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European PhD Education Reform: Implications of diversified disciplinary orientations

Conference contribution
Authors Annika Bergviken Rensfeldt
Published in Conference Paper for The International Consortium for Educational Development, June 16-18 2014, Stockholm, Sweden
Publication year 2014
Published at Department of Education, Communication and Learning
Language en
Keywords PhD Education reform, Educational Science, Higher Education Research
Subject categories Pedagogy


As a part of the current transformations of higher education systems, PhD Education has come under scrutiny during the latest decade. PhD education for example is a part of the European Commission’s recent agenda (e.g. EC, 2011) and the Bologna project since 2003, but also in European university and non-governmental collaborations. An important part of the reform agenda is the programmatic, standardised and often thematical forms suggested, i.e. the Doctoral or Research School, which also has been monitored and concluded to be the dominating re-organising principle throughout Europe (European University Association, 2013). In different ways, these reforms also intervene in the disciplinary organisation and orientations of the PhD knowledge and competence curricula. This paper offers a critical discussion of the recent European reforms by presenting three different disciplinary orientations of the PhD manifested in recent European policies: the disciplinary/traditional, the industrial/professional and the trans/interdisciplinary. The first decribed as inward-looking and problematic, the latter orientations illustrating closer and better relations to professional, industrial and innovative knowledge demands. The three orientations also relate differently to the academic institution and outreach. Thus, their organisational form is a part of how it is socially constructed, e.g. the first associated with the research-intensive university, the second the networked Doctoral School and collaborations with regional stakeholders and professional practice, and lastly, the competitive, international research excellence centre. These orientations will also be reflected onto the Swedish reforms of Doctoral Schools initiated by research foundations and similar in the 1990s. In particular, the consequences of the disciplinary re-organization of Educational Science will be used as an example, and reflected relatively European and similar international reforms. The contribution is inspired by policy network ethnographic and power-discursive analyses (Ball & Junemann, 2012) and focuses on emerging and performed policies in social practices. It should complement other recent higher education research on PhD Education reform (Kehm, 2009; Nerad, 2010; Kottman, 2011). The paper should inform and evoke discussion around standardizing and diversifying powers, where PhD Education form a part of influential international systems and governance at the moment. In particular, the paper should engage educational developers involved in PhD supervision management, but also stakeholders and researchers in the emerging field of PhD Education as the disciplinary re-organization raises questions on the implications for practice, as well as for research agendas and where analyses of processes of power-knowledge of PhD Education still is quite rare (Jonas, 2013).

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