Research education, or training, as it is often termed, is attracting greater scrutiny as research itself is seen of greater importance in the global knowledge economy. In turn, concerns to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of research supervision are leading to the introduction and extension of programmes for supervisor development. This article presents a framework for an approach to supervisor development, based on the assumption that in order to discuss supervisor development it is important to understand what supervisors do and why. The article examines the nature of the educative process for research students in the current research environment. It articulates the generic processes supervisors need to engage in for effective supervision, if students are to develop in differing institutional, disciplinary and professional contexts the appropriate expertise and attributes for employment; and presents an outline of what might constitute a flexible professional development programme for supervisors in this context.