It came to my attention that one university limits the number of PhD students each professor can supervise simultaneously. The policy makes a vague reference to "legislative and regulatory requirements".

Is this an accepted and widespread practice in academia, or is it a weird quirk?

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    Which country? "Legislative and regulatory requirements" are country dependent. – Massimo Ortolano Dec 6 '20 at 9:31
  • @MassimoOrtolano True, but the question is not about this particular university or its local laws. – Anonymous Physicist Dec 6 '20 at 9:54
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    I could see this resulting as an unintended consequence of teaching regulations and labour laws. If supervising a student counts as x hours/week (e.g. for the purpose of calculating other teaching obligations) and laws limit the official working hours to y hours/week, then y/x is a natural upper limit on the number of students. But I'd expect any professor to run out of funding/capable candidates/will to live long before this number is reached. – mlk Dec 6 '20 at 10:45
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    If they don't, more places should ... too many profs are failing their students because they took on too many – Azor Ahai -him- Dec 7 '20 at 22:06

I checked the regulations at the places where I've worked. Two out of three (UCL and The University of Plymouth) have limits of the type discussed; one (The University of Cambridge) doesn't. That makes me lean towards "yes" as the answer to "is it accepted and widespread".

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    I suspect anywhere that does not have such a formal rule would quickly develop an informal one if it became a problem. – Bryan Krause Dec 7 '20 at 22:39
  • At my UG university this limit was formally brought in about 10 years ago, in part due to funding agency pressure around PGR training. I believe this pressure was being applied nationally, so I expect a lot of UK universities put similar regulations in place around then. – Ian Dec 8 '20 at 13:29

In India, University Grant Commission (UGC) limits the number of students that a faculty can supervise simultaneously. An example is given below

The Professor who is a Supervisor shall guide only a maximum of 11 (Ph.D./M.S. (By Research) put together) scholars as Supervisor/Joint Supervisor at any time. The Associate Professor who is a Supervisor shall guide only a maximum of 8 scholars and an Assistant Professor shall guide only a maximum of 5 scholars as Supervisor/Joint Supervisor at any time.

Private universities in India also have this criteria. One such example is given below

A Faculty member can be allowed to singly guide PhD students after two years of completion of his/ her PhD degree; however joint supervision is permissible in the initial two years after completion of PhD degree. A faculty member can be assigned a maximum of 5 PhD students.

Even in top institutions such as the IITs, there are unwritten rules to limit the number of students a faculty can guide simultaneously. The students are normally paid by the government through fellowships and faculty do not pay students through projects (like in USA). If there is no limit, all students joining the department may prefer to join the most prestigious faculty in the department leaving no students for other faculty in the department.

  • Very interesting! I would not have guessed UGC had that power. – Anonymous Physicist Dec 8 '20 at 5:44

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