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Durham University

Learning and Teaching Handbook

8.1.12: Policy on the use of postgraduates for teaching and assessment


1. The University believes that the involvement of its research students in the delivery and assessment of its undergraduate programmes both enriches the experiences of students on these programmes, and provides important opportunities for research students to develop their skills, and gain experience, in this area. To support the research students engaged in this activity, and to assure the quality of the teaching and assessment undertaken by its research students, this policy sets out the University's requirements in this area.

2. This policy is underpinned by the professional commitment of all involved in this area: the commitment of the University and its staff to ensure that research students engaged in teaching and/or research are appropriately trained and supported in undertaking these duties; and the commitment of research students engaged in teaching and/or research to the professional responsibilities that come with these duties.

3. Throughout this policy reference is made to teaching and assessment by research students. The University does not normally allow taught postgraduate or integrated master's students to deliver or assess its taught programmes. However, where a department believes that it has a compelling case for an exemption to this restriction it may submit this to the appropriate Deputy Executive Dean (or their nominee) and chair of QSC for consideration for approval. Before considering such request the appropriate Deputy Executive Dean (or their nominee) must consult with the Director of DCAD regarding the incorporation of these students within central training.

4. The requirements for research students set out in the paragraphs that follow also apply in full to any integrated master's or taught postgraduate students given exceptional permission to teach or assess.

Recruitment and selection

5. Departments should advertise to their research students teaching and/or assessment opportunities as they become available. They should also have in place clear mechanisms for selecting and appointing research students to undertake teaching and/or assessment.

6. Departments should not require research students to engage in teaching and/or assessment on taught programmes.


7. All research students appointed to teaching (e.g. leading seminars or problem classes, supporting laboratories, field trips and practical classes) and/or assessment roles should receive a letter of appointment from the department employing them, which sets out the terms and conditions of their appointment (including information on the pay they will receive).

8. Research students may not take responsibility for a module as a whole.


Central training

9. All research students appointed to undertake teaching and/or assessment must undertake core central training provided by the University before they will be permitted to take up their duties. The central training that research students must undertake will be agreed annually by DCAD, in conjunction with the appropriate Deputy Executive Dean (or their nominee) with responsibility for research degree students. DCAD will notify departments of the specific requirements annually, no later than the end of the Easter Term in the academic year preceding that in which the requirements will apply.

10. DCAD will be responsible for considering annually feedback from research students who have undertaken the central training, and from departments whose students have attended this training. This feedback will inform the development of the central training.

Subject-specific training

11. In addition to central training, all research students undertaking teaching and/or assessment should attend relevant subject-specific training that builds on and supplements the central training. This requirement is in addition to the individual briefing/mentoring arrangements referred to in paragraph 9 below.

12. Subject-specific training can be provided by a single department; by a group of departments (which may be within or across the University's faculty structures); or at faculty level. It is the responsibility of the appropriate Deputy Executive Dean (or their nominee) to ensure that all departments in their faculty who are employing research students for teaching and/or assessment have appropriate provision in place.

Departmental mentoring, support and feedback

13. All departments employing research students for teaching and/or assessment must ensure that:

a. Every research student employed in this way is given a member of academic staff who will act as their main point of contact and mentor in relation to their teaching and/or assessment duties. It is for departments to decide who should undertake this role (for example in some departments it may be appropriate to appoint a single member of staff to this role, in others it may be appropriate for the role to be undertaken by a number of staff such as the relevant module leaders).

b. Research students are fully briefed on the teaching and/or assessment that they are undertaking, and made aware of the role of their teaching and/or assessment in the overall programme on which they are teaching.

c. All research students teaching on a module should routinely be given Instructor status on the corresponding duo module.

d. Module evaluation questionnaires are administered in such a way that it is possible to gather specific feedback on the teaching contribution of research students.

e. The teaching of research students is peer reviewed annually, by a member of academic staff in the department.

14. Departments should also ensure that postgraduates involved in teaching and/or assessment are given the opportunity to participate in any annual review of taught programmes (for example by inviting one or more research students to attend relevant meetings, or by nominating a research student to gather feedback from all research students involved in teaching and/or assessment to feed into annual review meetings).

Use of research students as markers

15. Where research students are employed to mark assessed work the training and mentoring referred to above must include guidance on the use of the relevant departmental assessment criteria.

16. Research students may be employed to mark in the following circumstances:

a. Formative assessment: Research students are permitted to mark formative assessment, and their marking must be effectively moderated by the department employing them.

b. Summative assessment of Preliminary Honours: Research students are permitted to mark such work, which must be subject to moderation in line with the departmental policy on the quality assurance of assessment of the department employing them.

c. Summative assessment of Final Honours and taught postgraduate work: Research students are not normally permitted to mark such assessments. Cases for exceptions must be made in writing to the appropriate Deputy Executive Dean (or their nominee).

Information for research students

17. Departments should include within their research student handbook or equivalent publication (this includes an online handbook or duo site) information setting out its policies and processes in respect of the areas covered by paragraphs 4 to 14 of this policy.