References for MA applications

We use an electronic referee report form that we urge all our applicants (including EU and International) to use, instead of the generic pdf report forms.

To the referee:

Please use our interactive form and, at the end, click the 'submit' button to submit it to the University. One of our admissions staff will then acknowledge receipt by sending a copy of your completed reference to you. If you already have a written reference prepared and you are satisfied that it meets our recommended guidelines below, you can simply email it via an attachment as a word document or pdf to

Please note that the interactive form operates a timer, so you might find it useful to take down the headings in the guidance below and write your comments at your leisure before pasting them into the relevant text boxes in the form.   

If you are writing a reference for a UK/EU student and applying for the AHRC (ESRC) competition or any of our own internal funding opportunities, this reference will be used to support both the standard course application and the separate funding application.

Referee guidance

The Research Preparation Masters (RPM) Scheme aims to provide support for students on a master's course that focuses on advanced study and research training explicitly intended to provide a foundation for further research at doctoral level.

For creative and performing arts students, including practice-led study, the advanced study and research training should explicitly be intended to provide either a foundation for doctoral study or for a career in research in the higher education sector.

We ask you to bear these aims in mind when you are completing your report, both in terms of the course or programme of study the student plans to pursue, and in respect of his/her future plans.

Referees should be able to comment in detail, and impartially, on the applicant's recent work and his/her preparedness to undertake the proposed course of study or research project. The University assessors are seeking information and evidence that will help them distinguish between the many very high calibre students who apply for awards.

References that do not provide a detailed appraisal of the applicant's academic development and suitability for the proposed study, but are simply a general statement of support, may disadvantage even the strongest AHRC applicant. It is helpful to the panel if you provide evidence both of the skills that the applicant possesses and, importantly, how they relate to the proposed study.

Please note that:

  • referees' assessments are of vital importance. The fairness of the competition for awards depends to a significant extent on the accuracy and completeness of the comments you provide;
  • professional referees should state how long the applicant has worked with them and in what capacity. You should detail the type and range of duties that were performed, and how this may have prepared the applicant for the proposed study.

Referees should comment under the following headings:

Quality of work

Please provide a realistic appraisal of the applicant's abilities, based on the quality of their academic performance to date. Include comments on the applicant's overall performance in his/her degree and performance on individual modules or courses. Please give examples to illustrate your comments.

For professional referees, please draw on your experience of the applicant's work to give an appraisal of the applicant's professional performance to date. Please highlight the applicant's strengths in the area in which he/she plans to study and work, and note any weaknesses the applicant may have. Please give examples to illustrate your comments.

Academic performance to date

If the student is currently undertaking their degree, and if you are permitted to do so, please include details of their marks. Where the applicant has a joint degree, please include performance in both disciplines. For assessment purposes, it is important that all marks are given, and not only the ones relating to the subject applied for.

Potential for postgraduate study

Please provide an assessment of the applicant's aptitude and preparedness for the proposed course or programme of study, and for continuing to doctoral study.

In the creative and performing arts, please provide an assessment of the applicant's aptitude and preparedness for the proposed course or programme of study, and for continuing to doctoral study or to a career in research in the higher education sector.

Please provide an assessment of the suitability of the programme, the applicant's potential to complete the studies successfully, his/her motivation and commitment, and any relevant intellectual skills the applicant possesses.

You should say how the proposed programme or programme of work relates to the applicant's experience to date, and to his/her future plans. You should make your comments in the context of the applicant's proposed programme of study or programme of work, as the assessors will be looking at the applicant's preparedness for the programme, not just at their abilities.

You may wish to address questions such as how the applicant has developed and improved during their undergraduate or postgraduate career.

You should comment on factors such as the applicant's:

  • conceptual ability;
  • problem-solving skills;
  • capacity for independent thought;
  • potential for innovation;
  • organisational skills;
  • communication skills;
  • ability compared to other relevant groups or individuals, of whom you have had experience.

Professional referees should also comment on the applicant's professional commitment, motivation and potential. It would be helpful to say how the professional experience the applicant has gained has built on his/her academic studies and how it will prepare the applicant to pursue the programme of study and proceed to doctoral research or, in the creative and performing arts, to proceed to doctoral study or to a career in research in the higher education sector.

All referees - it would help the assessors if you could detail both the strengths and the weaknesses of the applicant. Do you have any concerns about the applicant's ability to complete the programme, his/her suitability for the proposed study, or his/her ability to progress on to further study or a research career? If so, how might these concerns be addressed?

You may wish to highlight the applicant's particular strengths, relevant to the proposed study. Please give evidence to support your statement.