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SRA - PGR Opportunity Finder

Proposal Sponsor: 
Rebecca Gaukroger Director, SRA


The interdisciplinary nature of many topics, together with the complexities of University’s academic structures (and consequently its website)  mean that there is no easy way for a prospective PGR (Post Graduate Research) student to identify relevant PGR opportunities on the basis of their academic interests. This can lead to prospective students failing to pursue PGR opportunities at the University, and also the concentration of requests for supervision around a small number of better known academic staff.

This proposal would create a searchable online database that would bring together information about research areas, topics and expertise, resources (e.g. exclusive collections which only exist at the University) and funding opportunities on the basis of keywords associated with their research interests1.

It could also be accessed by SRA and International Office recruitment staff to provide more helpful, instant information to prospective PGR students at PG study fairs.

This proposal has the potential to be linked to the ‘Find an Expert’ proposal from Communications & Marketing.

1 - This may also link to a project proposed at Learning & Teaching Committee on 19 November 2014, re. open educational resources, which describes digitising “Edinburgh’s treasures”.

Other contributors: 
Claire Mackay, REC
What would happen if the project did not take place?: 

Prospective PGR students will continue to find it difficult to identify relevant opportunities at the University, and the University’s ability to meet its targets regarding increased PGR student numbers will be limited.

Additional information: 

PGR supervisor tools are offered by Sheffield (https://www.shef.ac.uk/researchsupervisors/view) and Swansea (http://www.swansea.ac.uk/postgraduate/research/). This project would not focus primarily or exclusively on named supervisors, but instead on research themes and topics.

A reduced development effort would potentially be achieved if this and the ‘Find an Expert’ proposal were developed as part of one project, as they are both targeted at external users aiming to find similar types of information. The ‘Find an Expert’ proposal is: https://www.projects.ed.ac.uk/planning/project/169

For funding opportunities – who would populate this and manage the content? Limited to UoE funding opportunities only, not external funding. Assume database for UoE funding exists already so simple interface / extract from that and also to include the funded projects that tend to dominate PGR in CSE and MVM. It would need a way to be maintained, likely through an administration area. Relatively limited database from scholarships and student funding (UG/PGT/PGR), which has some of the funding information in. Access database (Paul Gorman did the original development work).

This is expected to be a public site; development would need to take this into account for security and robustness.

Could it be split by phases? Yes, by identifying topics about which areas would be funded, and then integrate the funding. [Note that CHSS would like to be able to move to team supervision rather than individual before application, so an interface / feed of individuals from e.g. PURE or similar may not be appropriate, and instead an administration interface may be needed for Schools / Research Groups to maintain relevant information.]

There would need to be a solution to the challenge of identifying suitable groups for funding by theme. Once a group or topic was identified by a prospective PGR student the application would need to link to the PG degree finder so that they could apply, and also need them to be able to enquire to register their interest. Would need local contacts who may not be the supervisor.

As this is public facing the approach to gathering requirements will be to use focus groups, including potential applications and existing PGT and PGR students, and also to compare with other institutions to be able to provide a competitive offering.

When is it needed?

2015/16 – scoping (led by SRA and Researcher Experience Committee) SMALL for IS Apps

2016/17 – development LARGE

Ongoing support will be required.

Who does it affect?: 

The change will affect prospective students, Colleges, Schools, SRA, IS (Library) and SSFS (Scholarships & Student Funding).

Why is it needed/What are the benefits?: 

The University is strategically committed to increasing the size of its PGR population and the ratio of PGR students to academic staff.  The PGR community is vital to maintaining and enhancing the University’s standing as a leading international research institution, to the development of academic communities and networks, and to performance in the Research Exercise Framework.

The difficulties prospective students unfamiliar with the University can face in identifying PGR opportunities at the University are significant. This can deter students from discovering and pursuing opportunities that exist.

The PGR Opportunity Finder tool would overcome this barrier, and provide a simple, quick way for prospective PGR students to identify and begin to explore research opportunities, thereby enhancing the prospective PGR student experience. By showcasing the richness of resources, collections, facilities and research communities, it would increase the attractiveness of Edinburgh as a destination for postgraduate research students.

Measures of impact of the tool include:

  • Use of the tool (direct impact) – this would evidence the utility of the tool, designed to improve the prospective student experience and drive interest in PGR study at Edinburgh.
  • Increase in PGR applications and registrations (indirect measure) – a very conservative  increase in PGR registrations of just ten self-funded PhD students one year would generate income between £200k and £516k.
  • Increase of the average number of PhD students per member of academic staff towards Strategic Plan KPI of 2.5 (indirect measure)
BI/MI requirement?: 

Likely for reporting

Fit with University strategy: 
The proposal aligns with the University’s aim to grow its PGR and international student populations, and to provide a cohesive, inclusive and individualised approach to enhancing our student experience; an experience that begins with a prospective student’s first contact with the University. This will support realisation of the following:

Goals – Excellence in Research

Themes – Outstanding student experience

Themes – Global Impact


Planning Status: 
Planned Start: 
Project Owner: 
Procurement > £50K: 
Funding Source: 
Core Grant
IS Admin Tab
Estimation Reference: 

The estimate for the initial project for analysis is SMALL and highly confident, as we have done similar business analysis projects in the past.

The estimate for the development is LARGE and reasonably confident, assuming that an Agile approach is taken, a small number of reports are needed in BI, and the scope is similar to other Agile projects such as AIR. Following the initial analysis / user story definition the development project would be estimated on the basis of the prioritised stories, giving a much more confident estimate. This estimation does not take into account whether PURE may be a solution as it was based on a discussion without the business as they did not attend the estimation meeting in 2015.

Subsequently the following information was noted:

1. Are there different roles needed, i.e. admins and PG – is this open to the general public? - Public need 'view only' access, and it should be a simple 'search' tool without password access requirements. We would need a separate internal  'update access' function, to be devolved to staff in Schools, but not yet sure whether this would be 'all academic staff' or restricted to a narrower 'admin' group.

Another option might be to have additional fields added to PURE, so that updates are made via an existing system. Data could then be exported into the public 'search' tool. The issue here might be persuading academics to input projects, or alternatively, finding a way for admin staff to link projects to a specific academic.

2. Have you looked at whether there is any commercial software that would satisfy your needs?

I am fairly sure that there is nothing of this type available currently, although there are commercial providers of 'project listings', where funded PhD opportunities are routinely advertised.  We will almost certainly need to continue using the main commercial provider for funded projects due to the way prospective students research their choices. However, these sites do not offer the 'find a supervisor' function, and would be too costly to use even if they did. (They should only be used for 'short term' advertising, where the investment is intended to maximise profile for a short duration.

3. Is there more than 1 role: e.g. admin who would put on the opportunities, and others who would search for them?

Assume yes as above, no other roles

4. Who can search through the records? Are they University staff / students? Does it need to be EASE protected?

Prospective students are the main audience, though it is likely that staff/students around the university would also find it beneficial. It should not be EASE protected at the 'public facing' end. We could force 'registration' process to access the data and use it as a market research exercise, but I think this might be heavy handed for what is intended to be a simple tool.

5. Assume admin side ease protected, the search of opportunities open to the public.

Who will manage who can see / do what?

I would prefer update to rest within PURE if possible, to minimise additional permissions/admin overhead. Would this work?

Assume Administrator – of who can add opportunities, people who can add opportunities, prospective PGRs.

How will people leaving be handled?

Assume Administrator will need to remove access from people who can add opportunities.

Does it need to be integrated with IDM for this?

Ideally yes for provisioning and de-provisioning, but probably manual would be more cost effective for such a small application. Business processes would need to be developed to handle this as an alternative.

6. Would BI be needed in addition to this?

Yes, we would want to report on numbers of enquiries/timing etc.


Notes from estimation meeting 2014:

Analysis project risks:

Risk – lack of ability to engage prospective PGR students to be able to get a representative view of what they would need from the application.

Risk – Schools may not all engage with the project, or wish to proceed at different rates, with potential for dual systems to be operating for a significant period of time.

Risk – Schools have different needs, leading to more complex analysis (and subsequent development) effort.

Development project risks:

Risk – lack of clarity and agreement around requirements mean that focussed development will be difficult, e.g. around what individuals would be searching for, and so how the data structures would be developed to support this.

Note: there is a potential that this could be considered as an Agile project for development, depending on the outcome of the analysis.

Impact on other Service Area

Schools ( small)

Link to Proposal Suggestion Document

PGR Opportunity Finder

Estimation Type: 
Agile Software Development
Estimation Confidence: 
Reasonably Confident (similar to previous work)
Estimated IS Apps Days: 
Estimated Business Partner Days: 
Impact on other service area: 

This will involve the Researcher Experience Committee and Schools who wish to recruit PGR students.

A solution may involve an extension of PURE, which could potentially impact the Research area.

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