Higher education policy has moved from notions of efficiency in the 1980s, quality in the 1990s, to performance in the 21st century. Outcomes and performance based funding instituted at national level in recent years is just one reflection of this change and is driving institutions to review the management of their research activities. For three consecutive years Macquarie University has undertaken a study of the experiences of commencing higher degree research (HDR) students. The purposes are to provide feedback and to inform ongoing policy development. In each year, commencing students were invited to participate in a series of focus groups, or if desired, confidential individual interviews, designed to elicit open discussion on their semester one research experiences at institutional, faculty and supervision levels. In addition a small number of interviews at middle management level with HDR Associate Deans and key administrative staff were also undertaken. Key findings from the 2003-2005 studies highlight the need for a HDR client service focus; the importance of communication and information prior to commencement; the clear and transparent resourcing of research projects; and, the management of expectations and workload of students and supervisors. The findings are discussed in relation to key institutional policies on candidature management and strong, proactive institutional leadership in research.