EUA Trends 2010: Doctoral level

EUA | ANDRÉE SURSOCK & HANNE SMIDT | Chapter 2.2.4. Doctoral level (p.43)
Sunday 13 June 2010
by  antonin
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A familiar part of the Bologna landscape is the Trends report series, prepared by EUA[European University Association], and of which this is the latest. The main aim of the Trends 2010 report is to analyse – from a higher education institution perspective – ten years of change in European higher education in the context of the Bologna Process and of the broader changes that are taking place within it. It endeavours to trace European and national developments and their impact on institutions and to set priorities for the future. (Introduction - Aims)
Chapter 2.2.4. Doctoral level (p.43)

From : "EUA Trends 2010: A decade of change in European Higher Education"

by AndréeE SURSOCK & Hanne SMIDT

2.2.4 Doctoral level

Doctoral education was formally incorporated as the third cycle in the Bologna discussions in 2003, following an EUA project that identifi ed the need to bring changes to Doctoral education, and the EUA Bologna Seminar in Salzburg that identifi ed common principles for that level (EUA 2005), the results of which were included in the 2005 Bergen Communiqué. The changes at Doctoral level have been most impressive in their depth and speed of implementation. Most probably this success is due to the grassroots nature of these changes. Growing international cooperation and the emphasis on early stage researchers and their careers in the context of the European Research Area have been further change drivers.


The European tradition of the Doctorate – as the production of a piece of original research under the supervision of one professor, with very little emphasis on taught courses – has been increasingly questioned in recent years. Discussions have focused on the need to make Doctoral degree holders more competitive internationally, which has led to a decade of successful experimentation with the introduction and funding of structured programmes and graduate or research schools in some countries. After the broad dissemination and discussion in the academic community of the Salzburg Principles (EUA 2005), additional steps and studies were proposed in a second Doctoral project carried out by EUA for the Bologna Process and presented at the 2007 London Ministerial meeting.

The changes brought to Doctoral education in the past few years have focused on the need to embed Doctoral programmes at institutional level by:

  • Creating structures, such as Doctoral/research or graduate schools, in order to provide a dynamic research environment and create reliable quality standards for supervision and support.
  • Introducing more taught courses and training elements to broaden the perspectives and competence profile of Doctoral candidates, including e.g. transferable skills provision, in some cases with credits attached, and without losing the strong role of the mentor.

An increasing number of institutions are offering additional taught courses (49% in Trends V; 72% in Trends 2010) and structuring Doctoral programmes at institutional level. Trends V already revealed a noticeable trend toward the creation of new structures such as Doctoral/graduate/research schools and other structured programmes, in order to provide more stimulating research environments, promote cooperation across disciplines, ensure critical mass, and enhance opportunities for international collaboration and inter-institutional cooperation. These structures also provide a clear and visible anchor for links with industry, business or public services. Since then, this trend has continued: today 49% (as opposed to 29% in Trends V) have Doctoral schools that include only PhD students while 16% include both Master and PhD students in such structures.

The establishment of Doctoral schools is raising the question of the organisation of transparent admission processes, assessing the thesis, and monitoring completion rates. Particularly, the move away from the traditional, one-to-one apprentice relationship toward arrangements based on a contract between the Doctoral candidate, the supervisor(s) and the institution has entailed thinking of ways to raise and ensure standards of supervision, e.g., through developing professional training for supervisors. These are being offered at many universities and perceived as a key element of institutional profi ling and international competitiveness.

 Acceptance of the Doctorate (by the non-academic labour market)

While there is consensus that original research has to remain the core component of all Doctorates there is increased recognition of the importance of transferable skills training for all Doctoral candidates. The aim is to raise awareness among Doctoral candidates of the importance of identifying and enhancing the skills that they have developed as a means of improving their employment prospects and career development in and outside academia. If the non-academic labour market becomes the destination of an increasing number of Doctoral candidates, are the generic skills suffi cient to meet employers’ expectations? Much progress has been made in this area but more needs to be done in order to embed transferable skills development into the education of Doctoral candidates.

The DOC-CAREERS project of EUA concludes by noting that:

The main entry point of employment for doctorate holders into non-academic environments derives from the skills they have acquired through learning to perform research. Employers highly appreciate the level of scientific and technical knowledge held by doctorate holders from European universities, including their formal approach to evidence-based arguments, their analytical skills and ability to integrate knowledge from different sources and their ability to work at the frontiers of knowledge. (EUA 2009d: 103).

The report points out that companies not focused on research tend to recruit at Master’s level, “which suggests that the benefits of a doctorate are not yet seen as compelling for careers that involve no formal research component” (EUA 2009d: 103). Nevertheless, it is estimated that around 50% of current Doctorate holders are employed outside academia, in the public and private sectors, holding both research and non-research positions and it is unlikely that the figure will decrease.

In addition, there are new forms of Doctorates emerging, such as industrial Doctorates and professional Doctorates, that allow those working in particular in the professions to pursue Doctorates in their professional fields. The DOC-CAREERS project noted that “Collaborative doctoral programmes, with their exposure to non-university environments, are seen as an excellent way to improve candidates’ ability to relate abstract thinking to practical applications and viceversa, as required for the development of new knowledge, products or services” (EUA 2009d: 103). In these new forms of Doctorates, the core component remains original research.

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