Policy Academic Governance Higher Degree by Research Requirements

Higher Degree by Research Requirements

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This policy has been established to determine eligibility, admission, progression and finalisation of higher degrees by research requirements offered by James Cook University (JCU, ‘the University’).

This policy addresses HESF Standards 1.1.1, 1.3.3-6, 1.4.5-7, and 4.2: Research Training.


This policy applies to applicants and candidates seeking to, or undertaking a Higher Degree by Research program and University staff involved with the delivery of Higher Degrees by Research courses at JCU.


Terms mentioned in this document and not defined here are defined in the Policy Glossary.

Advisory Panel - The panel of advisors nominated by the Associate Dean Research Education (ADRE) on behalf of the College Dean and approved by the Dean, Graduate Research (or nominee) to undertake the day-to-day supervision of the HDR candidate.

Candidature Committee - A Candidature Committee is created to monitor the progress of an individual HDR candidate.

College - means the University organisational unit in which the candidate is enrolled. This unit reflects the organisational affiliation of at least one member of the Advisory Panel, usually the Primary Advisor.

Coursework component - is the subject(s) studied by the HDR candidate to enhance their capacity to undertake research in the discipline (or cross-disciplinary field) and fulfil their career aspirations.

Examiner - means an expert external to the University in the field of research of the thesis, preferably also with experience of examining Australian research doctoral theses, who is appointed to examine the thesis against the criteria established by the University.

External candidate - is a candidate who is unable to attend a recognised campus of the University on a regular basis.

Full-time candidate - is a candidate enrolled at the rate of 1 EFSTL per year.

Graduate Research School - means the organisational unit responsible for the university-level administration of higher degrees by research.

Higher degree by research - defined by the Australian Qualifications Framework and include Master of Philosophy (MPhil), Masters by Research, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and named Professional Doctorates.

Internal candidate - is a candidate who attends a recognised campus of the University on a regular basis as negotiated with their Advisory Panel to fulfil the degree requirements.

Milestones - are events that receive special attention to mark the completion of the key phases of HDR candidature and provide the opportunity for formal recommendations to be made about the candidate’s progress.

Part-time candidate - is a candidate enrolled at the rate of 0.5 EFSTL per year.

Register of Advisors - is a register of persons qualified to be members of HDR Advisory Panels.

Research Component - refers specifically to planning and undertaking research, developing a thesis, preparation of products for examination, developing new research methods and new data analysis, writing of research or scholarly documents, developing/performing creative works, or other activities fundamental to research. The research component of the candidature must be supervised by the Advisory Panel.

Research Doctorate degree - is a PhD or Research Professional Doctorate that meets the Level 10 requirements of the Australian Qualifications Framework.

Research Education Advisory Committee - is the committee appointed to advise the University’s Research Committee on matters related to the administration, supervision and examination of candidates enrolled in higher degrees by research

Research Methods Subject - is a subject that assists the candidate to acquire the skills required to undertake the Research Component of their higher degree by research.


1. Application

1.1 Entry Requirements

1.1.1 All applicants must demonstrate academic capacity at a satisfactory level (Grade Point Average of Credit or equivalent determined by the discipline) in their final year of coursework study to be used as part of the basis for admission.

1.1.2 All applicants must meet the IELTS Band 2 English Language Requirements or equivalent as defined by the University.

1.1.3 For proposed research involving working with children under 18 years of age, the applicant must be eligible to hold a ‘Positive Notice for Child Related Employment’ (Blue Card), as required by law and the University’s ethics approval process.

1.1.4 To be eligible to apply for entry to a Doctoral program (PhD or Professional Doctorate), an applicant must demonstrate the capacity to undertake research at the Doctoral level by meeting at least one of the following entry requirements:

a) a Bachelor’s degree with Second Class, Division A (Honours) or above in a degree program that included a total of 12 credit points of supervised project work, the results of which contributed to the Honours grade;

b) a postgraduate qualification (e.g. Masters by Coursework or Graduate Certificate/Diploma of Research Methods) which includes a supervised research component of at least 12 credit points (full time equivalent) graded at the equivalent of Distinction or above;

c) Master of Philosophy Degree or equivalent, where at least two thirds of the degree consisted of a supervised research component and resulted in the production of a thesis or equivalent method of communicating research outcomes;

d) a combination of qualifications, research training and experience, considered equivalent to the above by the Dean of the College to which the Candidate is applying, e.g., senior authorship of at least one peer-reviewed publication plus completion of an appropriate research methods subject;

e) Applicants for a Doctor of Education may demonstrate any of the above or:

  • A Masters degree by coursework in a field relevant to the Doctorate, with a minimum GPA of 5.00; and
  • Three years full-time equivalent of relevant professional practice.

1.1.5 To be eligible to apply for entry to a Research Masters degree, an applicant must demonstrate the capacity to undertake research at the Research Masters level by the attainment of a Bachelor’s Degree with either a Grade Point Average (GPA) of at least 5.5 out of 7.0 in the final full time year of study, or with demonstrated research experience.

1.1.6 Applicants for a Research Masters degree who have not already successfully completed an appropriate research methods subject must enrol in and successfully complete an appropriate research methods subject preferably before their Confirmation of Candidature Milestone, in addition to the normal course requirements.

1.1.7 Applicants for a Research Masters degree that includes compulsory research methodology training in addition to the normal course requirements may be admitted on the basis of an appropriate Bachelor’s degree.

1.2 Application and Enrolment

1.2.1 Applications for HDR candidature will be undertaken via the Higher Degree by Research Application Form

1.2.2 The approval of an application for candidature must not expose the University to a risk of contravening any applicable law, including any international embargoes, sanctions or controls, which regulate the University’s operations.

1.2.3 Candidates enrolled in a research degree may transfer to another degree within JCU or from a research degree at another university subject to degree rules .

1.2.4 Candidates applying for or enrolled in a JCU Singapore Higher Degrees by Research are subject to the JCU Higher Degree by Research Requirements and legislative requirements for Singapore/International students.

1.2.5 A HDR candidate may seek concurrent enrolment in another degree, diploma or certificate with the approval of the Dean, Graduate Research.  A HDR candidate will be directed to suspend or discontinue concurrent studies if they fail to make satisfactory progress in their Higher Degree by Research if concurrently enrolled.

2. Requirements for Candidature

2.1 Time Commitment

2.1.1 Full-time candidates will meet the requirements of their candidature by spending an average of at least 35-40 hours per week for 48 weeks per year on the activities of their candidature, unless a Leave of Absence has been granted. Pro-rata requirements for part-time candidates apply.

2.1.2 Candidates are required to submit their thesis for examination within two years from enrolment (or full time equivalent) for a research masters degree and four years from enrolment (or full time equivalent) for a doctorate or before their living allowance stipend ends (normally 2 years FTE for research masters and 3.5 years FTE for doctorates), whichever is earlier.

2.1.3 The minimum duration of candidature for a Higher Degree by Research is:

a) Research Masters degree 1 year full time or equivalent.

b) Doctoral degree 2 years full time or equivalent.2.1.4 Internal candidates are required to attend a recognised campus of the University on a regular basis as negotiated with their Advisory Panel to fulfil the degree requirements.

2.1.4 Candidates must remain enrolled until submission of the thesis for examination.

2.2 Communication between the HDR candidate and the University

2.2.1 The official means of University communication with a HDR candidate is via the JCU student email. All candidates are required to check their JCU student email account regularly and respond to official correspondence in a timely manner.

2.2.2 All candidates must update their contact details with the University within seven days of any change by logging in to eStudent.

2.2.3 All candidates must maintain regular communication as agreed with their Advisory Panel or risk being subject to the breach of conduct.

2.3 Variations and Extension to Candidature

2.3.1 HDR Candidates may use the HDR Variation and Extension of Candidature Procedure if wishing to vary their candidature from the course arrangements outlined and accepted in the Offer of Candidature.

3. Course Components

3.1 Research, Research Conduct and General Conduct

3.1.1 The research component of a Higher Degree by Research must comprise at least two-thirds of the qualification culminating in a thesis or equivalent. All subjects listed in Schedule 1 of this policy can be included in the “research component” except RD7003 and RM7003 Professional Development.

3.1.2 A HDR candidate must comply with the relevant sections of the Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research.

3.1.3 HDR candidates must keep abreast of the latest literature in the research field in order to be aware of any developments affecting the project and to maintain a broad knowledge of the field.

3.1.4 HDR candidates must participate in and contribute to the intellectual life of their college by attending and presenting seminars or other opportunities that may arise.

3.1.5 HDR candidates must not commence any phase of their research work until any ethics and other permits required by the University or external agencies for that phase have been obtained, and must conduct the research in accordance with the conditions of such permits.

3.1.6 Candidates must not make any significant variation to the topic unless agreed with the Advisory Panel

3.1.7 All research work must be conducted at locations, in a manner and under the conditions approved by the candidate’s Advisory Panel and any other relevant authority.

3.1.8 Candidates must comply with the University Work Health and Safety Policy and undertake any relevant required training or induction, as amended from time to time.

3.1.9 Any assignment of intellectual property created during candidature will be in accordance with the Intellectual Property Policy.

3.1.10 Candidates must at all times abide by the Student Code of Conduct, the Bullying, Discrimination, Harassment and Sexual Misconduct Policy, Academic Misconduct Procedure and the Principles for Respectful Supervisory Relationships developed by Universities Australia.

3.2 Development Activities

3.2.1 Each HDR candidate will undertake a program of development appropriate to their field of research, level of the degree and their career aspirations.

3.2.2 All international HDR candidates will be required to successfully complete the Skills for International Postgraduates program as part of their program of development activities to facilitate their timely progression.

3.2.3 HDR candidates must either begin their course with or develop proficiency in the English language and numeracy in accordance with the HDR English Language Requirements and Post Entry Language Assessment Procedure

4. Supervision and Management of Candidature

4.1 Supervision

4.1.1 Supervision of Higher Degree by Research Candidates at JCU must be as per the HDR Supervision Procedure, the Staff Code of Conduct, the Bullying, Discrimination, Harassment and Sexual Misconduct Policy and the Principles for Respectful Supervisory Relationships developed by Universities Australia.

5. Milestones and Reporting

5.1 Candidates must successfully complete the milestones and reporting requirements of the degree.

6. Thesis Preparation, Submission and Examination

6.1 A candidate must not present in their thesis any research which contributed, in part or in whole, to the candidate being awarded another qualification except where the candidature is governed by a formal Cotutelle or Conjoint Degree Agreement.

6.2 The thesis must be presented in accordance with the information in the “Thesis Preparation” information for Doctor of Philosophy and Master of Philosophy pages.

6.3 Thesis examiners will be determined prior to Pre-Completion.

6.4 The thesis must be examined according to the AQF descriptors and be undertaken by external experts in the field.

7. Conferral of Award

7.1 A candidate will be eligible for conferral when they have met the requirements of the named degree and have complied with all conditions outlined in the HDR Conferral Procedure.

8. Unsatisfactory Progress and Discontinuation

8.1 Unsatisfactory Progress

8.1 HDR Candidates who fail to make satisfactory progress will be subject to review or discontinuation.

8.2 Candidates who exceed the maximum duration of their degree without an approved extension will be subject to either review or discontinuation.

9. Higher Doctorates

9.1 Higher Doctorate awards will provide formal public recognition of career achievements which represent distinguished (significant, sustained, original and internationally recognised) contributions to a field of research.

9.2 A candidate for the award shall:

9.2.1 hold a doctoral degree and be a JCU graduate of not less than ten years’ standing, of a bachelor, honours, research masters or doctoral degree; or

9.2.2 be a graduate of another university, whose qualifications are of equivalent standing to those in Requirement 9.1 and who satisfies the Panel that he or she is justified in seeking the degree from JCU rather than from another university. Such graduates will be expected to have had at least four years’ active involvement with scholarly research with JCU. HDR candidates for a Higher Doctorate at JCU will follow the Higher Doctorate Procedure.

9.3 Applications for candidature will be made in writing to the Office of the College Dean, and shall include particulars of the prima facie case for the award.

Related Policy Instruments

Bullying, Discrimination, Harassment and Sexual Misconduct Policy

Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research

Higher Doctorate Procedure

HDR Application Procedure

HDR Conferral Procedure

HDR Confirmation of Candidature Procedure

HDR Consideration of Examiner Reports Procedure

HDR Cotutelle or Conjoint Enrolment Procedure

HDR Discontinuation Procedure

HDR English Language Requirements and Post-Entry Language Assessment (PELA) Procedure

HDR Enrolment Procedure

JCUS HDR Candidature Management Procedure

HDR Mid-Candidature Review Procedure

HDR Nomination of Examiners Procedure

HDR Progress Support Procedure

HDR Pre-Completion Evaluation Procedure

HDR Readmission Procedure

HDR Supervision Procedure

HDR Thesis Submission and Examination Procedure

HDR Transfer of Enrolment Procedure

HDR Under Review Procedure

HDR Variation and Extension Of Candidature Procedure

Intellectual Property Policy

JCU English Language and Numeracy Policy

Student Code of Conduct

Student Academic Misconduct Procedures

Work Health and Safety Policy

Related Documents and Legislation

HDR Thesis Preparation Guidelines

Universities Australia Principles for Respectful Supervisory Relationships


Schedule 1

Higher Degree by Research Subjects

  • RM7001:03 Planning the Research (Research) – Compulsory Confirmation of Candidature Milestone subjects for Research Masters candidates including candidates who wish to upgrade
  • RM7002:03 Situating the Research (Research) – Compulsory Confirmation of Candidature Milestone subjects for Research Masters candidates including candidates who wish to upgrade
  • RM7003:03 Professional Development (Non-Research) – Optional subject for Research Masters candidates
  • RD7001:03 Planning the Research (Research) – Compulsory Confirmation of Candidature Milestone subjects for doctoral candidates
  • RD7002:03 Situating the Research (Research) – Compulsory Confirmation of Candidature Milestone subjects for doctoral candidates
  • RD7003:03 Professional Development (Non-Research) – Compulsory subject for doctoral candidates; must be completed as part of the Mid-Candidature Review Milestone. The compulsory components of this subject must also be completed by Research Masters candidates.
  • RD7004:12 Extended HDR Internship (Research) – Optional subject for Doctorate or Masters Candidates undertake an industry based internship as per an approved Internship program.
  • RD7005:03 Short HDR Internship (Research) – Optional subject for Doctorate or Masters Candidates undertake an industry based internship as per an approved Internship program.


NOTE: Printed copies of this policy are uncontrolled, and currency can only be assured at the time of printing.

Approval details

Policy DomainAcademic Governance
Policy Sub-domainResearch Education

Policy Custodian

Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research

Approval Authority

Academic Board

Date for next Major Review


Revision History


Approval date

Approval Authority

Implementation date



 NAAdministrative Amendment21/06/2023Administrative amendment to clause 5.1 to replace reference to HDR Milestone and Reporting Procedure, which has been replaced with new procedures HDR Confirmation of Candidature Procedure, HDR Mid-Candidature Review Procedure, and HDR Pre-Completion Evaluation Procedure.Policy Officer
23-129/05/2023Academic Board30/05/2023Amendments to add clauses to 3.1 to enable disestablishment of HDR Code of PracticeManager, Graduate Research School
21-222/10/2021 25/10/2021Minor amendments arising from the establishment of the HDR Milestone and Reporting Procedure (GRS internal procedure)Manager, Graduate Research School
21-102/02/2021 05/02/2021Minor amendments arising from the establishment of the HDR Progress Support Procedure (GRS internal procedure)Manager, Graduate Research Operations
20-217/08/2020 18/09/2020Consequential amendments arising from the establishment of the JCU Higher Doctorate Procedure.Manager, Graduate Research Operations
20-101/06/2020 17/07/2020Amended to remove procedural content from Section 7 Conferral of the Degree and remove references to applications for upgrade of MPhil to PhD, as upgrades are no longer allowable.Supervisor, Academic Services
19-111/03/2019 21/03/2019Add in JCUS requirements and Principles for Respectful Supervisory RelationshipsManager, Grad Res Ops
18-2 09/07/2018   20/07/2018 Amendment to admissions requirements to align with Australian Qualifications Framework. Chair of Academic Board
18-1 09/03/2018   30/06/2018

Changes made to reflect headline restructure 30/04/2018.

Quality, Standards and Policy





Removed procedural details from policy duplicated in associated HDR procedures, minor administrative amendments.

Manager, Graduate Research Operations





Reference to merit reviews removed: Clause 5.1.3 removed; Clause 8.3.2, 8.3.3, 8.3.4 and 8.3.5 removed; Clause 8.3.6 amended; Numbering at clause 2.1 amended (incorrect number flow corrected).

Manager, Graduate Research Operations