Today was the Annual Deans' and Heads' Conference in NUI Galway (or more accurately, in the Galway Bay Hotel - food OK, though fruit salad decidedly unimpressive) and this year's theme was "Fourth Level NUI Galway". Fourth level being Ireland's nomenclature for Bologna Third Cycle (!). So, postgraduate programmes including doctoral research, essentially, and a range of speakers raised some of the issues that the institution needs to address if it is to succeed in meeting the government's OECD inspired target of doubling PhD graduates by 2013. Many issues such as resourcing, staff training, support structures, finance, physical space. the nature of the taught component in the emerging new models of the doctorate, etc, were all up for discussion and have resulted in a very large 'in-tray' for the institution's recently appointed first Dean of Graduate Studies, Dr. Pat Morgan.
External speakers included Dr. John Breen, who occupies a similar post at the University of Limerick and who shared with us that institution's experience and many issues are clearly in common. Westley Forsythe of the IUA gave an overview of the national and international policy context along with a picture of the historical development of the concept of the 'knowledge society' betraying, perhaps, his own original background as a historian. Mary Sapp of the University of Miami then gave a summary of how her institution made great strides in the area of postgraduate studies in a relatively short period of time where the key drivers were a new senior management team and a wealth of statistical data and information regarding various metrics as well as classification and targeting of particular types of programmes. Bundled into the process was the occassional purchase of a revenue generating private hospital and the move of an entire research team (of 40) from another institution - so perhaps there are some local specifics that might not translate directly! However, much of what she said was relevant and she certainly made the point about the value of institutional research.
The student voice was also heard in two presentations by postgraduates, plus revealed in the survey of students recently completed by Aoife Flanagan in collaboration with the Dean. Of particular concern for a number of students were the details of the new guidelines for research programmes (based on the IUQB's Guidelines) and implications regarding tuition, laboratory demonstrating, etc.