Student Rights: PGR Annual Reviews and Upgrades

Welcome to our mini blog series on your academic rights as a student!

At the SU we are here to represent your academic interests and improve your education, a key part of this relies on you, as students, being aware of your rights and what you should expect from your academic experience.

To ensure you have all the tools you need to successfully complete your studies, we've created a dedicated page where all my blogs will be in one place should you ever want to check back over things.

Student Rights Hub

In this blog, I am going to discuss what the PGR annual reviews and upgrade processes are, what to do if you have any queries around this process and where to access support if needed.

What is a PGR annual review?

Each PGR student’s academic progress is reviewed by the annual review process at least once every 12 months. The purpose of the annual review is to consider your academic progress, confirm completion of research training, and determine new objectives and training requirements for the upcoming year.

Each department or school will determine and publish at the beginning of each academic year its own procedures, requirements, and criteria for the reviews, subject to the minimum requirements set out in the Research Degree Regulations. If you have supervisors in more than one department or school, the lead supervisor will be responsible for determining the procedures, requirements, and criteria which will apply, and for notifying the student at the beginning of their programme of study.

As part of the annual review process, you will need to be able to confirm that you have discussed the ethical implications of your research with your supervisor. You can find out more about the University’s ethical approval process here.

A form is utilised to guide the process which can be found here. Annual review forms should be kept on the department's files but do not need to be sent to Student Administration. A copy of this form should be sent to you as well.

What is an upgrade?

When you are ready to upgrade to the degree of PhD, the upgrade process will assess whether you have reached an appropriate standard and have an adequate project of research to justify the upgrade.

PGR students who wish to submit for a PhD are required to have a first attempt at an upgrade from the MPhil to PhD programme within the first 20 months of study (full-time) or 40 months (part-time). Should the first attempt not be successful, students have an opportunity for a second and final attempt at an upgrade from MPhil to PhD before the end of their second year of study (24 months full-time) or four years (48 months part-time).

Once you have passed your upgrade, the completed Upgrade Form should be returned to Student Administration by email to doctoralschool@rhul.ac.uk so your record can be updated. A copy of this form should be sent to you as well.

Each department or school will determine and publish at the beginning of each academic year its own procedures, requirements, and criteria for upgrades to the degree of PhD, subject to the minimum requirements set out in the Research Degree Regulations.

If you are unable to upgrade within the deadlines set out due to extenuating circumstances, the department may consider applying for a waiver of regulations. If this is relevant to you, please get in contact with our Advice Centre.

How does the review or upgrade work?

Reviews will be conducted by a panel, minimally consisting of:

Annual review panel: At least one member of your supervisory team plus one member of staff completely independent of your supervisory team.

Upgrade to PhD panel: Three members, with at least one member of your supervisory team and one member of staff who is completely independent of your supervisory team.

Reviews will include the following components:

  • The consideration of a brief report, written by you as the student, which summarises the progress which has been made during the period under review and the extent to which objectives have been met, and sets out a draft schedule of future work;
  • A meeting between the panel and yourself, which will be conducted face-to-face;
  • Where you are being considered for the upgrade to the degree of PhD, a substantial piece or portfolio of work, which must include written work but may also include other forms of work that are appropriate to the project of research.

You should be issued with a written invitation to the review meeting which states the material that you are required to submit and the deadline by which it must be submitted.

You may ask the panel to consider any circumstances which may have affected your academic performance. Such requests must be made in writing and be supported with appropriate documentary evidence. If you need guidance on this please get in touch with our Advice Centre.

If the panel decides that you have not made satisfactory progress, or if there is concern that you will not reach the required standard and/or be in a position to submit the thesis within an appropriate timeframe, they will recommend a course of action and provide you with written guidance on the reasons for their concerns and what would needs to be done by yourself in order to address them.

You may appeal against the outcome of a formal review for upgrading to the degree of PhD, or the outcome of the second attempt to upgrade, only on one or more of the following grounds:

  • That your performance in the review, examination, or other required assessments was substantially affected by circumstances of which the panel or examiners had not been made aware and which you could not with reasonable diligence have disclosed before the outcome had been determined;
  • That there were procedural irregularities in the conduct of the assessment, review or examination, or administrative errors which might cause reasonable doubt as to whether the outcome would have been the same if the irregularities or errors had not occurred;
  • That there is evidence of prejudice, bias, or inadequate assessment on the part of one or more of the panel members or examiners such that the outcome should not be allowed to stand.

For more guidance on appeals, please read the Student Rights article found here.

The PGR annual reviews and upgrade processes are specific to your department. You should make sure you are fully informed of the guidance and processes used by your department. The department-specific appendices for your PGR student handbook can be found here. Your lead supervisor is responsible for explaining the procedure to you if there are multiple departments involved.

If you have a disability, specific learning difficulty, or impairment and wish to ask for reasonable adjustments to be made to the conduct of the upgrade, you are asked to discuss these with your supervisor ahead of the meeting so that appropriate arrangements can be made.

Advice Centre

Every student is entitled to use our Advice Centre at the SU. They are an independent and confidential service offering impartial advice. Our advisors are now working remotely due to the Covid-19 pandemic but you can still get in contact with them by emailing advice@su.rhul.ac.uk.

Kate Roberts // Vice President Education