Evolving PhD education: Trends in Europe and United States

in 2010, I was invited to speak at the European University Association – Council on Doctoral Education (EUA-CDE) conference in Berlin on a panel on doctoral education in U.S. and Europe. The 2010 report which included the update to the original Salzburg principles (2005) had just been released and these guided my comments comparing U.S. and European doctoral education.  The ten Salzburg principles included the following:

  • The core component of doctoral training is the advancement of knowledge through original research. At the same time it is recognized that doctoral training must increasingly meet the needs of an employment market that is wider than academia.
  • Embedding in institutional strategies and policies:universities as institutions need to assume responsibility for ensuring that the doctoral programmes and research training they offer are designed to meet new challenges and include appropriate professional career development opportunities.
  • The importance of diversity: the rich diversity of doctoral programmes in Europe – including joint doctorates – is a strength which has to be underpinned by quality and sound practice.
  • Doctoral candidates as early stage researchers: should be recognized as professionals – with commensurate rights – who make a key contribution to the creation of new knowledge.
  • The crucial role of supervision and assessment: in respect of individual doctoral candidates, arrangements for supervision and assessment should be based on a transparent contractual framework of shared responsibilities between doctoral candidates, supervisors and the institution (and where appropriate including other partners).
  • Achieving critical mass: Doctoral programmes should seek to achieve critical mass and should draw on different types of innovative practice being introduced in universities across Europe, bearing in mind that different solutions may be appropriate to different contexts and in particular across larger and smaller European countries. These range from graduate schools in major universities to international, national and regional collaboration between universities.
  • Duration: doctoral programmes should operate within an appropriate time duration (three to four years full- time as a rule).
  • The promotion of innovative structures: to meet the challenge of interdisciplinary training and the development of transferable skills.
  • Increasing mobility: Doctoral programmes should seek to offer geographical as well as interdisciplinary and intersectoral mobility and international collaboration within an integrated framework of cooperation between universities and other partners.
  • Ensuring appropriate funding: the development of quality doctoral programmes and the successful completion by doctoral candidates requires appropriate and sustainable funding

In identifying the Salzburg principles, the European University Association (EUA) signaled specific focus on doctoral education across the European universities and its critical components. The topics addressed in these principles are quite similar to components of doctoral education in the United States and issues for doctoral education needed for the 21st century. One of the significant results of the Salzburg principles was the development of Doctoral Colleges and the concept of graduate campuses at European Universities. Graduate Schools have long existed in the U.S., doctoral schools/colleges is a new concept but one that has helped facilitate change in doctoral education in Europe.

Conversations about doctoral education and doctoral education reform in Europe and U.S. have continued in the last 10 years.  Today there are more commonalities and convergence about doctoral education than throughout history. In 2018, the publication of two significant reports has provided a lens into the evolving PhD education: Graduate STEM education in the 21st century (NASEM, 2018) and Doctoral Education in Europe Today (EUA, 2019).

The report entitled Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century (2018) was published by the U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM). The report included the identification of core competences for the Master’s and PhD degrees and recommendations for 21st century universities.  Although the report focuses on STEM programs, the competencies and recommendations apply more broadly to graduate education beyond STEM.  The core competencies for the ideal PhD degree fall into the following two broad categories: (a) Develop Scientific and Technological Literacy and Conduct Original Research and (b) Develop Leadership, Communication, and Professional Competencies

Recommendations for implementing quality graduate education in the 21st includes the following:

  • Rewarding Effective Teaching and Mentoring
  • National and Institutional Data on Students and Graduates
  • Ensuring Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Environments
  • Career Exploration and Preparation for Graduate Students
  • Structure of Doctoral Research Activities
  • Funding for Research on Graduate STEM Education
  • Stronger Support for Graduate Student Mental Health Services

“Importantly, this report also calls for a shift from the current system that focuses primarily on the needs of institutions of higher education and those of the research enterprise itself to one that is student centered, placing greater emphasis and focus on graduate students as individuals with diverse needs and challenges.” (2018, p.3)

During this same time period, the EUA-CDE conducted a survey of European universities about doctoral education throughout Europe.  The survey of doctoral education was based upon the Salzburg principles and designed to collect data in the following areas:

  • Organizational structures
  • Training and activities
  • Career development
  • Funding
  • Mobility
  • Time to completion
  • Supervision
  • Application and admission
  • Decision-making processes
  • Completion rate

The EUA-CDE doctoral education report includes data on the topics above and resulted in the identification of strategic priorities for European doctoral education moving forward.  The strategic priorities included the following:

  • Funding for doctoral students
  • Ethics and scholarly integrity
  • Attracting students from abroad
  • Career development
  • Gender equality
  • Open access/open science
  • Health/wellbeing of doctoral candidates
  • Increasing number of doctoral candidates
  • University-business cooperation
  • Societal engagement of doctoral candidates

As shown in the figure above, the top three strategic priorities for universities in Europe were funding for doctoral students, ethics and attracting students from abroad.  For more information about the findings, recommendations and suggested actions, see the report.

In addition to these specific doctoral education topics and priorities, universities in Europe and the U.S. continue to explore evolving issues facing the 21st century university.  Among these are focus on teaching/learning, diversity and equity, open access, innovation and entrepreneurship, technology, academic freedom and accessibility.  Changes in doctoral education are critical for the 21st century university and doctoral colleges/graduate schools can help lead the path forward.

References.

Doctoral education in Europe today: Approaches and institutional structures (2019).  European University Association

Graduate STEM education for the 21st century (2019).  National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM).

Salzburg Principles II Recommendations (2010).  European University Association (EUA).

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