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GW4 joins pioneering trial to transform the culture and practice of research supervision

GW4 joins pioneering trial to transform the culture and practice of research supervision

The GW4 Alliance of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter Universities has been selected as one of nine new Practitioner Partners to join the Next Generation Research SuperVision Project (RSVP), led by the University of York, to review, enhance and shape doctoral supervision practice.

Over the course of four years the £4.6million, Research England funded project, will explore four key areas:

  • The role of team supervision
  • Supervision practice in different disciplines and contexts
  • Supervising different types of research degree
  • Understanding and combating poor supervision practice.

This national programme of work will involve universities, industry, funders and researchers to understand what works in different contexts - how staff are supported through onboarding processes, mentoring and continuing professional development, identify what effective supervision practice looks and feels like, and determine how supervision practice is both supported and rewarded.

As sector leaders in doctoral training, GW4 universities are well placed to collaborate with other partners on RSVP. GW4 institutions host over 40 externally funded Doctoral Training Centres and Partnerships and are home to almost 10,000 postgraduate researchers, representing nearly 10 percent of the total UK PGR population. GW4 also has well-established links with industrial and public sector partners, creating unique opportunities to translate, test and evaluate managerial best practices to academic settings.

The supervisor relationship is an integral part of the postgraduate researcher experience and while many universities, including all four GW4 universities, provide guidance via codes of practice or mandatory training for new supervisors, the level of support and training supervisors continue to receive throughout their academic career, and the uptake of these opportunities, is extremely inconsistent across the sector. For example, The UK Council for Graduate Education 2021 survey into research supervision found that less than half of supervisors surveyed felt adequately supported to provide pastoral care to their doctoral candidates.

GW4 is committed to enhancing research culture and providing sector-leading opportunities in research and training for postgraduate researchers and staff. By working with industry and research institutions the project aims to design and pilot professional development activities such as mentoring to widen and diversify the pool of confident, trained supervisors able to support an inclusive culture and the next generation of researchers.

The project includes a range of continuing professional development (CPD) activities for PGR supervisors, for partners to sign up to. All four GW4 institutions are keen to engage in the CPD pilot activities around mentorship, peer observation, and communities of practice, which could benefit from a cross-institutional approach by creating open spaces free from institutional hierarchies that encourage challenging conversations.

Dr Sabrina Fairchild, GW4 Talent and Skills Manager, said: “We are thrilled to have been selected as a partner in RSVP, in what was a highly competitive process that saw an unprecedented demand from the sector. This is a groundbreaking project aiming to transform the culture and practice of research supervision, in what’s thought to be the largest collaborative, cross-disciplinary, translational research project into doctoral education ever funded.

“GW4 institutions are renowned for their research excellence and world-class doctoral training across a board range of disciplines and interdisciplinary focus to tackle complex real-world challenges. We are keen to share our expertise with partners across the sector and beyond, and to gain knowledge in new approaches to supporting supervisors to enhance their practice.

“We want to ensure supervisors have the support and tools necessary to support the next generation of doctoral researchers, and this project aligns with many elements of GW4’s mission including supporting doctoral training, helping to build a highly skilled workforce, improving research culture, and strengthening the equality, diversity and inclusiveness in higher education.”

CPD pilot activities for the project will take place between October 2025 to June 2026 and findings will be used to develop relevant frameworks, policies and materials to ensure effective approaches are embedded in institutions and produce sustainable, long-term culture change.

University of Bath
University of Bristol
Cardiff University
University of Exeter