change of research project

The policy provides guidance for those cases where consideration is being given to a postgraduate researcher (PGR) changing their research project/focus.

The Graduate Board’s Programmes of Study and Audit Group understand that a research project agreed either prior to the commencement of study or with the supervisor(s) at the start of the studies will be developed and refined during the course of its investigation and some changes to the original programme of research and/or project title may be required.

When a change to the research project or change of focus is proposed consideration should be given to the following:

  • Whether the work already undertaken (for example, induction, generic skills training, literature review) and any assessment for transfer (if this has already taken place) is transferrable to the revised research area/research project;
  • Whether the PGR will be able progress to meet the deadline for assessment for transfer  to a specific research degree category and/or will remain on course to submit their thesis within the maximum time limit (and preferably by the end of the standard period of study)?
  • Whether the sponsor needs to be advised of the change to the project and/or if permission must be sought from the sponsor
  • Whether a new ATAS certificate is required
  • The stage in the candidature

 Minor changes of project or focus

Where a change to the research project/focus does occur it is expected that this will be part of the normal development of the project.  The Group expects that any change will be absorbed into the research studies and that it will not impact on the PGR’s ability to meet deadlines, including the transfer deadline and the maximum time limit for the submission of the thesis.  

In such cases it is not necessary to seek permission from the Programmes of Study and Audit Group.  PGRTs should refer to the guidance on thesis title changes  on the SES website.   An amended thesis title should, however, be reported to Postgraduate Research and Operations so that the University records may be updated accordingly.

Major change of project or focus

In cases when:

  • a substantial proportion of the work already completed is of no or limited application to the new project, and 
  • this will lead to the PGR being unable to meet existing deadlines 
  • the change is post-transfer (careful consideration must be given to whether the work assessed for transfer is still of application to the new direction of research)

There are two possible ways forward:

  1. For the PGR to consider withdrawing from their studies and starting a new research degree candidature (see further advice for Tier 4 Student Visa holders below).
  2.  For the School to seek exceptional permission from PSAG for the change of project and to request  permission to: 
  • extend the time limit for transfer and/or 
  • overall date for submission of the thesis.

Requests must be submitted by the Postgraduate Research Tutor to Postgraduate Research and Operations for consideration by the Programmes of Study and Audit Group (or Chair acting on its behalf).  

PSAG will consider extending the time limits for transfer/thesis submission on the grounds of a change to the research project/focus in exceptional cases only (see further advice for Tier 4 Student Visa holders below).

Examples of exceptional cases for a change of research project/focus which require additional time to meet deadlines must be beyond the control of the PGR.  Examples of cases which may be looked at sympathetically by the Group, include:

  • failure/unavailability of key equipment, unavailability of data
  • a change to the  supervisory team (for example, following the death, ill-health or resignation of a key member of the supervisory team).   The School must satisfy PSAG that it has taken all reasonable steps to identify alternative supervision arrangements which would not impact on the project and timescales for completion before making the request.  This will include exploring the possibility of identifying an external supervisor
  • Where a complaint by the PGR has been upheld and led to a change of research project and supervisory team

Where the PGR will incur additional expenses as a consequence of an extension to their studies following a change of project the School must be able to demonstrate that steps have been taken to discuss the likely additional costs that may be incurred with the PGR and that appropriate sources of funding have been identified.  In some cases it may be necessary for the School to provide additional funding when the circumstances are beyond the control of the PGR.

PGRs Holding Tier 4 Student Visas

In the case of an international PGR holding a Tier 4 Student Visa immigration advice must be sought before consideration is given to withdrawing from studies and starting a new research degree candidature.  The University will not normally sponsor a student who has previously started a programme under Tier 4 sponsorship and failed to complete the programme they were sponsored for (for any reason, even if non academic).  This includes students who have had a "false start" or changed their mind about a programme.  Advice should be sought from PGRO Admissions and the International Student Office.

Tier 4 student visa holders should be strongly encouraged to seek immigration advice on the implications to their visa status of an extension of study.

Underperforming PGRs

Where a PGR has limitations in one area but is strong in another the research project may be adapted to focus on those strengths.

Supervisors should, however, avoid making changes to a research project to address difficulties encountered by weak and underperforming PGRs when these changes will impact on the PGR’s ability to meet deadlines.  If a serious doubt develops concerning the student’s abilities, the School /Faculty may wish to consider initiating the Unsatisfactory Academic Progress procedure :

PSAG is unlikely to look sympathetically at cases for extensions of study made on this basis.