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Top marks for Norway’s doctoral programmes

These are among the main conclusions of an evaluation of Ph.D. programmes in Norway carried out by the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education (NIFU) on behalf of the Research Council of Norway.

 

The evaluation was commissioned by the Ministry of Education and Research.
“This is a solid, broad-based evaluation providing a good overall picture of the strengths of doctoral programmes in Norway as well as of where there is room for improvement,” says Director General Arvid Hallén of the Research Council of Norway. “It provides us with clear answers to questions about the quality, effectiveness and relevance of these programmes.”

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High calibre and rapid growth

The evaluation concludes that doctoral programmes in Norway are top notch. Compared with other countries, Norway’s programmes are amply funded, well-organised and provide candidates with an excellent framework for learning. According to doctoral thesis opponents from abroad, three out of five dissertations are deemed to be of very good or excellent quality.

Doctoral-level education in Norway has undergone very rapid growth. In the past eight years, the number of doctoral candidates has more than doubled. Ph.D education has been standardised to follow a uniform set of specifications and the number of institutions authorised to confer doctorates has increased notably.

Large educational environments

According to the international experts who have evaluated Ph.D. dissertations in Norway in 2010, there is some difference in the quality of dissertations submitted at the oldest universities compared to those at newer institutions with less experience with researcher training.

“The evaluation points out that the educational environment needs to be of a certain size in order to provide doctoral candidates with the best possible basis. This is a strong argument for why we should continue to refine and develop the cooperation and distribution of tasks between research institutions,” says Mr Hallén.

“One initiative towards this end is the establishment of national graduate-level researcher schools by the Research Council in 2009. These provide a national network that gives doctoral candidates from smaller institutions access to larger, dynamic research environments. We need more understanding about how well these researcher schools are performing and will be carrying out an evaluation after five years of operation,” he adds, while also mentioning the opening of the new graduate-level researcher training school for innovation in autumn 2012.

Photo: Eva Brænd  

This is a solid, broad-based evaluation providing a good overall picture of the strengths of doctoral programmes in Norway, says Director General Arvid Hallén. (Photo: Eva Brænd)

 

Time to degree completion and age present challenges

There has been a significant reduction in the average time required for candidates to complete their doctorates, especially within the humanities. Still, the Government’s goal for a six-year degree has yet to be achieved.

The average age for candidates completing a degree is 36. This has not decreased much over recent years. Consequently, these professionals have less time to establish themselves in academia than their counterparts in many other countries. Doctoral candidates may also find that their age makes them less attractive to potential employers in the private sector. According to the evaluation, the relevance of doctoral education needs to be marketed much better than is the case today.

The natural sciences and technology overlooked

With regard to doctoral programmes in the natural sciences and technology, the number of Norwegian applicants is much lower than the number of international applicants to programmes in Norway. And in spite of the high calibre of research education available within these fields, Norway does not necessarily attract the best candidates – from Norway or abroad. The evaluation provides a number of recommendations for improving recruitment.

The evaluation will be formally presented and discussed at a conference in Oslo on 11 October. The conference is being organised by the Research Council of Norway in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Research.

 

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