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Mitigation and Adjustment for Doctoral Education (MADE)

"Developing reasonable adjustments and mitigating circumstances practices for inclusive doctoral research participation" (MADE)

Doctoral researchers are key stakeholders in institutional research culture; however, due to their ‘in between’ position as students (enrolled in degree qualifications) and researchers (who have some of the rights/responsibilities of staff), doctoral researchers can fall through the cracks of institutional policies and practices drawn up with undergraduate (UG) and postgraduate taught (PGT) students in mind. A consultation with the Warwick Doctoral College (WDC) revealed that this is the case with two interlinked but distinct policy areas which are vital to ensuring access to and participation in doctoral education at Warwick: reasonable adjustments (RA) and mitigating circumstances (MC).

What are Reasonable Adjustments (RA)?

RA expectations are established in The Equality Act 2010 (www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010Link opens in a new window), which requires universities as public institutions to make RAs where a student/staff member who is disabled would be at a substantial disadvantage in comparison to someone who is not disabled, where ‘disabled’ is defined as ‘a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term negative effect on the ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’. While at other levels of study, adjustments can be made to marking, deadlines, access to materials, recording lectures and so on, at the doctoral level it is less clear what it means to make RAs to assessment types, timelines (especially when set by external funders), or adjustments to ensure the accessibility of learning and research culture activities.

What are Mitigating Circumstances?

MCs are connected with, yet distinct from RAs. According to Warwick’s MCs Policy, they refer to ‘significant personal difficulties that have a negative impact on a student’s ability to study for or complete academic assessments…They are acute, severe, exceptional, and are outside the student’s control’. While RAs may be anticipated, circumstances that are eligible for MCs consideration will usually be unforeseen (e.g., a bereavement, serious illness, accident). As identified by WDC, Warwick’s institutional MCs policy framework is primarily directed towards UG and PGT students. Crucially, doctoral vivas are not covered within the existing policy.

What are the project objectives?

  1. To map how PGR students and university staff understand the RA/MC policies, processes and practices for PGRs, particularly around assessment. To identify any current barriers to inclusion and opportunities for improvement.
  2. To explore how PGR graduates who have had RAs navigated participation in their doctoral studies and assessment.
  3. To engage in sector-level consultation in order to identify best practices for RA/MC at the PGR level nationally.
  4. To identify changes at the institutional level to ensure that RA/MC for PGRs are embedded in transparent processes

This project is funded by the Research England Enhancing Research Culture Fund.

MADE runs from October 2023 to July 2024

Who works on the project?

Principal Investigator: Dr James Burford, Link opens in a new windowDepartment of Education Studies, University of Warwick

Co-Investigator: Prof Dan BranchLink opens in a new window, Academic Director of the Doctoral College and History Department

Co-Investigator: Dr Sarah DahlLink opens in a new window, Associate Professor, Head of Department, Department of Education Studies.

Co-Investigator: Dr Emily F. Henderson Link opens in a new windowDepartment of Education Studies, University of Warwick

Co-Investigator: Rhiannon Martyn, Head of the Doctoral College

Research Fellow: Meanu Bajwa-Patel, Department of Education Studies, University of Warwick

Research Assistant: Felicity McKee, Department of Education Studies, University of Warwick

Research Assistant: Jess Moody, Department of Education Studies, University of Warwick

Project Officer: Matt Phillips

Department of Education Studies, University of Warwick