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- Vitae researcher development conference 2008
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- A2/B2 Workshop summary and outcomes
A2/B2 Workshop summary and outcomes
Postgraduate researchers strand
The impact of European developments on doctoral programmes
Prof Ian Haines, member of the Executive Committee of the UK Council for Graduate Education and Chris Hale, Policy Advisor, Universities UK
In an increasingly global research environment, Europe's commitment to be competitive on a world stage remains strong. There is increasing EU recognition of the importance of doctoral students to achieving the goals of the Lisbon Strategy , i.e. to make the EU the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world.
The session covered:
- current policy developments
- implications for UK policy and practice
- issues HEIs will need to consider in developing their own strategies and provision.
Chris Hale outlined how the ‘knowledge-focused' economy, where innovation leads to new products and services, is the key European policy driver. This is characterised by:
- increased focus on bolstering R&D performance and enhancing high level skills
- central role of people and human resources in achieving this agenda - researchers and R&D personnel becoming centre stage
- increased international competition in globalised R&D, particularly for human resources; and an aging population.
The Bologna Process aims to create a European Higher Education Area by 2010. It operates through intergovernmental process (extending beyond the EU's 27 member states) with decisions made at key summits and implemented through follow up work in the agreed ‘action lines'. The European Universities Association (EUA) was mandated with the doctoral-level project to agree basic principles: discussions in Salzburg and Nice fed into recommendations for the 2007 London summit. EUA recommendations covered:
- structure and organisation - integration and transparency (recognition of the importance of Graduate Schools)
- improving conditions, supporting career development and inter-sectoral
- concentrating doctoral funding
- flexibility and autonomy in admissions
- enhancing internationalisation
- diversifying doctoral programmes (eg professional doctorates).
UK higher education is in many instances already aligned with the Nice framework. Activities are ongoing through the Bologna follow-up group and a EUA Council for Doctoral Education (EUA-CDE) has been created.
European Research Area developments include:
- the ERA Green Paper in 2007 focusing on researchers
- the 2004 Charter and Code for researchers being taken forward through the new Concordat (UK)
- attempts to remove obstacles to mobility
- reform of employment and working conditions in member states.
The EU's HE modernisation agenda (‘structural reform') is designed to:
- promote geographical and inter-sectoral mobility
- accelerate access to, and portability of, loans and grants for study or to do research
- align recognition of academic qualifications
- strengthen intellectual property management and academic entrepreneurship
- review national student fee and support schemes and systems for funding universities, to be more focused on outputs and give universities more responsibility for their own long-term financial sustainability, particularly in research
- create greater autonomy and accountability including more autonomy for recruitment.
Chris offered some observations in respect of these policy initiatives having their own momentum and drivers: is there sufficient coherence? How serious are the internal contradictions in EU policy, for example, an aim for HEIs to be more autonomous, yet the EU appears increasingly directive in its approach. Is there ‘over initiative' on the policy side at EU level (driven by politics)? Do we need to consolidate progress instead?
Continued and concerted political commitment is needed at national level and from HE institutions, who need to take the agenda seriously, and embed it into local strategies. Translating policy into practice is possibly the biggest challenge.
Ian then prompted participant reflection on the implications for their own universities and doctoral programmes. Discussion focussed on three areas of particular importance to the UK:
- a need to clarify whether there is any threat to the quality of the doctorate given the UK's flexible and diverse arrangements for entry (Bachelor - Masters - Doctorate; Bachelor - Doctorate; 4 year Masters - Doctorate) and for the length of doctorates
- perception of a pressing need to better understand the progress made by HEIs in embedding Bologna actions
- concern at the Nice communiqué's mention of concentration of funding; participants felt that there was a need to ensure that any concentration did not lead to a reduction in the number of HEIs with degree-awarding powers or undermine the diversity, capacity and dynamism of the UK research base.
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