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A3/B3 Workshop summary and outcomes
Postgraduate researcher strand
The changing doctorate; outputs from the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) discussion responses
Janet Bohrer, Acting Assistant Director, Development and Enhancement Group, QAA and Prof Pam Denicolo, Director of Graduate School, University of Reading
In the light of the skills agenda and changing European and global contexts, this session explored the way the doctorate may be changing. In summer 2007 the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) published a discussion paper about doctoral programmes and a number of events and conversations took place to explore the changing nature of the doctorate outlined in Chris Park's Redefining the Doctorate discussion paper (Higher Education Academy, January 2007).
The session covered:
- the context of the QAA discussion paper
- a summary of the preliminary analysis of results of the web-based consultation
- an opportunity for participants to explore the changes in doctoral education, including the practical implications for them and their institutions.
Janet began by tracing developments that have led to Gill Clarke's discussion paper:
- QAA: revision of Section One, Code of Practice (influences included Improving Standards in RDPs HEFCE 2002 and Joint Skills Statement by the research councils)
- special review of research degree programmes
- incorporated in the revised institutional audit process from 2006
- sector wide discussions eg Redefining the Doctorate (Park, 2007)
- International: Bologna Process, European University Assocation Council for Doctoral Education, Banff Principles.
In the UK, the QAA works with the sector in developing components of the ‘academic infrastructure'. Example frameworks (or reference points) for quality and standards include: Code of Practice (ten sections), Framework for higher education qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (FHEQ), subject benchmark statements, programme specifications (guidelines).
The discussion paper was prepared to support the current review of FHEQ. It included 18 questions. Q7-10 are key questions that have been reviewed as priority:
- Do the attributes of doctoral graduates described in the existing framework still apply?
- How does your institution define ‘originality' in the context of doctoral study?
- Does the qualification descriptor remain appropriate for different types of doctoral graduates?
- To what extent, if at all, should employers' views influence the doctoral qualification descriptor?
There were 72 responses, from HEIs, professional bodies, professional groups and individuals. QAA was delighted at the volume and quality of the response. So far, full analysis of the responses to questions 1, 7, 8, 9, and 10 are available as is the summary of the preliminary analysis of questions 7-10 that was provided to the working group revising the FHEQ (August 2008).
Most respondents thought the attributes of the doctoral qualification descriptor appropriate. A few qualified this as it being appropriate for doctoral candidates but could be improved to be more inclusive for professional doctorates (with its broader concept of research outputs). Others thought that the current flexibility was helpful for different disciplines and doctorates. It was suggested that revision should align with the Dublin descriptors and European Qualifications Framework . Several respondents asked that it remained unchanged as they found it useful for their needs in its current form.
Participants were then asked to discuss two questions about the changing doctorate and evolving context:
- 1) how is your institution responding in terms of delivery?
- 2) how do you think assessment should evolve to accommodate this broader remit?
Participants gave a number of examples where HEIs had responded to QAA precepts, such as introducing supervisory teams. Lively discussion about assessment issues followed.
Debate about assessment issues focused particularly on:
- identifying the respective roles for formative and summative assessment: the former is also very important
- the need to engage students the whole way through (use annual progress monitoring)
- the different characteristics of professional and traditional doctorates and what each should learn from the other
- the importance of flexibility to account for different kinds of students and different motivations for study (for example, inappropriateness of assessing skills of an older person undertaking a doctorate for personal interest)
- the need to consider how to influence both supervisors' and examiners' expectations
- the importance of being clear about what can be achieved in 3-4 years study.
Some participants felt that there was a disconnect between HEI policy and what was actually done. A common view was that current assessment could be flexible enough if more attention was given to progress assessment, (eg maybe incorporating skills assessment in the ‘credit' system).
View the A3/B3 presentation slides
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