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EUA presents new report on quality assurance in doctoral education

March 07, 2013

EUA last week published a new report that analyses the development of quality assurance processes (internal and external) for doctoral education in European universities. Based on quantitative information gathered from a survey of over 100 universities across Europe and qualitative information collected during a series of focus groups and a workshop, the report is the outcome of the two-year EC-supported ARDE project led by EUA.

The report and project findings were presented to HE and research stakeholders in Brussels on 26 February at a breakfast event hosted by the Permanent Representation of Ireland to the EU in Brussels.

Thomas Jorgensen, one of the report authors, told the audience that the project had shown that doctoral education is being managed more professionally (in particular with the establishment of doctoral schools) and that institutions are giving more attention to accountability and quality enhancement.

The ARDE project highlighted, for example, that universities have set up, or are setting up internal quality processes at doctoral level including mechanisms for monitoring time-to-degree and completion rates, and guidelines for admission, supervision and the thesis. These processes also focus on the quality of the research environment and seek to engage different stakeholders. The ARDE project survey revealed that almost 90% of respondents had written procedures/regulations for admission of candidates and 91% systematically monitored progress of candidates.

In the key area of doctoral supervision, there is a notable trend towards establishing rules or guidelines as well as using individual contract-type agreements between supervisor and supervisee.

Quality enhancement processes are also prominent in doctoral education. In the area of supervision, for example, Thomas Jorgensen explained that universities were establishing training for supervisors as well as creating spaces for exchanging experiences and good practice, though much was still to be done in this area. 

In terms of external quality assurance, he pointed out that several external stakeholders often monitor doctoral education in parallel (e.g. national QA agencies, research assessment exercises and external funding bodies). The report highlights that it would make sense to coordinate the many different evaluations that programmes are subject to and establish a greater degree of coherence among them.

Following the presentation of the ARDE report, one of the project partners, University College Cork (UCC) provided a case study of QA developments in doctoral education. UCC Dean of Graduate Studies, Alan Kelly, explained that in Ireland, like many other European countries, doctoral education had undergone many changes in recent years.

He explained how UCC had dealt with the resulting policy demands, which included a move to graduate more PhDs, the establishment of graduate schools, and a greater emphasis on career paths.

The full ARDE report can be downloaded here.

Presentations from the event can be downloaded here.

The Accountable Research Environments for Doctoral Education (ARDE) project was coordinated by EUA in partnership with University College Cork (UCC), Universities Austria (UNIKO) and the Conference of Rectors of Academic Schools in Poland (CRASP). It was supported by the Lifelong Learning Programme of the European Commission.

Photo: Alan Kelly, UCC Dean of Graduate Studies, at the ARDE publication launch event