Graduate School Handbook Part 11 - The progression examination
Information about the progression exam process, including details of the viva exam and report submission.
PGR 11.1 Expectations about the progression examination
Purpose of this progress milestone
PGR11.1.1 To demonstrate that the postgraduate researcher (PGR) is making satisfactory progress with their project so far.
How progress is measured
PGR11.1.2 The University uses the Doctoral/MPhil qualification descriptors (set out at PGR regulations part 2) as the benchmark for measuring progress. Two independent reviewers internal to the University consider the progression report submitted by the PGR against these criteria and discuss this with the PGR at viva voce (oral examination).
PGR11.1.3 PGRs must pass the progression examination to be able to continue with their research degree.
Milestone objectivesPGR11.1.4 In particular, the reviewers must be confident that the PGR, supported by their supervisory team, has done the following:
- defined the detailed objectives and scope of the research project;
- been actively engaged in working on the research project and has made progress in line with initial objectives agreed at the registration of the project (RD1 stage) and with the time spent;
- made a suitable survey of the relevant research literature and shown an ability to make a critical evaluation of published work;
- developed an appropriate knowledge of research methods relevant to the area of research, and can explain and justify their choice of research methods;
- taken action to deal with any conditions of ethical approval and/or identified any changes to ethical requirements;
- been actively engaged in any professional development or training activities identified at RD1 stage;
- developed an adequately detailed plan of future work so that the research degree can be completed within the registration period allowed.
These regulations describe what must happen at the Progression Examination and are applicable to all PGRs including those registered on Professional Doctorate programmes.
Regulations about the progression examination
PGR11.2.1R By the end of stage 1 of their research registration, all PGRs must have undertaken and passed the progression examination in order to continue on their award and move to Stage 2.
PGR 11.3 Format of the progression examination
PGR11.3.1R The progression examination has two components:
- Component 1 - evidence of progress submitted in the form of a progression report (part 1), together with other work or outputs submitted by the PGR on an optional basis (part 2);
- Component 2 - a viva voce examination conducted by two independent internal reviewers unconnected with the project, the PGR or the supervisory team.
Please note: Programme-specific requirements for Component 1 (part 2) may apply to Professional Doctorate Awards.
PGR11.3.2R All PGRs are normally required to attend the viva voce examination in person at the location and on the date specified by the University. This will normally be at one of the University’s campus sites unless otherwise specified for PGRs within an approved academic agreement or schedule thereto between the University and the affiliated academic institution.
Exceptionally, and only when it is not possible to hold a face-to-face viva, the Progression Exam viva may be conducted on-line using video conferencing software. All parties must consent to this format, and the Director of Studies is responsible for ensuring that confidentiality and academic integrity is maintained.
NB. Exceptional circumstances may include COVID-19 restrictions while these apply. The Graduate School will provide guidance on what other exceptional circumstances might comprise.
PGR 11.4 Outcomes of the progression examination
PGR11.4.1R Possible outcomes from the progression examination are:
- Pass – continue registration;
- Fail – withdrawal of registration;
- Discretionary resubmission with or without a further viva voce examination.
The outcome is of the examination as a whole; it is not possible to pass one component and be referred in the other.
PGR11.4.2R There is no automatic right to resubmission at progression examination stage and resubmission is not available at all to PGRs registered for PhD, MPhil or DPhil whose initial registration date is prior to 1 October 2013, or to PGRs registered on Professional Doctorate programmes whose initial registration date is prior to 1 September 2013.
PGR11.4.3R At resubmission the only outcomes available are pass or fail. There will be no further resubmission opportunity.
PGR11.4.4R Failure to demonstrate appropriate progress and pass the progression examination will result in withdrawal of registration on the award by the Research Degrees Award Board (RDAB). Non-submission of the progression report by the deadline advised without good reason and supporting evidence will result in loss of opportunity, and may result in withdrawal of registration.
PGR 11.5 Deciding the outcome of the progression examination
PGR11.5.1R Faculty Research Degrees Committees (FRDCs) will consider the recommendation of the reviewers and decide the outcome of the progression examination.
PGR11.5.2R Where the FRDC agree a fail, recommendation this will be forwarded to the Research Degrees Award Board (RDAB) which will consider withdrawal of the PGR’s registration from the award.
PGR11.5.3R Where the reviewers’ recommendations are not unanimous, they shall each submit a separate report to the FRDC which will consider both reports and agree an outcome decision. There will be no further viva voce examination of the PGR within that assessment attempt.
PGR11.5.4R The FRDC may seek independent advice to inform this decision-making process from an academic colleague who is unconnected with the project, supervisory team or the PGR, but has subject or other appropriate expertise.
PGR11.5.5R PGRs have the right of appeal against an RDAB decision only within specified limited grounds. These grounds and the process for submitting an appeal are set out in the UWE Bristol Academic Appeals policy.
Further information about making an appeal is available via the University Appeals and Complaints webpage.
Procedures about the progression examination
Procedures describe how things must be done to comply with the academic regulations. Procedures are also mandatory. These procedures set out the responsibilities of each person or party involved in the progression examination process.
PGR11.6 Responsibilities of the Postgraduate Researcher (PGR)
- To submit Component 1 to the Graduate School Office by the deadline indicated in the written terms and conditions of their award registration. Please note part 1 (the report) is compulsory, part 2 (additional collection of work) is optional;
- To undergo a viva voce examination (Component 2) in defence of their work, showing how the work done so far and the planned future work will meet the aims of the research project;
- Where a PGR has previously disclosed a disability, specific learning difficulty or ongoing health condition and needs reasonable adjustments for the progression examination, they must ensure that they discuss their needs with the Graduate School as early as possible, usually no later than six weeks prior to the expected date of the viva.
PGR11.7 What must be included in the progression report (part 1), and other common queries
PGR11.7.1 The report must include:
- A provisional title of the thesis or collection of published works for DPhil/ MPhil by publication candidates;
- A concisely worded statement of the aim of the research;
- A critical summary of the relevant work already carried out and planned future work showing how both of these fulfil the aim of the research;
- A description of the research methods being used and why;
- A time plan for the remaining stages of the work, including any planned skills development or training still to be undertaken, and an indication of when the candidate expects to submit the thesis for final examination;
- An update on ethical approval and any other matters of research governance such as confidentiality, intellectual property or collaborative arrangements where this is a requirement of the RD1 approval, or where the position has subsequently changed.
PGR11.7.2 How long should the progression report be?
Normally between 3,000 and a maximum of 6,000 words. You must get the approval of the FRDC to submit a report of more than 6,000 words. Independent reviewers may, but are not obliged to, consider work submitted as part 1 in excess of the maximum length where this prior approval has not been gained.
PGR11.7.3 What happens if my work is part of a bigger group project?
You must include a statement identifying the separate and distinctive nature of your individual contribution to the overall project, both achieved so far and planned for the future.
PGR11.7.4 What may be included in part 2 (the optional collection of additional work)?
PGRs may also submit an additional collection or file of work produced for other purposes that they wish to present to the progression examiners as additional supporting evidence of progress with their research. This could include but is not limited to: conference papers or presentational material, journal papers or other material where publication is planned, material presented at UWE Bristol, eg at faculty or departmental forums.
Please note: This additional work is not mandatory for the purpose of the progression examination unless the programme specification for your award requires it (eg some Professional Doctorates – check your Professional Doctorate award handbook/documentation for further information).
Where presentational material is submitted, no actual presentation is required.
PGR 11.7.5 Third party copyright
Inclusion of any ‘third party material’ in any assessed work (i.e. material generated or owned by someone else) must be appropriately attributed in the body of the submitted work, as well as in any bibliography.
PGR11.8. Responsibilities of the Director of Studies
PGR11.8.1 It is the responsibility of the Director of Studies:
Arranging the progression examination
- To ensure that all elements of the progression examination process are completed by the deadline required in the terms and conditions of each of their PGRs or any subsequent update notification;
- To submit nominations for independent reviewer appointments to the FRDC in good time using the appropriate form RD2a, see table below for timings;
- To discuss with the candidate any needs they may have for reasonable adjustments and alert the Graduate School as soon as possible and certainly no later than six weeks prior to the viva date;
- Organise the date and practical arrangements for the viva examination and liaise with reviewers and the PGR as appropriate. The date chosen should allow sufficient time for completion of the whole examination process by the end of stage 1, see the Organising a Progression Examination section below for requirements;
- To support the PGR in preparation for the progression examination;
- To advise the PGR on the completion of any further work required by the reviewers in the case of resubmission, and on incorporation of reviewers’ suggestions for improving the project.
PGR11.8.2 In the viva room (or at the online viva event)
- The Director of Studies is responsible for ensuring the academic integrity, confidentiality and good conduct of the progression examination viva;
- Where the viva is held face-to-face, the DoS may attend the viva, but only where the PGR has given permission. They may take no part in the assessment of the PGR and may not speak unless specifically requested to do so by reviewers;
- Where exceptionally the viva is held online, the DoS or other supervisor who has completed the UWE Bristol Supervisor training must attend the viva to ensure academic integrity and confidentiality but may take no part in the assessment of the PGR and may not speak unless specifically requested to do so by reviewers.
- PGRs who agree to undertake the viva online do so
on the understanding that their DoS will be
PGR11.9 Responsibilities of the Independent Reviewers
- Must be members of UWE Bristol academic staff independent of the research project, the candidate and the supervisory team;
- Must be experienced researchers with a general understanding of the candidate’s chosen project field, but need not necessarily be a leading subject expert in that field;
- Are responsible for assessing the extent to which the candidate has made an appropriate start on the research project towards achieving the doctoral descriptor criteria and achievement of the milestone objectives;
- Must each produce an independent, written preliminary scrutiny report of the work on form RD2b submitted prior to the viva. This should be sent to the Graduate School by the deadline advised;
- Must conduct the viva mindful of equal opportunities, diversity and disabilities requirements and in accordance with guidance provided by the Graduate School and other relevant University specialist services as appropriate. Where reasonable adjustments have been made to enable the PGR to undergo the examination, the Graduate School will advise the reviewers of this in advance;
- Must be mindful of University policy on assessment offences and the Code of Good Research Conduct; and should check that ethical approval has been obtained if a requirement of the RD1;
- Must provide the PGR with oral feedback and an indication of their recommended outcome once they have finished their deliberations;
- Must produce a joint outcomes report (RD2c) for consideration by the FRDC including written formative feedback for the PGR, and in the case of resubmission, a rationale for this recommendation together with clear instructions about requirements for additional work. This report is submitted to the Graduate School;
- If reviewers are unable to agree a joint outcome recommendation, each should submit an independent report (RD2c) to the Graduate School Office for consideration by the FRDC.
PGR11.10 Responsibilities of the Faculty Research Degrees Committee
- To consider and appoint independent reviewers for the progression examination;
- On the advice of the Chair and the Officer, to note reasonable adjustments to a PGR’s progression examination arrangements;
- On the advice of the Personal Circumstances panel, to note requests for extensions to the submission deadline and/or suspension of the registration as appropriate in the light of personal circumstances submitted by the PGR.
- To consider the reviewers’ report and recommended outcome, and decide the final outcome;
- The FRDC may request more detailed feedback for the PGR from reviewers where it considers that they have identified particular areas to address, but have not provided sufficient advice about how the PGR might go about this;
- In the case of resubmission outcome, to set a maximum deadline for resubmitted work (up to three months full-time, five months part-time);
- Communicate the outcome decision and feedback to the PGR and Director of Studies in writing (email letter from the Chair) and report this decision to the Research Degrees Award Board (RDAB);
- The FRDC may attach conditions to a pass outcome decision where it has concern about a PGR’s ability to continue to progress satisfactorily in the following stage, eg to produce an action plan identifying specific objectives;
- Where the agreed outcome is Fail, either at the first attempt or at resubmission, to make a recommendation to the RDAB for the PGR’s registration to be withdrawn. This will normally be executed by Chair’s Action as soon as possible.
PGR11.11 Disagreement between reviewers about the viva outcome at first or resubmission attempt
- In the event that examiners are unable to agree a joint outcome recommendation, they must each submit an independent outcome report (RD2c) to the FRDC who will consider both reports and decide the outcome;
- The FRDC can seek additional independent advice to assist in this decision process from an academic colleague with suitable expertise who is unconnected with the project, supervisory team, or PGR, but no further viva of the PGR will take place within the attempt being considered.
PGR11.12 Arrangements for resubmission examinations
- Where a resubmission outcome is agreed, a further viva will be required unless both reviewers agree that the resubmitted work alone provides sufficient evidence to show that the project is back on track;
- A resubmission viva will normally be conducted by the same reviewers;
- Where a resubmission viva is required the Director of Studies may request a copy of the reviewers’ resubmission preliminary reports from the Graduate School Office to assist the PGR's preparation for the viva.
PGR11.13 Responsibilities of the Research Degrees Award Board (RDAB)
- To receive and note data about progression examination outcomes on a regular basis;
- To consider FRDC recommendations for withdrawal of a PGR’s registration, when they have failed the progression examination;
- To consider any late personal circumstances submitted following a withdrawal decision.
Additional information for PGR candidates and FAQs:
When is my Progression Examination?
- Your original terms and conditions document will specify the deadlines for all your progress milestones, including the progression examination. You will not automatically receive reminders of the deadlines for this examination. If you do not submit without good reason, you may be withdrawn from your award.
- If you have lost your terms and conditions document and require an emailed replacement, or just need to check your deadlines, please contact the Graduate School.
- If you ever need to suspend your registration for any reason and your progress milestones are revised, you will receive notification of these new deadlines from the FRDC.
- If your Director of Studies has not discussed your progression examination with you by nine months into your first stage if you are full-time (or 15 months part-time), then do not be afraid to raise it with them during your supervision meetings.
Can I choose my independent reviewers?
Will my progression reviewer be involved in my final examination?
I can’t submit my report on time due to personal circumstances, what should I do?
- FRDCs make decisions about extra time to submit your report (milestone deadline extension) and about applications for suspension of registration;
- You should contact your Director of Studies as soon as possible, read the advice in Part 7a of the Handbook; and then go to the for detailed information about what to do next;
- You should then email your completed personal circumstances application to the Graduate School as soon as possible with supporting evidence.
I need to postpone the date of my progression exam due to personal circumstances. What should I do?
- You are expected to make every effort to attend the viva on the date arranged, and plan ahead for most common eventualities, eg non-serious illness of family members, normal family care commitments, consider what alternative arrangements you might put in place if a child is ill and excluded from nursery or school. However, if you become seriously ill, or have a highly contagious illness, or if other serious unforeseen circumstances arise in the 72 hours prior to your viva that will prevent you from attending the viva, you must contact your Director of Studies and the Graduate School as soon as possible, preferably by phone and email.
- If your circumstances arise further in advance, you should still contact your Director of Studies read the advice at Part 7 of the Handbook Sources of Support and Help, then go to the PGR personal circumstances guidance notes for detailed information about what to do next. Please read this guidance carefully as the circumstances in which a viva can be postponed are limited.
Can my Director of Studies attend my viva?
I have received a resubmission outcome – what does this mean?
- This is a referral outcome, and means that, on the basis of your submitted report and your performance at viva, the reviewers did not feel that you demonstrated sufficient progress with your project so far, but that with further work you may be able to get things back on a satisfactory footing. You are being given an opportunity to put things right.
- The reviewers will have provided you with verbal feedback at the end of your viva, and you will also receive a written outline of this further work with the formal notification of the outcome of the viva, which will be sent to you by the FRDC. This is the minimum work that the reviewers think you must do to give you the best chance of passing at resubmission.
- The written notification will indicate the deadline by which you must submit your revised work to the Graduate School. You may be given up to a maximum of 12 weeks FT/20 weeks PT depending on the amount of additional work needed; you may be required to resubmit sooner than this. You can also choose to submit sooner than this if you are ready.
- You should meet with your Director of Studies as soon as possible to discuss the best approach to the resubmission work. Your DoS will have received a copy of the same written information as you. However, it is ultimately your responsibility to decide how you will improve your work overall.
- Reviewers will consider the further work that you submit and decide whether you need to undergo another viva.
- The only outcomes available at resubmission are pass or fail; no further resubmission attempts will be granted. A fail outcome at resubmission means that your resubmitted work was still not of a satisfactory standard and will lead to withdrawal of your registration, ie you will be withdrawn from your degree.
- Please note, no additional time will be added to your overall degree registration period or any subsequent progress review deadlines at stages 2 or 3 in the event of resubmission, these will remain as previously advised in your terms and conditions. It is in your best interests to meet with your DoS and get going on the additional work as soon as possible.
- If you have any concerns about this outcome, please contact the Graduate School who can provide further guidance about the process you must follow.
My outcome letter from the FRDC says that I have passed my progression exam but now I have to put together an action plan – why?
This means that, on the basis of the reviewers’ reports, the FRDC was content to approve a pass outcome but has ongoing and serious concerns about how you will progress with your project over the next stage. The Committee wants you and your supervisors to review your project plan, to see evidence that you have considered advice provided by the reviewers, and that there are clear objectives in place to ensure that your project stays on track towards completion.
You will need to provide evidence to the FRDC that this has been done by the date indicated in your letter. Failure to comply with this condition may ultimately result in withdrawal of your registration.
Additional information for independent reviewers, supervisors and FRDCs:
Establish examining team: DoS nominates reviewers using RD2a form, FRDC considers/approves:
- by month 9 for FT PhD
- by month 15 for PT PhD/DPhil
- by month 12 for PT MPhil
PGR submits report (component 1) to Graduate School Office:
- by month 10 for FT PhD
- by month 16 for PT PhD/DPhil
- by month 7 for FT MPhil
- by month 13 for PT MPhil
Progression viva takes place, RD2c reviewer report to FRDC:
- by month 11 for FT PhD
- by month 17 for PT PhD/DPhil
- by month 8 for FT MPhil
- by month 14 for PT MPhil
FRDC considers and confirms the outcome of the Progression Examination:
- by month 12 for FT PhD
- by month 18 for PT PhD
- by month 9 for FT MPhil
- by month 15 for PT MPhil
NB. All timings refer to the beginning of the month, not the end. All candidates are notified of their submission deadlines in their terms and conditions. If you are uncertain about dates, please check with the Graduate School.
When planning ahead, Directors of Studies must allow sufficient time for the process to be completed by the end of stage 1:
- MPhil 9 months FT, 15 months PT (unless final submission has been made)
- PhD 12 months FT, 18 months PT
- DPhil 18 months (unless final submission has been made)
- Professional Doctorates as per approved programme specification.
- Are normally members of the faculty in which the PGR is studying, but do not have to be.
- May act as independent reviewer for the PGR for progress review milestones in subsequent stages.
- Are not disbarred for consideration as an internal examiner for that PGR at final assessment, where all other appointment criteria set by RDAB are also met.