Higher Degrees by Research - Academic Policy

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Higher Degrees by Research - Academic Policy


Approval authority
Academic Board
Responsible officer
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation)
Designated officer
Director, Office of Research
First approved
29 July 2014
Last amended
31 January 2017
Effective start date
1 September 2014
Review date
1 September 2019
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Superseded documents
Research Master Degrees - Academic Policy|Doctoral Degrees - Academic Policy
Related legislation / standards
Higher Education Support Act 2003
Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (2007)
Australian Qualifications Framework
Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) 2015

1. Purpose of policy

This policy prescribes the structure, requirements, and management of higher degrees by research (HDR) at the University. It outlines responsibilities and good practice to support the highest quality HDR candidature experience and outcomes.

2. Policy scope and application

This policy and associated procedures apply to all Doctoral degrees and Research Master degrees. It applies to all students enrolled in, or proposing to enrol in a HDR. This policy and associated procedures apply to all staff working in the HDR environment at the University (including Supervisors). This policy does not apply to honorary Doctorates.

3. Definitions

Please refer to the University’s Glossary of Terms for policies and procedures.

Terms and definitions identified below are specific to these procedures and are critical to its effectiveness:

Candidate means a person admitted to undertake a higher degree by research (HDR) program at the University.    

Creative work means an original product designed and created or constructed by a candidate during candidature using one or more creative arts or literary or musical or photographic or fine arts or graphics or media techniques.

Exegesis means a scholarly, critical commentary of the research informing the work or collection of works, resulting from research and work undertaken during candidature and produced during candidature. The exegesis also includes an explanatory statement on how the work was developed.

Significant research component means a substantial research project undertaken with appropriate research methodology.

Thesis means an original substantial piece of scholarly writing resulting from research undertaken by a candidate and produced during candidature to meet the requirements of the degree.

4. Policy Statement

4.1 USC is committed to the provision and continuous improvement of HDRs that offer significant research training activities and ensure internationally benchmarked outcomes.

4.2 The University shall award higher degrees by research in accordance with the practice and terminology used in the Australian higher education system.

4.3 Only students enrolled in accordance with the University’s policy and procedures concerning research candidates will be eligible to proceed to the award of an HDR. Structure and requirements of HDRs are provided below.

4.4 The progression of HDR candidature must be managed in accordance with Higher Degrees by Research Candidature – Procedures.

4.5 For an award of a HDR, the thesis or exegesis and creative work must represent an original and significant contribution to knowledge of the subject area. The thesis or exegesis shall be submitted and examined in accordance with the HDR Thesis Submission and Examination – Procedures.

4.6 The University supports and encourages the appropriate mentoring and supervision of research students, acknowledging their importance in the development of research excellence, integrity, professionalism, mutual respect and recognition. Supervision of all research higher degree candidates shall be conducted according to the Australian Code of Responsible Conduct of Research with supervision requirements provided in the HDR Supervision – Procedures and the Research – Academic Policy.

4.7 The University will provide each candidate with resources to support their research activities as provided in the University’s Statement of Resources for Higher Degree by Research Candidates. The University reserves the right to refuse admission where required resources are not available.

4.8 The University is responsible for providing relevant comprehensive research skills training opportunities for candidates undertaking a HDR.

4.9 The University equally protects and promotes candidates rights and responsibilities. Candidates who are dissatisfied with the outcome of any aspect of their HDR candidature should lodge their concern in accordance with the Student Grievance Resolution – Governing Policy or the Research Misconduct Allegations and Investigation – Procedures.

4.10 Policy on higher degree research is consistent with the principles of the University Quality and Standards Framework.

4.11 Candidates will have ownership of intellectual property directly related to their research project or creative work, unless other arrangements have been mutually agreed in advance by the candidate and the University.

5. Structure of higher degrees by research

5.1 Doctoral degrees

Doctoral degrees offered by this University meet the Australian Qualifications Framework specifications at Level 10. USC’s doctoral degrees are research degrees that require the candidate to make a substantial original contribution to knowledge through research, scholarship and investigation in one or more fields of learning.

5.2 Research master degrees

Research master degrees offered by this University meet the Australian Qualifications Framework specifications at Level 9. USC’s research master degrees require the candidate to apply an advanced body of knowledge to produce a significant contribution of merit through a program of advanced research in a scholarly field of learning, providing a pathway for further learning.

5.3 Research content

HDRs must include a major research component that comprises at least two thirds of the total candidature requirements.

Activities which may be included in calculating the research content:

  • Literature review in the area of the major research thesis
  • Formulation of research proposal; development of research plan
  • Production of the thesis (in print or other media)
  • Research seminars, involving the student presenting their research work as a seminar
  • Production of an original creative work (performing and/or visual arts) (in accordance with the University's interpretation of 'research' in the performing and creative arts area), together with any exegesis of the creative work
  • Research project(s) in addition to and separate from the major research project

Activities which may not be included in calculating the research content:

  • Research methodology training courses
  • Courses involving reading a selection of research literature in an area and producing a report
  • Clinical practice; professional practice; internship
  • Courses discussing the general research ethos or current research issues in a particular area
  • A course involving the setting of a topic or problem which may be individual to a student and the student is required to locate relevant published material and produce a report on that topic.
5.4 Coursework

Compulsory coursework in HDR

Where the requirements of a specific HDR, as approved by the Academic Board, include coursework to be undertaken by all candidates, the approved program requirements shall include the number of units required to be successfully completed, and any course(s) required to be undertaken and/ or the set of courses from which the candidate may select their study program.

Candidates may be required to achieve a grade higher than a pass for coursework components in order to satisfy the degree requirements; if so, the minimum grade to be achieved shall be approved by the Academic Board.

Courses included in a HDR shall be postgraduate level courses.

In approving a specific HDR, the Academic Board may approve variations to the normal arrangements specified above, where the Faculty proposing the degree presents arguments to support the proposed variations in terms of the aims and objectives of the specific program, and where the proposed variations support the overall quality of the program and the experience of candidates.

Required coursework

A candidate for a HDR where coursework is not included in the structure of the program may be required to undertake coursework, such as a research methodology course or other specified courses, seminars, modules or reading activities, in addition to and as a support for their research.

Where such activities are required, they shall be specified as a condition of candidature by the Research Degrees Committee and undertaken under the direction of the relevant Associate Dean (Research) or nominee. The Associate Dean (Research) or nominee is required to advise the Research Degrees Committee that the additional requirements have been satisfactorily completed.

Tuition fees for coursework undertaken at USC as part of HDR program requirements (compulsory component of a specific HDR or required as a condition of offer) will be included in the HDR program tuition fee.

5.5 Requirement for originality in research

The program of advanced research and production of work for a HDR must not contain as its main content any work or material which is embodied in a thesis or dissertation previously submitted by the candidate or any other person for a University degree or other similar qualification at this or other higher education institution, unless the Research Degrees Committee approves otherwise.

5.6 Thesis by Publication

5.6.1 A doctoral or master thesis by published research articles for examination will include:

(a) research article(s) authored by the candidate during candidature, which has been accepted for publication in a refereed research journal or other preferred research publication during candidature (refer to Higher Degrees by Research Thesis Presentation – Guidelines for discipline specific requirements); and

(b) accompanying text providing background and context, exposition of the overall theme and summarising conclusions, as relevant to the research article(s).

The research article(s) must be based wholly on research undertaken by the candidate during their candidature for the HDR. The scope and quality of the published work must be commensurate with the contribution to knowledge expected of a doctoral candidate and does not pre-empt the judgement of the examiners.

Where one or more of the submitted papers are co-authored, each should be preceded by a clear statement of the intellectual contribution of the candidate which is signed by each of the co-authors. The candidate is expected to be the first-named author on their submitted paper(s). Where a candidate includes a paper on which they are not first-named author they must also include a statement explaining why they are not, and describing their contribution to the paper.

High-quality refereed journals are the most appropriate research outlets for publication of papers for this type of thesis. Research books may also be accepted.

Candidates following the published research articles route or the traditional thesis route are subject to the requirements of this policy, including probationary and confirmed candidature, supervision, duration and examination.


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