As a follow-on from the Undergraduate/Taught postgraduate Change of Status process improvement, we spent last week helping Research and Innovation Services (R&IS) to look at their postgraduate research change of candidature, Extension of Study and Leave of Absence processes. Initially we thought that the processes would be largely the same as the undergraduate, but as we studied the forms (which were already split into three) we realised that there are substantial differences.
These processes, each of them started with the completion of a form, are not particularly high volume - typically there are about 360 extensions, 320 leave of absences and 40 change of candidature (most of these withdrawals) per year. But they do consume a considerable amount of time, with each of the five faculty support assistants in R&IS meeting a faculty officer once a fortnight (or thereabouts) to discuss the crop of applications which have come in from each faculty. And the timings of the meetings can mean that applications take a couple of days or, in the worst case, three weeks. With multiple levels of authorisation required (supervisor, PGR tutor, and faculty officer/R&IS) and lack of clarity about the value added by any one of these levels, there were clearly some simple improvements that could make the process run more smoothly.
The process review followed the normal course - looking at the data, understanding the current process, creating the ideal process and then a practical process, redesigning forms.
Given the relative volumes, we decided to concentrate on Leave of Absence and Extensions. We soon found that there were opportunities to redefine the process for simple LOAs (such as those with a medical reason) so that R&IS staff approve them. Extensions, however, always require an academic decision.
Moving faculty meetings to a weekly basis and having faculty officers review applications for faculties other than their own will reduce variability (but not entirely eliminate it) and encouraging scanning will speed up delivery of applications and reduce losses. We've also recommended moving PGR tutors out of the line of approvals, so that they can take on more of a monitoring role. There are still more improvements to be made and we'll keep an eye on this over the coming months.
Once again we had a very good project team who all contributed to the review - either through direct knowledge, or by 'questioning the process'.