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Research Degree Programmes and Time Limits

This section provides key information on the types and durations of all research degree programmes. Student attendance requirements, sickness absence and holiday entitlements are outlined. Guidelines for cases of extenuating circumstances can be found in this section, alongside signposts to the application procedure for an Extension or Interruption of Study.

Section contents:


50. Research degree qualifications awarded by the University and the criteria for their award are described in Senate Regulations.

51. The University has agreed sets of common characteristics for its professional doctorates and for its MRes programmes.


52. Integrated Doctoral Programmes are defined here as 4-year programmes that include a separate and structured element of preparatory research skills and methods training embedded within the first year of the PhD registration. These are usually specialist and cohort-based programmes, and the training is designed to develop identified skills required to build capacity in the relevant discipline. There may or may not be a subsidiary award available for the successful completion of the structured element.

53. A feature of Integrated Doctoral Programmes as defined here is that students have PhD status from the outset but do not have a PhD project or supervisors agreed until a point toward the end of their first year. The first year training allows the student to develop a set of specialist skills, usually in a number of scientific contexts and to inform their choice of topic and supervisors. Where Integrated Doctoral Programmes are cross-School, students may need to be transferred between Schools on completion of the first year.

54. This is distinct from other models of postgraduate training that link Master’s and PhD study:

.1 “1+3″, where a research preparation Master’s and a PhD programme are linked but are sequential, and are separate registrations and qualifications;

.2 formal Master’s level training that is included within 3-year, 3.5-year or 4-year PhD programmes, but is undertaken in parallel with the PhD project; the student is registered for taught modules, the successful completion of which may or may not carry a subsidiary award, but is pursuing the PhD project at the same time: the topic and main supervisor will have been identified prior to admission in the same way as a standard PhD.

55. Schools that offer Integrated Doctoral Programmes are required to put mechanisms in place to advise and support the students and monitor their progress during the first year, which will usually comprise taught units and short research components, and may include laboratory placements.  These mechanisms will be tailored to the needs of the programme but should be informed by the provisions of the Code of Practice for Research Degrees and the University’s regulations for taught programmes.

56. Schools must provide students with detailed information about the Programme, including:

.1 its structure, and compulsory and optional elements;

.2 assessment,  monitoring and progression requirements;

.3 the mechanism for selecting the PhD project;

.4 student entitlements during the first year, including the allocation of study space;

.5 mechanisms for student consultation and feedback;

.6 the role of the Programme Director;

.7 the role of individual advisors, and whether this continues after the appointment of the supervisory team.

57. During the first year, the student’s primary point of contact will be their individual advisor; in subsequent years, it will be their main supervisor. The Programme Director will oversee the management of the structured training elements, though will be required to liaise with School Director(s) of Postgraduate Research.

58. Once students have progressed to the second year of an Integrated Doctoral Programme the provisions of the Code of Practice for Research Degrees apply as standard.


59. A student may be permitted to conduct part of their research project at another approved research or professional organisation. This may range from a short research placement to a ‘split-site’ arrangement where registration is shared between Cardiff and another institution. This is covered in the University’s Framework for Collaborative Provision.

60. Unless otherwise specified as part of a formal collaborative agreement, the provisions of Cardiff’s Code of Practice for Research Degrees apply to all students during periods of study at another organisation. Supervisory contacts and monitoring requirements during periods away should operate in accordance with the expected schedule but may be conducted by electronic means if face-to-face meetings are not feasible.


61. A School may accept a research student transferring from another university.

62. The combined periods of registration must equate to, or be in excess of, the minimum period of study permitted for the Cardiff University award.

63. Where a student transfers with their supervisor they may enter directly to the ‘completing thesis’ stage, subject to 62 above and where thesis submission for a Cardiff University award has been agreed between the losing and gaining departmental/School heads.

64. In cases where the reason for transfer is other than to accompany the supervisor, the student is required to register fully, and pay the appropriate fees, for at least 12 months full-time or 18 months part-time, regardless of the period of study already undertaken at the other university.

65. In all cases, the School must be satisfied that the student has met the required academic standards and has made sufficient progress to be able to complete the programme of research in the remaining period of their registration at Cardiff University and that any resources that will be required to complete the programme of research are in place.


66. Minimum periods of study and time limits are stipulated for research degrees in Senate Regulations (or in programme information for professional doctorates and MRes programmes). These are shown in Table 1 below.

67. Students are expected to complete all of their research degree work within their period of registered study status. The expected thesis submission date is the last date of the period of planned registration.

Table 1: Periods of study and time limits

Degree Study mode Registration period and expected thesis submission date Latest thesis submission date
PhD Economics [1] Full-time 2   years 3   years
PhD: 3-yr programme [2] Full-time 3   years 4   years
PhD: 3.5-yr programme Full-time 3.5   years 4   years
PhD: 4-yr programme Full-time 4   years 4   years
PhD: 5-yr programme [3] Part-time 5   years 7   years
PhD: 6-yr programme Part-time 6   years 7   years
PhD Staff   candidature 3   years 7   years
EngD Full-time 4   years 4.5   years
MD Full-time   and staff 2   years 3   years
MD Part-time 3   years 5   years
MPhil: 1-yr programme Full-time   and staff 1   year 3   years
MPhil: 2-yr programme Full-time   and staff 2   years 3   years
MPhil: 2-yr programme Part-time 2   years 5   years
MPhil: 3-yr programme Part-time 3   years 5   years

[1] In Economics the PhD is taken as part of an integrated “2+2″ programme, and advanced research training in the form of an MSc and MRes in Economics precedes a 2-year PhD project.

[2] In exceptional circumstances, a student may be permitted to register direct into the second year of a full-time PhD: their expected thesis submission date is after 2 years, and their latest is after 3 years

[3] In exceptional circumstances, a student may be permitted to register direct into the third year of a part-time PhD: their expected thesis submission date is after 2 years, and their latest is after 3 years


68. If, on completing the period of registered study, a student is not yet ready to submit the thesis:

.1 they may be permitted to continue with ‘completing thesis’ status up to the maximum period allowed by Senate Regulations (and until their latest thesis submission date), so long as they have completed the primary research and analysis, and they are fully engaged in compiling the thesis;

.2 they may be required to undertake a further period of registered study and research, for which the continued payment of full-time or part-time tuition fees, as appropriate, will be required; or

.3 if academic progress is unsatisfactory, they may be dealt with under the appropriate provisions of the University’s Research Student Progress Monitoring Procedure.

69. Progression to ‘completing thesis’ status is not automatic: the Research Student Progress Monitoring Procedure requires Schools to evaluate the completeness of the student’s work and its state of readiness.

70. Students with ‘completing thesis’ status are entitled to continued supervision and use of general University facilities, including library and computer access, welfare and support services, and the University Graduate College Programme. Students are not normally entitled to facilities or resources for primary research activities, such as laboratory use.

71. Students may submit their thesis earlier than the expected thesis submission date, in accordance with the provisions of Senate Regulations: for example, this can be no more than six months before the end of the minimum initial registration period in the case of research degrees of two or more years’ duration (excluding professional doctorates)

72. Full-time 4-year doctorates and some professional doctorates do not allow a period of ‘completing thesis’. In these cases the expected submission date and the latest submission date are one and the same, and the thesis must be submitted within the final year of the programme unless an extension has been approved.

73. Where a student is not permitted to progress to ‘completing thesis’ status or to re-register for a further period, they are not permitted access to Cardiff University facilities and are not entitled to receive supervision. 


74. In some instances students may encounter difficulties that impact upon their research degree programme. It is the responsibility of a research student to report to their supervisor and/or Director of Postgraduate Research Studies, or another member of staff in the School, as appropriate, any extenuating circumstances that may impede their academic progress or disrupt their preparation for progress monitoring, thesis submission or viva voce examination.

75. Extenuating circumstances should be reported during the time of occurrence, or as soon as possible thereafter, in order that any necessary remedial action may be taken. The University expects reports of extenuating circumstances to be supported by documented evidence.

76. The relevant party in the School will determine appropriate responses. Responses will differ depending on the stage of the research programme, but might include, for example:

.1 extension to a forthcoming progress monitoring deadline;

.2 specific provision arrangements;

.3 approving requests for interruptions of study;

.4 supporting applications for extending the thesis submission deadline;

.5 rearranging the date of the viva.

77. Further information about the procedure to apply for an Extension to the thesis submission deadline or an Interruption of study can be found below.

78. Any adjustments as a result of extenuating circumstances should be separate from academic decisions. As such, it is not usual for such circumstances to be reported to the Examining Board. 


79. A student who is unable to submit their thesis before their latest submission date may, with the support of their supervisor, apply for an extension. The expected submission date may then be extended by the University, but only in accordance with strict criteria which can be demonstrated to have adversely affected the student’s progress.
[Extension to Time Limit Procedure]

80. Examples of grounds on which applications for both extensions and interruptions to study are considered include the following:

.1 serious illness of the student, or a significant medical procedure;

.2 disability-related absence;

.3 compassionate grounds, e.g.

i. serious illness of a partner or a close relative;

ii. distress caused by an unforeseen and traumatic event that has a direct impact;

iii. serious personal problems, such as family or relationship crises;

iv. bereavement for a partner, close relative or close friend;

.4 parental leave or pregnancy-related absence;

.5 academic circumstances beyond the control of the student, and which cause serious delay or disruption, e.g.

i. the breakdown of essential equipment and where alternative arrangements cannot be made;

ii. significant delay in obtaining ethical approval and where approval had been sought in good time

.6 Exceptional professional commitments.

81. General work commitments or other duties carried out within or outside the University are not normally considered suitable grounds since thesis submission is seen as the priority.

82. Applications on the grounds of circumstances affecting the supervisor will be considered but should arise only rarely, since the Head of School is expected to make alternative supervisory arrangements when such difficulties arise.

83. Where an extension is permitted, the student is permitted to have ‘completing thesis’ status, for which the student has the associated entitlements.

84. Where an extension request is declined, the student may submit an appeal in line with the Appeals Section of the Extension to Time Limit Procedure. Appeals should be submitted to the Academic Registrar via Student Cases (Registry and Academic Services).

85. The maximum period for which an extension may be requested is 12 months. A request for a further extension, which would take the overall extended period beyond 12 months, may be considered where there are exceptional circumstances. 


86. After submission and examination of the thesis, one of the decisions open to the examiners is that the thesis does not meet the required standard but that the candidate is permitted a further period, up to 12 months, during which they can re-present the thesis for re-examination on payment of a resubmission fee. The resubmission period will be extended only in exceptional circumstances, in accordance with 80 above. 


87. If a student who has passed their latest thesis submission date and has not been permitted renewal of their full registration or ‘completing thesis’ status seeks to present their thesis, they may be permitted to do so where there is unequivocal endorsement by the School.  The Head of School, or nominee, should take into account the currency of the research work and its outcomes in determining whether to recommend if the thesis should be accepted for examination. The student may be required to undertake a further period of fee-paying registration if the School is providing guidance on the submission, and a late examination fee will be charged. 


88. Students are expected to pursue their research degree programmes on a continuous basis. It is recognised, however, that students may encounter circumstances that seriously disrupt or delay their research, and an interruption of study may be permitted if a student needs to suspend their research studies due to circumstances largely beyond their control.
[Student Attendance and Engagement Procedures: Overview]

89. The grounds on which an application for an interruption of study can be made are the same as those for an extension (80, above), with the addition of professional placements (90, below). Applications must be supported by the supervisor and normally be made prior to the beginning of the proposed interruption. Retrospective applications will be considered only where it is shown that there are compelling grounds to do so (which may include chronic and/or mental health related circumstances).

90. The University recognises the value of professional placements, including those that are unconnected to the student’s research project. Where a placement means that progress on the research project is suspended and it has the approval of the student’s supervisor and School, the student should make an application for an interruption of study.

91. The period of interruption should be the briefest possible that allows for the circumstances to resolve.  The student’s expected and latest submission dates will be extended by the corresponding period. The maximum period permitted is 12 months.

92. Applications for an interruption of study from students pursuing a taught stage of an MRes, professional doctorate or integrated doctoral programme, are considered in accordance with the delivery and assessment constraints of that taught stage.

93. Students should be aware that, where there is objective justification, some funders will not permit an interruption of study of any significant period, e.g. where a project must be completed within a specific time-scale.

94. During a period of interruption, the student’s registration status is put on hold and no fees are payable. The student is not expected to be continuing with their research studies during this period, but access to general facilities, including libraries, email and intranet will remain live. The student should keep in touch periodically with their supervisor. In addition, toward the end of the period of interruption the student should contact their supervisor to confirm, or otherwise, their re-registration. 


95. Where a student suspends their research study for a period of less than ten working days formal approval of an interruption of study is not required. It is expected that the student will be able to make up a small number of short absences within the timeframe of the research degree programme.

96. The student should always seek the approval of their supervisor for short periods of absence from their research study. The student must also seek the approval of the School’s Director of Postgraduate Research Studies where the absence will disrupt progress monitoring arrangements and/or agreed training/development activities.

97. If short absences become frequent they may affect the student’s ability to submit on time. Frequent absences should be notified by the supervisor to the Director of Postgraduate Research Studies and a record should be kept in the School.

98. Although the term ‘absence’ is used, the requirements outlined above apply equally to part-time and distant research students who need to suspend work on their research. 


99. Full-time students are expected to devote their efforts to the research project on a full-time basis, defined as an average of 40 hours per week.

100. This calculation allows for 23 days holiday per year in addition to days when the University is closed. Students should always discuss their holiday plans with their supervisor (see 96, above).

101. Part-time students are expected to achieve equivalent research outcomes during their period of registration, and to devote the same efforts to research study but on a pro-rata basis over the longer period.

102. Students whose research is laboratory-based and/or linked to a wider research project or group may be required to keep set hours.

103. Students may be required by their School to attend research events, including regular seminars, as part of their training and development.

104. Although specific attendance requirements may change during the course of a research project, the general expectation should be understood and agreed by students and supervisors at the start of the project.

105. Except where a research degree programme has specific, alternative requirements, or where a student has a specific and valid reason, all students, both full and part-time, are expected to attend their School in person at the commencement of their studies, and to attend the institutional induction programme for research degree students at the earliest practical opportunity.

106. If a student fails to comply with the attendance requirements stipulated for them, the School may seek to withdraw them in accordance with the University’s Non-Engagement procedure (contained within Student Attendance and Engagement Procedures: Overview).