Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Improving Australian Doctoral Programs

Recently I was asked how Ph.D. programs at Australian universities could be improved, so the graduates had better real-world skills, for jobs outside research. But this is the wrong question, and once you know what the right question is, the answer is easy.

As Carr, Evans, and Hornby (2017) point out, an Australian Ph.D. (they use the example of Monash University) follows an apprenticeship model for teaching research. An Australian Ph.D. is not intended to provide a broad range of skills for industry, or to train educators: it is to produce researchers. In contrast, a Ph.D. in the United States includes elements of what Carr, Evans, and Hornby (2017, p. 180) call a "taught doctorate" and a "professional doctorate".

Australian higher education regulations do not recognize a "taught doctorate", however, there is provision for a "professional doctorate", alongside a Ph.D. ("research Degree") at AQF Level 10 Doctoral Degree. The professional candidate still does research, but the emphasis is on the professional practice context.

Professional doctoral students are likely to be out and about, in the field, not on the campus. Maor and Currie (2017) looked at the use of technology for postgraduate supervision at Australian universities, noting that this will be increasingly demanded by distance and part-time students.

Margaret Kiley
Kiley (2017) examined three Australian universities which had introduced coursework for Ph.D. students, including material derived from Professional Doctorate programs. They concluded that many supervisors consider "... in Australia that the Ph.D. is an individualized learning program negotiated between candidate and supervisor". I would agree this is the view of supervisors, but will this approach achieve the best outcomes for the individual student, or for the community (who are subsidizing this education)?

Australian universities could tie themselves in administrative knots by trying to retrofit coursework requirements and non-research skills on an old fashioned Ph.D. apprenticeship model. However,  this will be frustrating for supervisors and students who actually want a Ph.D. program. Alternatively, universities could accept the reality that more than 95% of doctoral graduates are not destined for a research career and instead offer them a Professional Doctorate program, with coursework and team supervision. The other 5% of students can undertake a PHD program.


Carr, M. E. M. E., Evans, E. B. H. W. H., & Hornby, G. (2017). Comparative Review of Education Doctorates in Three Countries. The Future of Accessibility in International Higher Education, 175. 

Kiley, M. M. (2017). An emerging PhD curriculum and what this might mean for doctoral level threshold concepts. Practice and Evidence of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 12(2), 294-312. URL

 Maor, D., & Currie, J. K. (2017). The use of technology in postgraduate supervision pedagogy in two Australian universities. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 14(1), 1. URL

No comments:

Post a Comment