Emerging visions for doctoral education: Constructing the knowledge worker in the EU and the US

Globalisation and the race for knowledge: changing context for doctoral education

Throughout the last decade, the production of doctoral degrees has significantly increased in most regions with advanced systems of higher education. Doctoral education has become a global endeavor pursued not only by national governments but also by transnational organisations such as the OECD, UNESCO and the World Bank. This is to a large extent a manifestation of globalisation, connected to the idea of a ‘global knowledge economy,’ where universities, and in particular graduate programmes, are seen as important producers of knowledge and therefore crucial to economic growth. It is also a response to the rising demand for ‘knowledge workers,’ or highly skilled graduates, needed to provide the fuel for this economy.

These transformations have brought about new questions concerning the role and scope of doctoral education in the twenty-first century. They have also prompted research on how doctoral education has developed in different world regions, and how certain global features of the doctorate have prevailed or shifted. More importantly, however, some of these developments have challenged and re-imagined the roles that PhD students are expected to play in this new, globalised world. Flagship PhD programmes are now aiming not only to provide high-quality research education, but also to equip their graduates with a wide range of abilities to address contemporary economic and societal needs.

This project

This research project sets out to ask: What are the new visions for doctoral education emerging in the world’s most research-intensive regions – the EU and the US – and how are they (re)defining the roles of the PhD student in the global knowledge economy? More specifically, who are the actors behind these visions and how do they negotiate the mission(s) of the doctorate? How do PIs and PhD students engage with these visions? And last but not least, what are the wider implications of these developments?

The project is designed as a comparative study between two flagship doctoral programmes: the European Innovative Training Network (ITN) and the American Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT). It involves interviews with government agencies, transnational funding bodies, key stakeholders, as well as principal investigators and PhD students involved in ITN and IGERT programmes. Furthermore, it analyses data collected from a range of documents such as policy recommendations, position papers, application guidelines, and grant proposals.