by Jim Ewing
Section 1: Demographic Information
Section 2: UK Doctorate in the Arts and Humanities
1. The purpose of doctoral studies should be two-fold: to produce high-quality research and a high-quality researcher.
It is debatable which is the more important. As arts and humanities researchers are least likely of all to continue as academics, it is important to make sure that their doctoral studies make as big a contribution to scholarship as possible; however, the skills acquired in pursuing doctoral studies are such that make the holder of a PhD highly employable and this has to be emphasised in order to secure greater funding for the sector.
2. The Doctorate provides valuable training for a career outside the academy as well as a career in Higher Education.
3. Generic skills training is necessary both to enhance research skills and to enhance broader skills.
Not all doctoral researchers require generic training: candidates entering doctoral research with sufficient life experience may have acquired the necessary skills. Research skills are more important academically than broader skills, although these are important for the individual to function outside academia!
4. It is not helpful to tie the numbers of funded students too closely to the likely demand from Higher Education.
The use of the word "too" admits of only 1 or 7 as an answer. We consider that it is not helpful to tie numbers of funded students too closely to the likely demand from higher education as numbers and quality of proposals are bound to vary from year to year and flexibility must be maintained.
5a. Demand from non UK students for research places in the arts and humanities in the UK is strong.
Less, we believe, than in other research areas, but nevertheless strong.
6a. Formal preparation, in the form of a Masters' degree, is important for effective doctoral research in the arts and humanities.
We reiterate that not everyone requires such preparation, be it taught or by research. For the more skilled PhD candidate, it may be possible to devise a tailored programme which can be included in the first year of research.
7. There is a need to restructure the route from undergraduate to Master's to doctoral study to:
7a. Develop a structure in line with Europe.
We believe a certain amount of restructuring is necessary to allow greater mobility between UK and other European universities but we remain to be convinced how far this process should or even can be taken.
7b. Ensure quantity at doctoral level and allow for effective exit points.
The introduction of an MRes would make impractical the pre-PhD masters by research, compulsory in certain HEIs, as it would add on yet another year. It is important, therefore, to build into the system a convenient exit-point for candidates who come to feel that a PhD thesis is beyond them or perhaps that their chosen research project lends itself better to a masters.
The 1+3 and 2+2 models each have their advantages. 1+3 allows the candidate to complete a preparatory MRes, which could include academic modules in subject areas providing background knowledge necessary for the thesis but lacking from the candidate's undergraduate studies, for example, languages to access specialist literature which has not been translated into English. With regard to exit points, 2+2 allows the candidate to read into the subject area and acquire research techniques, before attempting the masters' worth in the second year and then deciding to write up or proceed to the PhD. We believe that the 1+3 model can also provide a masters exit-point after year 1 of the 3-component. This also has psychological advantage, as the candidate would be less deterred by the length of the commitment.
7c. To allow for proper research training
If current doctoral candidates are lacking in basic research skills, then restructuring is necessary.
8. Most arts and humanities students take longer than four years to complete the doctoral phase of their studies.
They nearly all do!
9. The funding period should be increased from 3 to 3.5 years.
This would allow candidates a six-month writing-up period after their formal supervised research.
After the formal tuition period is over, candidates are entitled to claim Jobseekers' Allowance but this may prove insufficient. Recipients are only allowed to supplement their income to the tune of £5p.w. (anything earned over this is docked) and if 17 hours after worked per week the entitlement ceases altogether. If paid employment is to be worthwhile, therefore, it is necessary to work up to or beyond the recommended limit of 20 hours, after which academic work suffers. A proper bursary for the six months' writing up on a model of 1=3=0.5 or 2(+2)+0.5 would allow the candidate to concentrate on writing up their research within a reasonable time instead of submitting inferior work due to lack of time or dragging out the writing-up period ad infinitum.
10. The AHRB should be more prescriptive about the content of a Masters degrees in order that they provide a stronger research base for progression to a doctorate.
It is strongly arguable that an MRes as opposed to the taught masters is the best preparation for the PhD but there is still a place for the free-standing research masters for those who, whether due to time, finance, capability or inclination, choose not to pursue a doctoral research bur nevertheless have a valuable, original contribution to make to scholarship. There are also those who prefer the research masters, as it were as a dry run, before tackling the PhD.
11. Practice-led doctorates in the creative and performing arts require different structures, criteria and outcomes compared to traditional doctorates.
The introduction of practical elements in itself creates a different structure and criteria have to be adjusted accordingly.
However, while we believe that, while practice is an acceptable element in doctorates in the creative and performing arts, we question the suitability of the PhD as a benchmark for creative work.
We are aware of the argument that, if a mathematician can receive a PhD for a formula that takes up a half page, why can an artist not receive one for a body of original work? There has always been an element of this in Arts and Humanities doctorates. A doctoral thesis which presented a newly-discovered MS to the world (we refer to an actual case) would compromise of the transposition, translation (in a foreign language) and annotation of the text, with an introduction contextual and critical. This would not necessarily run to 80,000 words and the work involved in preparing the text for criticism would be taken into account; however, the comparison of the practice-led doctorate to a mathematical formula is flawed. While the mathematician uses their imagination to devise the formula, no creation is involved; rather, the calculation of the formula is the discovery of a previously overlooked truth. The PhD is awarded in recognition of research and discovery, not creativity. While the honorary doctorate might be considered an appropriate recognition of a life's work (although this award has become much overused), no great artist needs letters after their name to prove their worth.
We also question how aesthetic value can be assessed and awarded academically.
A more truly academic example of a practice-led doctorate is that of the conductor whose orchestral direction brings out structure and unity in composition where none was discerned before. While an actual performance may serve as proof of the thesis, this thesis has to be argued in the first place and we would expect to see an annotated copy of the score, accompanied by a written thesis giving the history of the work and its interpretation and a strong argument, with reference to the annotated score and a recording of the performance, why the candidate's interpretation is valid.
12 The AHRB has a role to play in helping to stimulate debate on best practice in the area of practice-led doctorates
Again, it does not or it does not. We welcome the AHRB's bringing this debate to our attention and also the opportunity to participate.
The AHRB should actively seek to adapt its funding model to take account of new PhD structures (e.g. new route PhD, professional doctorates).
New structures require new funding models but we require clarification of what sort of funding is required for these models. If, for example, the Professional Doctorate is to be awarded for professional achievement, what do they need funding for?
14. The AHRB should continue to have one scheme of funding for doctorates, irrespective of their type.
15. The AHRB should ring-fence funding support for practice-led doctorates in the creative and performing arts.
Initially, yes, to give the structure a change to prove itself, but subject to review after 5-10 years.
16. There should be ring-fenced AHRB funding for particular disciplines within arts and humanities doctorates.
Disciplines which attract little attention from doctoral candidates must receive some preference in order to keep scholarship active in them, least areas of knowledge be lost.
17a. Collaborative doctorates involving UK HEIs and non UK HEIs will play a prominent role in the future.
We expect they will play an increasing role but the failure of the e-university shows that the future is unpredictable.
17b. The AHRB should enable HEIs to provide more opportunities for study abroad within doctoral research.
Travelling scholarship to allow periods of study in specialist libraries and archives as well as field trips to the scene of the subject of one's research can greatly expand and enhance one's research. It is an error to presume that the doctoral researcher already has adequate first-hand experience of the culture in which their research is set.
18. The AHRB should divert more postgraduate funding to doctoral studentships attached to large research projects.
We view this suggestion with caution. Large research projects with the doctoral candidate working under instruction and writing their thesis as a report on their own role in the project, is common in the fields of science and engineering; we understand that it may be appropriate in the fields of archaeology, archive studies and medieval literature, in which masses of MSS remain unedited, but we are concerned about the implications for the traditional line of individuals following up their own imaginative lines of research. Large-scale projects which involve national patrimony should be specially funded, not out of the AHRB's budget.
19. The AHRB shoud take positive action to provide doctoral studentships for under-represented minority student groups.
We strongly disagree. While we wish to see wider and more equitable access to higher education, studentships should be awarded on grounds of merit, both of the thesis proposal and the candidate's perceived ability to complete the thesis. Our Equal Opportunities Policy commits us to preventing any form of discrimination, direct or indirect, and we oppose this suggestion on these grounds. If any perceived minority is seen to be under-represented, that minority should be addressed with a view to awakening to possibilities and raising of expectations.
The basic concept of minority groups is highly questionable. The writer of this response is white, male and middle-aged, which ma have him stereotyped as the (oppressive?) majority within academia and society at large. He is also a homosexual abstainer on grounds of faith, which hardly puts him in the majority. We are all minorities now and no one as such should be discriminated either for or against.
20. The AHRB should commit more of its postgraduate funding to doctoral studentships.
We would welcome the increase in number of PhD scholarships but do not want to see it at the expense of research masters. We argue that more funding is needed.
1. Please list up to five essential ingredients for an arts and humanities UK doctorate in your particular area.
An original contribution to scholarship.
Strong, clearly-worked argument.
Evidence of analytical skills.
Sound command of the subject.
2. What reservations, if any, do you have regarding current UK practice in the arts and humanities for doctoral studies?
Often inadequate research training.
Poor and patchy supervision.
Underemployment of graduates.
Horror stories concerning the viva - definitely a point to be addressed.
3. What do you see as the key issues, opportunities or developments in the arts and humanities doctorate over the next five or ten years?
The nature of the relationship between the masters and the PhD and its implication for the continuance of the masters by research.
The debate over practice led doctorates (i.e. over the very nature and purpose of the PhD)
The continuance of research in all fields and expansion in unexploited ones (see 4 below).
The (attempted) convergence of the PhD model at European level.
Falling standards in schools seeping up to provide poorer PhD candidates.
4. Please add here any other thoughts, comments or recommendations for the AHRB Doctoral Working Group.
One point which almost made us register a 2 for question 19 is the slow response from academia to the cultural influx from south Asia over the past fifty years. A quick search of the UCAS website reveals only one south Asian language course (Hindi at Cambridge) outside the School of Oriental and African Studies. The retention and use of foreign language as second languages is extremely important for the maintenance of the UK's new richness of cultural diversity and the implications for international communication and trade are obvious. Wider provision of south Asian cultural and language courses would attract more students of south Asian families to the arts and humanities. This must begin with the academic training of more researchers, which would certainly require a massive recruitment drive and may well require ringfencing - but on academic grounds, not those of favouring minority interests.