ABRC Nature of the PhD, Comments by the National Postgraduate Committee (1993)

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  1. We would like to start by expressing our satisfaction with the very high standard of postgraduate education generally available in this country.
  2. The NPC sees the PhD primarily as a training in research, and that doctoral qualifications which do not have this as their primary purpose should not be called PhDs. An example of such a qualification is the Parnaby scheme's Doctor of Engineering, and there is scope for other such initiatives. However, beyond this definition of a training in research, the Committee sees no benefits in any standardisation of the PhD across disciplines and would like to retain a flexible approach.
  3. We are a little concerned that some people seem to be considering the PhD to be an end in itself, with the attainment of a PhD immediately qualifying the recipient as a teacher, researcher, etc. This would be different from almost every other degree. Students receiving BEng degrees, for example, are not fully fledged engineers on leaving university - they are expected to go through sometimes lengthy periods of training afterwards. The same should be true of PhD students. If you accept that a PhD is a training in research, time will still be needed for PhD students to learn their particular trade after completing their studies.
  4. This in some way answers the problem of the 'broad' or 'specialised' PhD. Since many firms prefer to train graduates themselves in their particular skills, the PhD (nor any other degree) should not be too specialised. The attainment of a PhD is the mark of someone who can organise, complete and write up a lengthy project — the exact subject of the project may not be important — so the specialised knowledge gained is gained more as an example than as specialisation for its own sake.
  5. Much of the 'broad' education should be provided by the student's first degree. Any remaining taught element should be restricted to training in research methods. We would welcome a short taught course element at the beginning of a PhD course, perhaps taking up the first term, on research methodology. More time spent on a taught course section would reduce the time available for research unacceptably, while the alternative of lengthening the PhD to 4 years would mean another year for students on low incomes and with an increasing student loan. In Scotland it would also mean 8 years of university study.
  6. The Committee gave very careful consideration to the possibility of giving different titles to different types of PhD (PhD (Teaching), PhD (Project Management), etc). While this would have the advantage of giving students more information and choice in deciding which course to pursue, the Committee felt that this idea would be unworkable. It would be very difficult to decide if one institution's PhD (x) was equivalent to another's PhD (x) — if fact, similar problems to those that are presently said to exist with the PhD, but the perceived detail the classification would give would make the problems worse. There would also be problems comparing types of PhD and using the qualification abroad.
  7. The Committee would be pleased to see an element of training in communication skills introduced into the PhD, as communicating results to others is an important and necessary part of research, and would benefit all PhD students. We would not wish to see a teacher training element introduced into the PhD as we do not see the PhD's purpose as training lecturers. A doctorate is not a teaching qualification and a such training should be given as a separate course.
  8. Turning to whether the PhD can provide training opportunities on the application of existing knowledge and team work, we would say that the PhD is probably unsuitable as a qualification in these cases, since it requires a contribution to knowledge and usually involves working alone. To include such requirements within the PhD or broaden the PhD to include courses on those would provide an unacceptable dilution in the PhD's core 'training in research' and risk further confusion on what a PhD qualifies one for. The Committee would suggest that other degrees titles be used for such qualifications.