additional research to reach the standard required for the award. The candidate must undergo a further period of study and potentially a further viva, normally by the same examining committee, within 18 months of the initial examination (pro-rata for part-time students).  Further substantive work is required. This work will strengthen the thesis and may include any or all of the following: new data, fieldwork or practice; new analysis; substantial new literature review.
  • No award - the thesis is substantially deficient in all or any of the requirements for the degree and cannot be revised to satisfy these requirements, or the requirements of any other research degree. [Professional doctorate students will achieve an exit award based on taught credits accumulated.]
  • [In the case of PhD] Award MPhil - The thesis is substantially deficient in one or more requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy and cannot be revised to satisfy these requirements, but the thesis satisfies the requirements of Master of Philosophy.

In the event that the examiners' recommendations are disputed then they will be referred to Academic Panel (Research).

91. Examining committee report

The examiners' report submitted to Academic Registry following the viva should make a recommendation in accordance with the possible outcomes and stipulate any corrections, amendments or further work required.

The report should provide clear evidence that the required academic standards have been met, and that the examination has been a fair test of the candidate's ability.

Examiners should be aware that examiners' reports, including the pre-viva reports, are routinely copied to the candidates and their principal supervisor when the official notification of the outcome of the examination is conveyed to them.

It is normal for the examiners to convey informally to the candidate at the end of the viva, or shortly afterwards, the nature of the recommendation that will be made in their report. The form and content of the examiners' reports should be sufficiently detailed to take into account the scope and significance of the thesis and to appreciate its strengths and weaknesses. The report should be sufficient to reconcile the final decision with the pre-viva judgements. The completed forms should be returned direct to Academic Registry .

The Examiners' recommendations are subject to scrutiny by the Education and Student Experience Committee's Academic Panel (Research). If there are issues with the recommendation, any final decision will be taken by the Education and Student Experience Committee's Academic Panel (Research).

92. Corrections, amendments and re-submission

The candidate will receive formal written notification of the viva outcome and details of any action required (i.e. amendments or re-submission, as outlined in the examiners' report) from Academic Registry within 10 working days of the viva.

Where a further viva is required following resubmission, the same examining committee will be invited to reconvene.


The candidate is responsible for addressing the minor corrections within one month of receipt of the viva outcome letter. The candidate will be required to resubmit one amended copy of their thesis and Academic Registry will seek confirmation from the internal examiner that the necessary corrections have been satisfactorily made. A 10% discretionary increase to the original word limit (as specified in paragraph 84) may be applied where the examining committee requires amendments or corrections be made to a thesis.


The candidate is responsible for addressing the amendments within a maximum of six months of receipt of the viva outcome letter. The candidate will be required to resubmit one amended copy of their thesis and Academic Registry will seek confirmation from the nominated examiner(s) that the necessary amendments have been satisfactorily made. A 10% discretionary increase to the original word limit (as specified in paragraph 84) may be applied where the examining committee requires amendments or corrections be made to a thesis.

Re-submission and re-examination

Where the examining committee recommends that resubmission, and in some cases re-examination, is required, the candidate will be permitted a re-examination on one occasion only.

The candidate is responsible for addressing the significant amendments in the timescale outlined by the examiners (up to 18 months, depending on the extent of the additional work required, from receipt of the viva outcome letter).

93. Extension to resubmission deadline

A candidate experiencing extenuating circumstances impacting their ability to meet the re-submission deadline must inform Academic Registry of the circumstances (by email), normally at least one month before the resubmission deadline. Any requests for extension to the resubmission deadline will be considered as soon as possible on a case by case basis.

94. Re-examination

The examining committee has discretionary authority to reconsider the thesis either by correspondence or by a further viva. Where a second viva is waived (and the case for this has been made to Academic Registry), a pre-exam report from each examiner, and a joint report completed following the reading of the revised thesis, is required. The candidate should resubmit an amended copy of their thesis for each examiner and Academic Registry will seek confirmation from the examining committee that the amendments have been satisfactorily made.

Where a further viva is required then this would ordinarily be conducted by the original examining committee and organised and conducted in line with the guidance above. Any proposed change to the examining committee, presented with justifiable rationale, must be agreed by Academic Panel. Changes to the examining committee may be proposed as a consequence, for example, of a shift in the focus of the thesis following significant revision and or additional research undertaken.

95. Re-examination outcomes

The possible recommendations that an examining committee can make following the re-examination of a thesis are outlined in the regulations and summarised as follows:

Master of Philosophy

  • Award MPhil
  • Corrections
  • Amendments
  • No award

Doctor of Philosophy

  • Award PhD
  • Corrections
  • Amendments
  • Award MPhil
  • No award

Professional doctorates

  • Award Doctorate
  • Corrections
  • Amendments
  • Award taught qualification (exit award)

96. Aegrotat and Posthumous Awards

Recommendations for the award of a research degree can be made where the student is prevented from completing the degree due to illness or has died prior to completing the degree, whether the thesis has been submitted for examination or not.

Where the thesis has been submitted, the thesis shall be examined according to the procedure specified in the appropriate regulation. The examiners shall consider the thesis together with reports supporting the recommendation of award, as provided by the supervisor and the director of research in the faculty. If the examiners are satisfied that the thesis meets the conditions specified in the appropriate regulation, a recommendation for award can be made.

In the case of a thesis submitted for the degree of PhD, if the examiners are agreed that an award should be made, they shall make one of two recommendations as follows:

  • If no or minor modifications have been identified, a recommendation for the award of PhD should be made.
  • If major modifications are required, a recommendation for the award of MPhil should be made.

In the case of a thesis submitted for the degree of MPhil, the examiners shall make one of two recommendations as follows:

  • If no or minor modifications have been identified, a recommendation for the award of MPhil should be made.
  • If major modifications are required, a recommendation for no award should be made.

In all such cases, a copy of the thesis as submitted should be sent to the student’s family by the relevant faculty, and a copy retained within the faculty records.

Where the student has not submitted the thesis for examination, there must be available evidence of the research work. This evidence may include progress reports from the supervisory team on the student’s work, and written material produced by the student in the form of draft chapters; published work; work prepared for publication; presentations to conferences and progress reports to the supervisor.

The work produced by the student shall be of sufficient standard to indicate that the thesis conditions specified in the appropriate regulation would have been met by the student. The progress reports produced by the supervisory team during the student’s period of study shall also support the recommendation that the student would have been able to meet the thesis conditions.

In addition to the written evidence described above, a report supporting the recommendation of award shall be provided by the supervisory team and the director of research in the faculty. The supervisory team may be required to provide supplementary or explanatory material to facilitate the examiners’ understanding of the student’s research contribution. Where this is the case, the supervisory team shall also provide a statement indicating the work which he or she has undertaken on the student’s behalf in respect to this.

The collected work together with the supporting statements, supplementary material and any other information required by the examiners shall be examined according to the procedure specified in the appropriate regulation. If the examiners are satisfied that the available evidence meets the thesis conditions specified in the appropriate regulation, a recommendation for the award of MPhil can be made. In exceptional circumstances, the examiners may recommend the award of PhD, subject to the approval of the Education and Student Experience Committee.

97. Conferral of Aegrotat and Posthumous Awards

Aegrotat awards are not normally conferred within a graduation ceremony.

Posthumous awards may be conferred within a graduation ceremony where the student’s next of kin choose this. Such a conferral can be made regardless of whether the next of kin wish to attend the graduation ceremony. In instances where the student’s next of kin do not attend the graduation ceremony, the award may be accepted on the student’s behalf by an appropriate member of University staff, or a representative of the Students’ Union.

98. Academic Integrity and Misconduct

Research students are required to maintain high standards of academic integrity at all times and any form of academic misconduct will be taken seriously and should be considered in line with the provisions of the Academic Misconduct Procedure.

Misconduct is taken to include in particular (but is not limited to):

  • dishonest practice, such as failing to secure required ethical approval for research work;
  • piracy: the deliberate exploitation of ideas from others without proper acknowledgement or the use of pirated software for research;
  • plagiarism: defined within the University’s Academic Integrity Policy as, “The practice of taking someone else’s work of ideas or words and passing them off as one’s own” (definition adapted from the definition of plagiarism in the Oxford English Dictionary). Plagiarism can take different forms;
  • falsification: the invention or fabrication of data, information, references, and/or experimentation, or knowingly misrepresenting data or research.

As set out in the Academic Misconduct Procedure,

“In the case of postgraduate research work that has been submitted for examination or for purposes of progression or compulsory assessment prior to final submission, assessment of that work should cease at the point academic misconduct is suspected, pending the outcome of consideration of the matter in line with this procedure. If academic misconduct is suspected in the thesis during the examination process, the examination process must be stopped immediately, even if this is on the day of the oral examination. If academic misconduct is suspected in the thesis after the oral examination has taken place, but before the award has been made, the award or conferment process should be suspended pending the outcome of consideration of the matter in line with this procedure”.

Where a student is found to have engaged in academic misconduct and their actions may also represent non-academic misconduct or an offence under the University’s student disciplinary procedure (Ordinance 2, the Code of Student Discipline), the University may decide that it is necessary for action to be taken under Ordinance 2 in addition to that taken through the Academic Misconduct Procedure. Where that is the case, student disciplinary action will be progressed after the outcome of the Academic Misconduct Procedure has been determined.

99. Submission of the final thesis

Following a decision by an examining committee to make an award the candidate is required to submit the following within one month of confirmation of approval of corrections by examiners:

  • an electronic copy, submitted to the institutional repository;
  • after acceptance of the electronic copy, to submit one hard bound copy of their final thesis, including any supporting material, which will be lodged in the University library. In exceptional circumstances it may be necessary for the University to vary the arrangements for the submission of the final thesis and where this is the case, students will be provided with advice and guidance on requirements.

100. Presentation of the final thesis

The final thesis must be in a fixed binding of boards and cloth back, coloured black for the degree of PhD and dark blue for the degree of Master.

Each volume must bear on the spine, in gold, the author’s name and initials, the degree for which it is submitted and the year of submission, all in 22pt caps/lower case. The direction of the lettering should be down the spine.

Arrangements should be made with the appropriate body in individual cases for the submission of material (e.g. tapes, films, slides) which is not in book form.

101. Submission

The hard bound copy of the final thesis must be submitted to Academic Registry.

The electronic version of the final thesis must be submitted to STORRE in adobe acrobat portable document format (PDF) or alternative format as set out in the University’s digital repository policy.

102. Electronic copy

When depositing the electronic copy of the thesis in the University’s digital repository candidates will agree to the following:

  • An electronic copy of the full text of a doctoral thesis will also be included in the British Library Electronic Theses Online Service (EThOS). EThOS automatically harvests the full text of doctoral theses that are public in the University Repository;
  • University of Stirling may electronically store, copy or translate the thesis to any medium or format for the purpose of future preservation and accessibility;
  • University of Stirling is not under any obligation to reproduce or display the thesis in the same formats or resolutions in which it was originally deposited;
  • The thesis will be accessible to a wide variety of people and institutions– including automated agents, via the internet;
  • That once the thesis is deposited, metadata will be incorporated into public access catalogues, this citation to the thesis will always remain visible;
  • University of Stirling does not hold any obligation to take legal action on behalf of the depositor, or other rights holders, in the event of a breach of intellectual property rights or any other right, in the material deposited.

Rights granted to the digital repository through this agreement are entirely non-exclusive. The candidate is free to publish the thesis elsewhere.

103. Borrowing and Access

The copy of the thesis deposited in the University library becomes the property of the library and will be available for individual or interlibrary loan (and possible microfilming or photocopying in whole or part) unless, with the permission of the Academic Panel, the author wishes to restrict access.

The candidate has the opportunity, when they submit their electronic thesis to the University repository, to specify a delay or restriction to the date the full text of their thesis is made publicly available via the internet, for example, to allow time to publish articles from their thesis;

Such restrictions must be justified in terms of the exemptions to disclosure under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 and/or the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 as appropriate. Candidates should be aware that, notwithstanding any grant of approval to restrict access, the University may nonetheless be required to disclose the thesis in whole or in part under this legislation.

Any restriction imposed shall apply also to the electronic version in the University’s digital repository.

104. Copyright

Copyright in all theses and work submitted will remain with the author except as decided under the research degree regulations. Candidates must acknowledge all material used, the copyright of which is not their own.

Appeals and complaints

105. Academic Appeals

A student or candidate for award may appeal a decision, within the provisions of the University’s Academic Appeals Policy and Procedure.

106. Complaints

Where a student or candidate for award believes that they did not receive an appropriate level of service, or that their expectations were not met, they are entitled to submit a complaint to the University. Complaints are considered in line with the University’s Complaints Handling Procedure