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Appendix 5: Policy Framework for Distance Learning PGR Programmes

Introduction

1.

This is the University’s policy framework for distance learning PGR programmes. It should be read in conjunction with the University’s Policy on Research Degrees (PoRD) and Regulations for Research Degree Awards (Regulation 2). If there is any inconsistency between the PoRD and this framework, this framework should apply. A wiki site provides examples of good practice in distance learning PGR provision.

The nature and purpose of distance learning PGR programmes

2.

A distance learning PGR programme – which could alternatively be called an independent off-site PGR programme - is for PGRs who are enrolled solely at York and undertake their research away from campus, whether in the UK or internationally, and without requiring a collaborative partner (if a collaborative partner is involved please refer to the Framework for Collaborative Off-site and Collaborative Split-site PhD Programmes). Supervision, training and support take place primarily via video-conferencing.

Advantages and challenges of distance learning PGR programmes

3.

Distance learning opens up PGR programmes to those unable to attend a university campus on a regular basis. For many PGRs, the great attraction of distance learning is that it affords great freedom and flexibility, enabling academic commitments to be combined with life responsibilities (eg caring and/or employment). For other PGRs, distance learning is a consequence of the nature of their research project (eg fieldwork or archive access). Whilst distance learning has improved access to PGR programmes, the spatial, and often temporal, separation between PGRs and their supervisors, peers and faculty presents a number of challenges, which may lead to a high rate of attrition if not dealt with effectively.

Approval process

4.

All distance learning PGR programmes should be approved for planning purposes (may not be required for distance learning variants of existing PGR programmes), prior to approval of the academic case being sought from the PGR Policies and Programmes Committee (PPPC). Standard home/international PGR fees apply unless a department gains formal agreement for an exception. 

5.

PPPC will want to be convinced that the department has planned how it will provide appropriate training, pastoral support and an active research community for PGRs at a distance. PPPC will also need to consider and approve any departmental attendance requirements (see below).

6.

The University expects that most distance learning PGR programmes will be PhDs but distance learning MPhil and Master of Arts (by research) and Master of Science (by research) programmes are also permitted where a department can provide a convincing rationale.

Programme details

Duration

7.

The period of enrolment for a PGR on a distance learning PGR programme will be the same as that for PGRs on the equivalent campus-based PGR programme.

Naming convention and final award

8.

A distance learning PGR programme should normally be advertised as PhD (or the appropriate award) in XXXX by distance learning.

9.

A PGR who successfully completes a distance learning PGR programme shall be awarded a PhD (or the appropriate award) in XXXX (their subject) from York and their degree certificate shall not refer to the fact that they were primarily studying away from York.

Admission requirements and process

10.

The admissions requirements (academic and English language) are the same as those for the equivalent campus-based PGR programme.

11.

The admissions procedures for a distance learning PGR programme should replicate those of the equivalent campus-based PGR programme, with the exception that applicants should be taken through the distance learning admissions checklist as part of the interview process (see below). The aim of the checklist is to ensure that: (i) there are no barriers to the applicant studying by distance learning, (ii) that the applicant and their prospective supervisor(s) understand the challenges and limitations of distance learning. The decision to admit a PGR to a distance-learning PGR programme should always include the department’s Programme Director for Distance Learning PGR Programmes (or their nominee) and/or the Graduate Chair (or their nominee) in addition to the supervisor(s).

12.

Publicity about a distance learning PGR programme should be transparent about the academic and practical challenges associated with distance learning. PGR costs (eg for visas, travel and accommodation to meet attendance and in-person supervision requirements) associated with participation in a distance learning PGR programme must be clearly stated.

Information

13.

Distance learning PGRs should be provided, by their department, with clear written information about studying at a distance in the form of an online handbook.

Requirements for attendance at York

14.

Distance learning PGRs will spend the vast majority of their time working away from York, with supervision primarily by video-conferencing. Academic visits to York during a PGR’s enrolment should be short (each less than eight weeks duration) and, for most, will be infrequent.

15.

The University’s attendance requirements for distance learning PGRs are a visit to York for induction (see below, including the consequences of non-attendance) and for the final examination (see below, including the consequences for non-attendance).

16.

Departments are strongly encouraged to put in place departmental attendance requirements to support their distance learning PGRs’ research and professional development and integration into the research community. For example, a department might require an annual one/two week block of attendance for core training, or yearly (perhaps biennial for part-time PGRs) attendance at its PGR conference, with the latter being timed to coincide with a TAP or progression meeting. The timing, nature and purpose of departmental attendance requirements must be approved by PPPC and clearly communicated to PGRs from the application stage onwards to allow them to plan appropriately. PGRs who are unable to meet departmental attendance requirements are required to seek permission from their GSB. PGRs who fail to meet departmental attendance requirements without the required GSB approval will be given a formal warning that their enrolment is at risk and may have their enrolment terminated if the situation remains unresolved.

Attendance at York: practical considerations

17.

International PGRs subject to UKVI restrictions will be required to apply for an appropriate student visa to meet attendance requirements. Departmental attendance requirements should be designed with visa restrictions in mind. It is the PGR’s responsibility to apply for visas and meet visa requirements.

18.

It is a PGR’s responsibility to organise and fund (eg travel, accommodation and visas) any trips that they need to undertake to meet attendance requirements or for in-person supervision meetings (see below).

Induction

19.

Distance learning PGRs are required to visit York for induction. The University’s expectations for an induction visit to York are a minimum of five working days within two months of the start of the programme but the exact duration and timing of the induction is set by the relevant department. Any programme-level exception to the University's induction requirements must be approved by PPPC.

20.

Any exception for an individual PGR to the induction requirements set by the department for their programme must be approved on the request of the relevant Graduate Chair by the Dean (if pre-enrolment) or SC (if post-enrolment) with the decision recorded in GSB minutes and on SkillsForge. PGRs who fail to meet their programme’s induction requirements without Dean/SC approval will have their enrolment terminated.

21.

The induction visit should be fully-timetabled and carefully structured to provide maximum value to the PGRs. The induction must include: a formal supervision meeting with feedback on a PGR’s work (eg the research proposal), a general PGR departmental induction and a bespoke departmental induction that focuses on their needs as distance learners.

22.

Unless there is a good reason to do otherwise, the timing of the induction should be scheduled to coincide with one of the two main University PGR annual start points so that PGRs can attend a YGRS central induction session, GSA welcome activities and standard PGR departmental induction programme.

Supervision

23.

Supervision should be conducted in accordance with the rules of the PoRD, and any additional departmental requirements, with the exception that both formal and informal supervision meetings will normally take place via video-conferencing.

24.

Of the (minimum) eight formal supervision meetings/enrolment year it is strongly recommended that at least one should be in-person (ie where the PGR and their supervisor(s) are co-located in York or another location (eg a conference).

25.

The purpose and likely frequency of informal supervision meetings and contact should be made clear for the PGR by their supervisor, at induction and within the relevant handbook (or equivalent). Departments are strongly encouraged to ensure that some form of contact between the PGR and supervisor occurs at least monthly, if not more frequently (see wiki site for good practice).

Monitoring and progression

26.

The policy and procedures for monitoring and progression for a PGR undertaking a distance learning PGR programme are the same as for a campus-based PGR programme at York but Thesis Advisory Panel (TAP) and progress review meetings should take place by video-conferencing unless they coincide with a PGR’s visit to York. Permission does not need to be obtained from PGRA for a TAP/progression meeting to be held by video-conferencing.

Research community

27.

The University is committed to ensuring that all PGRs, including those on distance learning programmes, benefit from a supportive academic community. Departments will, therefore, need to consider how this can be achieved, for example by facilitating active remote participation in research seminars and other research-related events and establishing learning communities that integrate their distance learning and campus-based PGRs (see wiki site for good practice).

Training and development

28.

PGRs on a distance learning PGR programme must complete any training that is mandatory at York, for example the Research Integrity Tutorial, and are expected to complete any recommended training, for example Becoming an Effective Researcher.

29.

Departments should take proactive steps to make their departmental training accessible to, and appropriate for, PGRs on distance learning PGR programmes. This might involve, for instance, facilitating remote participation in training sessions, modifying and recording training sessions for asynchronous consumption, and/or developing interactive online resources (see wiki site for good practice). Training needs should be discussed at the admissions stage to ensure that any essential requirements can be met.

30.

Discussion about training needs (particularly where a department mandates particular courses/taught modules) should take place at an early stage (pre-admission), so that details of how these needs will be met can be agreed and recorded.

Access to facilities and resources

31.

PGRs on a distance learning PGR programme primarily rely on online or local facilities and resources, as they will only have limited access to the University and department's on-site facilities and resources. Departments should ensure that PGRs have access to the necessary facilities and resources at admission and monitor this throughout a PGR's enrolment.

32.

PGRs on a distance learning PGR programme should have the same access to departmental funding opportunities (eg conference funds) as PGRs on the equivalent campus-based PGR programme.

Examination

33.

The examination process for a PGR undertaking a distance learning PGR programme is the same as for a campus-based PGR programme. Distance learning PGRs may request an offsite, hybrid or online oral examination but if this is not approved by the Standing Committee on Assessment they must attend York for this purpose.

Transfers

34.

Where academically appropriate, subject to any UKVI restrictions (if applicable), and with the permission of the department and SC, a distance learning PGR programme may transfer to the equivalent campus-based programme. Transfers from a campus-based PGR programme to the equivalent distance learning PGR programme are likewise possible, subject to the permission of the department (which should evaluate the individual against the distance learning checklist as per a new applicant) and SC.

Teaching opportunities

35.

Access to paid teaching opportunities at York for PGRs on distance learning PGR programmes will be limited, and such opportunities will not be available to those who do not have the right to work in the UK and/or are based outside the UK. The Policy on Graduate Teaching Assistants would apply as normal (eg PGRs must meet the training requirements).

36.

Departments are, however, encouraged to consider if it is feasible to support this aspect of PGRs’ development in other ways, for instance finding opportunities for tutoring on online programmes for other providers (where available) and/or allowing PGRs to observe teaching sessions during visits.

PGR representation and engagement

37.

PGRs on distance learning PGR programmes should be included in departmental and University mechanisms for PGR representation and engagement, as per other PGRs. Departments should ensure that the distance learning PGR community is appropriately represented on relevant departmental fora.

Quality assurance

38.

Departments should regularly review (with their DL PGR community) the accessibility of their PGR offer (ie including training, networking, support) to ensure that DL PGRs are able to access key activities and/or are provided with suitable high quality alternatives.

39.

Departments should monitor the progress of, and outcomes for, distance learning PGRs. The effectiveness of distance learning PGR programmes should be specifically considered as part of the Annual Review and Periodic Review processes. The University may also wish, on occasion, to conduct a more in-depth review of distance learning PGR provision.

Management of distance learning PGR programmes

40.

Each department should appoint a programme leader for distance learning PGR programmes to oversee the provision. This post can be (but does not have to be) filled by the department’s Graduate Chair or equivalent.

Checklist for distance learning PGR interviews

41.

The following issues should be discussed at the interview with the applicant. It is recommended that the department’s Programme Director for Distance Learning PGR Programmes (or their nominee) and/or the Graduate Chair (or their nominee) should be present at the interview.

Fit with distance learning

a) That there are good reasons (professional and/or personal) for applying to a distance learning PGR programme as opposed to a campus-based PGR programme and that the applicant has sufficient time to undertake the PGR programme on a full-time or part-time basis (as applicable) taking account of their professional and/or personal circumstances;

b) That access to campus-based facilities and resources will be limited and therefore that the applicant’s research project can be conducted using facilities and resources which are available to the applicant online or locally (eg a work-based or field-based project). If the PGR programme cannot be conducted without the support of a local partner then the Framework on Collaborative Off-site and Split-site PGR Programmes should apply;

c) That the applicant has a good understanding of the psychological challenges of distance learning and can evidence their suitability (eg in terms of self-motivation, independence etc.) for this mode of study;

d) That the applicant has considered the implications of distance learning for their professional aspirations, notably the lack of teaching opportunities if they wish to pursue an academic career;

Academic considerations

e) That the applicant and their proposed supervisor are willing to be supervised/undertake supervision remotely via video-conferencing and that any practical issues (eg time-differences between the applicant and the supervisor or national restrictions on access to particular technologies) can be managed;

f) That the applicant will be able to engage actively with the department’s research community (eg taking into account infrastructure, logistics, time-differences);

g) That access to campus-based training will be limited and therefore that the applicant has (eg due to a prior qualification/experience) any skills that are essential to their research project or that such skills can be developed in good time via remote training, during visits to York or by other means (and how any additional costs e.g. for non-York training will be met). That the applicant’s other individual training and development needs can be met (eg considering infrastructure, logistics, time-differences);

Practical considerations

h) That the applicant understands and will be able to meet University and departmental attendance requirements ie that there are no personal/professional barriers to meeting these requirements, and that the applicant will be able to organise and fund the necessary trips (including obtaining and paying for visas if applicable);

i) That the applicant’s remote working environment is suitable eg that the applicant has appropriate study space available to them and appropriate internet connectivity, software and hardware to support research and video-conferencing, or that such will be provided by the department.

Distance learning PGR offer letters

42.

The following elements will be included in the offer letter to distance learning PGRs:

a) That the programme is offering on a distance learning basis, with infrequent academic visits to York of less than eight-weeks duration and supervision primarily be video-conferencing;

b) That the applicant must meet University and departmental attendance requirements (including attendance at York for induction and for the final examination) or risk their enrolment being terminated;

c) That the applicant is responsible for the organisation and the costs associated with meeting the University and departmental attendance requirements and the in-person supervision requirements (including obtaining and paying for visas if applicable);

d) That there will be limited access to York-based University and departmental resources and training.