What is the future of doctoral education in domains of practice such as those involving designing and designs? Doctoral education in the western world is undergoing rapid and in some cases radical changes. This paper describes some of the factors causing these changes and analyses the likely implications for doctoral education in practical discipline areas. The paper makes suggestions as to the likely characteristics of a doctoral program aimed at improving practices in designing.
This paper explores the national, international, organisational factors and strategies that are necessary to addressing the question, ‘What is the future of doctoral education in domains of practice such as those involving designing and designs? ’
Doctoral Education, including the PhD, is changing in fundamental ways (Deem, 1998). In Western societies such as the European Community, the USA, and Australia, doctoral education is now viewed mainly in terms of its role in the fulfilment of national aims and objectives (see, for example, Academy of Finland, 1997; Association of American Universities Committee on Graduate Education, 1998; Canadian Agri-Food Research Council, 1997; Commission of The European Communities, 2000; Council for Science and Technology, 2001; ESPRC, 2001; ESRC, 2001a; Gaff, 2001; Kemp, 1999a; Leith, 1995; Ministry of Research and Information Technology, 1998; National Endowment for the Arts, 2001; National Endowment for the Humanities, n.d.; National Science Foundation, 1998, 2001a, 2001c; Norwegian Research Council, 1998; The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, 2001a). Many of these reviews of national roles of research and research training are strongly critical of the effectiveness and efficiency of traditional forms of doctoral education (see, for example, Nyquist & Woodford, 2000). In addition, moves towards economic rationalisation of the higher education sectors are resulting in competition between institutions and between areas of scholarship within institutions. This is particularly important where university funding is tied to successful research funding and outcomes (see, for example, Kemp, 1999b). These factors indicate that doctoral education, professional and PhD, will change as universities change their strategies to maximise their opportunities in facing these new realities.
The above factors are not likely to result in a single new solution for doctoral education: because of differences in national policies, and differences in the preferred strategies and niches of individual universities and disciplines. This paper explores the strategies for practice-based design education likely to be most successful in these new political and organisational contexts. The paper has eight sections:
Dissatisfactions with traditional forms of doctoral education, particularly those based on the ‘long thesis’ are found in all stakeholder groups: government, funding bodies, academic institutions, students, the community, and commercial and industrial organisations, although the problems are not uniform across all constituencies.
The main problems that have been identified relate to the outputs, efficiency and effectiveness of doctoral programs in relation to levels of government funding (see, for example, Commission of The European Communities, 2000; ESRC, 2001a; Kemp, 1999a, 1999b; Norwegian Research Council, 1998). This is a sub-theme in the US (Nyquist & Woodford, 2000, pp. 5, 6, 8, 15, and 17), where the main debate focuses on balance of research funding across disciplines, and the mismatch between faculty positions and PhD enrolments (Nyquist & Woodford, 2000; Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, 1998, 2000, 2001). This is resulting in a re-envisioning of the role of doctoral education, particularly in the social sciences and humanities where it is regarded as instrumental in their decline in research funding. Underlying these issues are practical concerns about the quality and appropriateness of doctoral education, in relation to the fulfillment of governmental socio-economic and technological objectives (Academy of Finland, 1997; Council for Science and Technology, 2001; Kemp, 1999b; Ministry of Research and Information Technology, 1998; National Science Foundation, 1998; Norwegian Research Council, 1998).
In disciplines tied to communities of practice outside the hard sciences, traditional doctoral education is viewed as problematic because it does not assess professional skills (see, for example, the PhD-design email list at www.jiscmail.ac.uk). Doctoral courses are also criticised on the grounds they do not adequately assess research skills, and that employers cannot depend on postdoctoral graduates having a broad spread of skills in researching and research methodologies (ESRC, 2001b). The identification of this latter problem has led in the UK to pre-requisite 1-year full-time courses in research training before commencing full doctoral study.
The above criticisms are supported by evidence showing that traditional modalities of doctoral education are marked by:
· Low levels of completion
· High levels of time overrun (in magnitude and incidence)
· High levels of variability in output and quality
· Lack of usefulness of research outcomes for commerce, industry, society and other national priorities and objectives
· Poor collaboration between academia and industry
· Poor return on government commitments on funding for post-graduate education
The above analyses indicate that, worldwide, governments are moving to more firmly direct university-based research and post-graduate research training. In 2000, he Commission of the European Union (EU) proposed new guidelines for EU research activities for 2002-2006 requiring joint effort from the EU member state governments, and the research communities to create a European Research Area (Commission of The European Communities, 2000). The plan calls for cooperation between member states to result in complementary research activities that produce knowledge to both guide and strengthen political agendas. The main objectives for the EU 2002-6 plans are:
Research activities : Improving performance through networking and the coordinated implementation of national programs. This includes networking centres and areas of excellence in the public (university) and private research sectors in the member states, and carrying out large-scale targeted research projects, particularly in the field of industrial research.
Research and innovation, start-ups and SMEs: Strengthening the EU’s capacity for technological innovation by: supporting research for and in SMEs; the dissemination, transfer and take-up of knowledge and technologies; the exploitation of research results, and the setting-up of technology businesses.
Human resources: Supporting the development of a knowledge-based economy by strengthening Europe’s human resources in science, technology and innovation through increasing trans-frontier mobility, encouraging researchers to develop European careers, increasing the participation of women, researchers from third countries and young researchers.
Science, Society and Citizens: Establishing, on a European scale, a new contract between science and society that strengthens links between research activities, policies and the needs of society. Emphasising sustainable development and the precautionary principle along with the social and ethical consequences of scientific and technological progress.
These principles and objectives are reflected in the research policy statements of EU member states. The political philosophy underlying them is to justify research spending by demonstrating public benefit, not just benefits for those who carry out the research.
There are a wide variety of forms of doctoral education (Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, 2000). Most are based on combinations between:
Currently, PhD and doctoral programs are found with the following combinations:
In the latter three combinations the research leading to the dissertation, collection of articles or artefacts may be conducted in research teams. The individual contribution is separated out, often after the completion of the research project. Some PhD and doctoral programs also require one or more of the following:
Each of the above is closely related to the roles of, and perception about, doctoral education in different institutions, disciplines and countries. Each is more or less suited to addressing the problems of doctoral education identified earlier.
Regardless of the uniformity of title (PhD, doctorate etc), each form results in a different outcome. This, in turn, results in differentiation in the perceptions of others about the relative value, quality, status and usefulness of apparently similar doctoral qualifications.
Universities in developed countries face increasing competitive pressures. There is competition for resources: Governmental and private funding, faculty, staff, doctoral students, attractive locations, physical facilities and equipment. There is competition for customers: applicants, retaining students as life-long customers (repeat purchase), business and government purchase of research, and a host of other knowledge-based services. The competition is increasingly global, based on performance, and judged by buyers of university services and products. Governments are expecting universities to generate a higher percentage of their income from buyers of their products and services resulting in universities facing the increased economic risks, and pressures for efficiency and effectiveness gains well known to profit based business.
Political priorities, and the buyers of university products (such as research output and doctoral graduates), increasingly influence research and education agendas of universities. These pressures encourage university leadership and administrators to tighten their internal grip to make sure external demands are converted to internal innovations and purposeful renewal of resources. In consequence, there is a reduction in academic freedom and influence for academic staff, who, in turn, become under pressure to increase the value and volume of their output whilst using fewer resources.
Three forms of governmentality are implicated in this transformation of universities (Kenway & Langmead, 1998):
Reductions in government funding have pressured universities to look for alternative sources of funding, and to cut costs by e.g. increasing casual staff numbers, out-sourcing and increasing workloads.
The application of business management principles to university management has resulted in responsibility being pushed down the line with academic staff accountability is to senior management and clients, and individual academic performance is assessed.
Marketisation includes privatisation, commercialisation and commodification. Knowledge becomes seen as a product, placing emphasis on building commercially viable programs in teaching and research both domestically and offshore.
Porter (1980) argued that actors in competitive situations seek to reduce the competitive pressure by differentiating themselves from others through one or more of three avenues:
Those who do not follow any of these strategies tend to become losers because they have no particular advantage.
In the context of doctoral education, some universities will focus on efficiency. This over time may reduce them to factories for standardised production of mass education and incremental applied research. The lack of emphasis on offering additional value is likely to result in lost reputation and lower relative standing that may reinforce the rationalisation drive, repeatedly twisting the spiral towards efficient minimum standards. This contrasts with universities that aim to differentiate by trying to excel in one or more area of research generation or dissemination by focusing on value-added effectiveness in broad markets or within market niches.
The above forces imply growing heterogeneity in the quality of doctoral programs and holders of doctorate degrees. In the minds of those evaluating holders of doctorates, or making decisions about where to study, increased variation in the relative quality of doctoral programs and awards means that the name of the institution, department or school may become much more important than the award itself.
At a larger scale, intensive competition is likely to make players in a market cooperate or merge. This is already evident worldwide in the university sector, strongly encouraged by the globalisation of education and other industries. National governments and the EU are strongly supporting this shift towards cooperation, alliances and mergers between universities to better support local industry’s international competitiveness, and to construct research constellations that closely match knowledge needed for specific commercially driven innovations.
The implication is that most universities may end up as alliance members of global educational and research networks with competition occurring mainly between different alliances, much like what is happening with commercial industrial clusters (Lorange & Roos, 1992; Porter, 1990). Governments and business communities want and promote such developments due to the potential efficiency gains and enthusiasm for the globalisation of politics and business. Universities allied to these global networks would be expected to follow similar generic strategies, each serving their respective national markets using the resources of the multinational alliance. Within alliances there would be little competition and much cooperation.
Governmental pressures to increase applied research and collaboration with business and government is likely to result in growing number of strategic alliances between larger business and government organisations and groups of universities. Since innovations often require input from a variety of disciplines (see for example Chandy & Tellis, 1998; Kimberly, 1986; Loveridge & Pitt, 1990; Nelson, 1993), these alliances will tend to be formed across institutional and disciplinary boundaries. Universities able to make long-term research and life-long learning arrangements will stabilise their income basis, and make it easier to obtain matching government/business research funding.
Bringing all these factors together suggests that doctoral education is likely to become much more multinational, trans-institutional and interdisciplinary as a result. It is likely to be important for doctoral candidates to choose not only the quality level of the doctorate and the university, but also the global network the degree granting body is a member of.
This section reviews the current state and trends in doctoral education for four Western countries.
Doctoral education has been mainly funded via government research councils through grants to each university. Until this year, the seven UK government research-funding bodies have presented different positions on research and doctoral education. The largest, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (ESPRC) describes research and research training in terms of creating new scientific knowledge: rather than supporting national and social, aims and objectives (ESPRC, 2001). At the other end of the spectrum, is the Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB) recently created in response to criticism that Arts and Humanities research was neglected (Dearing, n.d.).
Until recently, most UK doctoral education involved individual research leading to a long thesis document that showed the candidate’s mastery of a body of knowledge, skills at writing to publishable standard, ability to develop a new research instrument, and significant contribution to public knowledge. Assessment and quality assurance is by doctors expert in the same field, yet unconnected with the candidates work and from a different institution. Over the last two decades, professional doctorates such as the DEng have become more widely available. These typically combine taught courses in advanced forms of practice with an authentic research project with a collaborating industry partner.
The outcome-based government epitomised by ‘New Labour’ in the UK emphasises measurable competencies as a basis for assessment. A move towards competency-based doctoral assessment is evident in the way the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) specifies skills to be expected from PhD graduates for each sub-domain under its remit (ESRC, 2001a). To achieve these competencies the ESRC insists on each candidate attending a preliminary 1-year full time research-training program.
In 2001, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education established guidelines to rationalise and unify higher education awards across institutions (see, for example, The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, 2001a; The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, 2001b). These specify two pathways to a doctoral award: through credit accumulation from credit carrying taught courses at a doctoral level, and through research training leading to the PhD/DPhil. The PhD/DPhil is not awarded for credit accumulation institutions may, however, insist on taught courses as a prerequisite.
In parallel, is an increase in the number of acceptable forms of submission to include long thesis, books and other published monograph or similar, collections of publications, artefacts with suitable academic exegesis, or a portfolio of work (Deem, 1998; The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, 2001b). The breadth of submission possibilities points to increased attention being needed to quality assurance issues and by implication making explicit the performance indicators for a doctoral award.
US doctoral education is shaped by forces that result from the visions of government and private funding bodies (Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, 1998). It has have remained fairly constant since its origins in the late 19 th century, when Yale (1861) and other universities adopted the ‘Doctor of Philosophy’ developed in Germany (Johns Hopkins University, 2001; Slater, 2001). Funding is mainly provided by government through federal agencies each with their own socioeconomic roles and responsibilities and individual funding strategies and criteria (see, for example, National Science Foundation, 2000, Note 51) (National Endowment for the Arts, 2001) (National Endowment for the Humanities, n.d.).
Typically, US PhDs and doctorates consist of a substantial research project and thesis undertaken after satisfactory completion of a program of taught courses aimed at providing the candidate with the necessary doctoral skills. A committee of supervisors provides breadth of support for each candidate. Assessment focuses on competencies and research skill and is divided between taught courses and the candidate’s thesis. Quality assurance measures reflect its role as a certificate for teaching in American universities and, hence, assessment is often without recourse to external moderation
There is currently a tension across the US doctoral education program due to a lack of uniformity in vision and objectives between the actors. At its simplest, doctoral education is intended to serve national and social interests. This requires funding criteria to be congruent with the criteria used by the Executive Office of the President and Congress (Leith, 1995). Federal agencies have, however, their own agendas. For example, the national day-to-day socioeconomic realities important to citizens and government are almost absent from the strategies, mission, aims and outcomes of the National Science Foundation (see, for example, National Science Foundation, 2001a, 2001b, 2001c). The federal agency responsible for humanities research funding programs (National Endowment for the Humanities) emphasises promoting knowledge of human history, thought and culture rather than research (National Endowment for the Humanities, n.d.) - which may explain why Humanities’ research funding has fallen by over 80% in the last 40 years (Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, 1998). A similar situation is found in the Arts (National Endowment for the Arts, 2001). At university level, different institutions, departments and disciplines have their own doctoral education agendas resulting in differences between doctoral programs even in a single discipline (Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, 2000). In contradiction to the national perspective, from the universities’ and candidates’ points of view, the primary reason for undertaking a doctorate is as a qualification for membership of university faculty. The situation is further compounded by initiatives to support doctoral students having the freedom to choose their own research agendas and topics (Association of American Universities Committee on Graduate Education, 1998). Industry organisations wishing to participate are able to lobby alongside any of the above actors.
Recently, universities have begun to address these problems. This is evident in the broad level of agreement that has appeared via recent cross-university reviews of doctoral education(Gaff, 2001; Nyquist & Woodford, 2001; Woodford, n.d.), and increased attention to more explicit approaches to monitoring and managing doctoral programs (see, for example, University of Texas, 2000).
The current trends in US doctoral education are towards research that is: practitioner valued, more interdisciplinary, and drawing more on the knowledge base of social groups who have not traditionally had access to doctoral study. There is a likely loss of strategic management of research direction due to increased emphasis on candidates’ freedom to choose their topic of research.
Australian universities have recently been placed under strong pressure to improve their effectiveness and efficiency, and improve the contribution of doctoral education to fulfilling national, social and industry objectives (see, for example, Kemp, 1999a; Kemp, 1999b).
Doctoral education in Australia follows the UK tradition with programs mainly structured around a ‘long thesis’ undertaken through solitary study that describes a candidate’s contribution to knowledge, research design and data-collection. (Deem, 1998). Exact pedagogic arrangements depend on topic area and institution, and increasingly candidates are expected to undertake specific short courses and research training. In scientific subjects, candidates may work as part of a research team with their contribution acknowledged and carefully delineated – usually post facto. Assessment is usually undertaken by assessors expert in the same field as the candidate’s research yet unconnected with the candidates work. Quality assurance is informal: moderated through peer review of theses by external examiners. Most institutions require some examiners to be from a different institution with a proportion from a different country.
Australian universities are reviewing the ways that their doctoral education programs can be modified to maximise income (and reduce penalties) under new funding regimes. Emerging trends include:
Together these changes are resulting in an increase in the diversity of forms of doctoral education alongside a convergence between professional doctorates and PhD programs.
Norwegian doctoral education is interesting because it is a mix of the ‘long thesis’ tradition used in the UK, and the US model of doctorate. The medieval approach, allowing any scholar, regardless of previous degrees, to demand their dissertation, produced in ‘isolated splendour’, to be judged by senior peers is still allowed, but is going out of style. Currently, traditional non-professional disciplines tend to use the ‘long thesis’ UK model with minor modifications. In the professions, the tendency has been to copy the US model, where candidates’ individual research and theses are well supported both by taught courses ensuring candidates’ mastery of disciplinary knowledge, and research methods, and by peer interaction. Theses from these programs are not necessarily of lesser substance or contribution to knowledge than theses produced in the traditional method but there are improvements in course evaluation measures such as completions and time to finish.
According to Norwegian law the doctoral candidate has the right to be supported by a committee of at least three supervisors. The committee may have supervisors that are external to the degree granting institution. Assessment includes a public oral defence with at least two opponents from outside the degree granting institution. Quality assurance is by this external moderation and through a requirement that doctoral dissertations are public documents available to any and all.
The Norwegian Research Council requires a balance between basic and applied research, with all priority research areas directly related to producing a better society (Norwegian Research Council, 1998). At the governmental level, research is directed towards better value creation in their services and serving broad societal needs like environmental issues, health, etc. In the private sector the drive is towards improvements in value creation, competitiveness and profits in strategic industries like ICT (information and computer technologies), maritime (shipping and fishing), marine biology (fish farming and harvesting and associated value-added industries), and the energy sector (the oil and gas industry).
The main means of managing doctoral education are through:
The Norwegian Research Council also pointed to the need to shorten the completion time and increase the completion percentage of doctorates.
These priorities will probably lead to a growing adoption of the more skill-securing and timesaving US model of doctoral education. The focus on private matching funds and ‘immediate application benefit’ may, however, threaten the current insistence on public access to and review of all doctoral theses. The efficiency and effectiveness drive may also produce innovative solutions. For example, several schools and faculties are already considering granting doctorates combining taught research courses with a number of blind-review international journal publications of sufficient quality.
The above factors are likely to impact on doctoral education in several ways:
Governments are increasingly requiring that the taxpayer funded support for doctoral education results in outcomes that align with national objectives. These preferred outcomes include:
These preferred outcomes contrast with the outcomes of traditional ‘long thesis’ doctoral education:
Individuals with higher level reasoning skills in a single highly focused topic area
Research assistants (doctoral students) providing economically efficient support for large research projects
Low cost teaching assistants (doctoral students)
Individuals capable of teaching in universities at a tertiary level (doctoral graduates)
Additions to knowledge in areas of interest to academics and doctoral students
The process of designing courses for doctoral and PhD education is essentially the same as for other forms of education except for the level of autonomy expected of the learner. Developing an improved form for doctoral education must address three areas:
Quality assurance – identifying the criteria or performance indicators that define doctoral awards. Identifying suitable means of moderation
Pedagogical issues – choosing or designing those educational processes that support an individual from graduating at Bachelors or Masters level in developing the skills and competencies to the level required to satisfy a doctoral award
Assessment processes – identifying or design forms of assessment that are appropriate to addressing the criteria
There are several key dimensions that together define different forms of doctoral education. These include:
Existing and new forms of doctoral education can be mapped onto these dimensions. Alternatively, preferred locations on each of these dimensions can be identified in terms of findings about existing doctoral programs, forces acting on doctoral education, and strategies likely to be successful in addressing them.
The reviews of doctoral education discussed earlier indicate that the traditional ‘long thesis’ doctoral programs, based on research undertaken by a single individual under light-touch supervision is not highly effective or efficient in the current mass education context. The alternative paradigm, doctoral education through taught courses, as implemented in the US, has proven to have substantial advantages in terms of: reducing time to finish, improving completion rates, reducing the variability of outcome quality, and providing a means to align doctoral research with national socioeconomic objectives.
One of the key, and potentially most beneficial, programs to emerge in recent UK discussions on doctoral education brings together:
In other words, the course design of doctoral programs is firmly grounded on an identification of the core skills and knowledge needed, the performance indicators, in particular areas. These performance indicators form the basis for doctoral assessment. The candidate has freedom to present any form of evidence that shows that he or she satisfies the performance indicators in their doctoral topic area. More traditional professional subjects such as Law, Medicine, and more recently, Engineering, have already beaten a path this way. Engineering in the UK has for at least 30 years allowed the award of PhD to be gained by the development of designed artefacts with exegesis. More recently, also in the UK, Engineering disciplines, in collaboration with government funding bodies and educational institutions, have developed the basis for a structural format for doctoral education that focus on advanced skills in professional practice in engineering designing, in this case, high levels of mathematical analysis.
Design research is important because it stands at the core of all the key factors that impact on improving doctoral education. Designing is the human activity by which human knowledge is converted to valuable applied outcomes. In this sense, all designing is a professional practice that draws on the store of human knowledge. Research to improve the processes of designing is a key aspect of improving the outcomes of investment in research at higher education institutions because it directly informs the human activities by which knowledge is created and converted into preferred outcomes for governments, societies, commercial organisations and individuals.
A fundamental aspect of institutional research programs such as doctoral education is to create knowledge that can be reused by others. An important focus of design research is the reuse of knowledge. In the context of improving design practice, knowledge reuse is important because it is a key component of efficient and effective designing, and because it is an important aspect of making efficient the processes of education that result in improved designed outcomes. Important measures of the success of the knowledge aspects of doctoral education in relation to designs and designing are the amount and quality of publicly reusable new knowledge, and the efficiency of the means by which it can be publicly disseminated. These two issues substantially define many of the characteristics listed above for building improved doctoral education program aimed at design practices
There have been many criticisms of existing forms of university-based design research, particularly in technological fields. For example, Dixon (1989) reported on an industry review that concluded that ' Design is not taught, researched or practiced as effectively as needed...'The move to competency-based frameworks for doctoral education is helpful to resolving many problems of practice-related doctoral education programs involving designing. Focusing on competencies takes the emphasis off ‘contribution to knowledge’ and ‘assessment by academic peers’ – both, at best, issues that are difficult to define in relation to the activities of designing. This approach requires making explicit the specific individual and detailed competencies relating to all aspects of what is a competent researcher in particular domains of design practice.
The earlier analyses set a framework of external factors; structural issues, strategic responses, and dimensions of course design to inform the development of improved course designs for doctoral programs. These analyses apply equally to doctoral programs involving design practices as to professional practice in Law, Social Work or Engineering. They indicate that the new forms of doctoral education combining performance indicators and different forms of submission to the long thesis are likely to be better suited to design education.
There are some broader strategic considerations, however, because there remains considerable status attached to the form doctoral education involving individual unsupported study and the submission of a ‘long thesis’. Alternative forms of doctoral study offer benefits in addressing the main forces acting on academic institutions and improving the effectiveness and efficiency of doctoral programs in a mass education context. They are also better suited to doctoral education in design practice domains. What has been identified earlier, however, is that institutions using these approaches are likely to lose competitive advantage available through status and may spiral down to providing efficient but lowest quality education at low financial margins: a situation associated with potentially adverse financial implications. Providing a mix of doctoral programs, predominantly mass education plus a small proportion of ‘long thesis’ potentially addresses all of these issues.
Different formats can coexist without problems. For example in Norway, depending on the design area and whether the degree granting school is within the European or the US sphere of influence, both traditions are employed in doctorates in design programs. Architecture is taught and evaluated in the US technology tradition at the Technical & Natural Science University (NTNU) in Trondheim, and in the Arts oriented European/UK long thesis tradition at the University of Oslo.
Current political pressures for change present several opportunities for strengthening the design disciplines. The application focus may channel more research funds to the creation of designs and artefacts. The innovation drive may strengthen the designing practice of inter-disciplinary and cross-institutional team approaches to problem solving and the process of designing.
This paper has explored the future of doctoral education in terms of the broader forces acting on it and strategies appropriate to addressing these forces. The main forms of doctoral education and the ways doctoral education is being developed in four Western countries were reviewed. The paper concluded by analysing which future trends in doctoral education are likely to be most successful in the context of research relating to design practices.
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