EUA interprets Salzburg strategically
In a paper entitled “Doctoral Education – taking Salzburg forward” the European association of Universities (EUA) is trying to provide a more detailed and practical interpretation of the ten principles that were agreed upon during a Bologna follow-up conference in Salzburg. The paper addresses the importance of the creation of a critical mass. The EUA expresses concern in relation to the current funding system: “ There is a clear risk that the fundamental values of research are being
undermined by a focus on immediately quantifiable outputs.” This concern is shared by PNN as well. The solution to this issue lies in strategic institutional leadership according to the EUA. This type of leadership should outline priorities and support bottom-up initiatives. Although the value of doctoral research is stressed in the paper, the structural involvement in decision making by doctoral researchers is not offered as one of the solutions. Currently PhD candidates have the opportunity to formally and informally to co-decide in the doctoral policy of the university by taking part in university councils and faculty councils or to join a PhD council. Even though, university council members are oftentimes sufficiently compensated, faculty council members aren’t, and being a member of a PhD council is mostly voluntary. It is evident that PhD candidates don’t opt for joining a participation council due to the extra time and effort involved and the lack of compensation. And finally the different councils don’t have a say in one of the for PhD candidates most important of policy documents: the doctoral graduation regulations. We would suggest (A) to encourage PhD candidates to partake in the councils (B) to compensate PhD candidates sufficiently for their work in the councils (C) to provide right of consent concerning the doctoral graduation regulations to the university councils. The creation of an open discussion with PhD candidates limits itself in the paper to the graduation schools: “They should become fora for exchange and agreement on good practice, and they should be the agent of change that implements good practice in a transparent way. Particular attention should be given to the systematic inclusion of the voice of doctoral candidates.” PNN is of the opinion that this doesn’t reflect the Salzburg ten points in which it is stated: “Doctoral candidates should preferably be engaged in all levels of governance at the university and participate in decision-making.”
PNN supports the significance of the development of the academic career of a PhD candidate as does the EUA in their paper. The need for transferable skills is self-evident. PNN has taken on a proactive role with the establishment of the Professional PhD Program (PPP). It is striking to read in the paper: “Doctoral candidates are the glue in global collaborations; they are mobile and can focus almost exclusively on their own research. International collaboration in doctoral education facilitates the sharing of practices between institutions and allows them to find synergies to develop common research capacity. “By means of a survey among PhD candidates in the Netherlands the picture painted by the EUA doesn’t match with reality. In terms of educational tasks the burden placed on PhD oftentimes exceeds what could be expected. This of course also relates to the legal status of PhD candidates. In some cases contracts are devised in such a way that the scientific PhD trajectory is deprived of its quality. A point that is raised in the ten points of Salzburg yet is conveniently (or purposively) forgotten in the paper. The paper was given the suggestive subtitle: “taking Salzburg forward”. The purpose by which the paper was written, according to the forward of the paper, is to create guidelines for the further development of the doctoral trajectory. Although all ten points of Salzburg are mentioned in the paper (see the insert in blue) points 4,5,7 and 10 are left out entirely. Points 8 and 9 are only scarcely mentioned. For your recollection this is point 4: Doctoral candidates as early stage researchers: should be recognized as professionals – with commensurate rights – who make a key contribution to the creation of new knowledge;
Point 5: The crucial role of supervision and assessment: in respect of individual doctoral candidates,
arrangements for supervision and assessment should be based on a transparent contractual framework of shared responsibilities between doctoral candidates, supervisors and the institution (and where appropriate including other partners).
Point 7: Duration: doctoral programmes should operate within an appropriate time duration (three to four years full-time as a rule).
Point 10: Ensuring appropriate funding: the development of quality doctoral programmes and the successful completion by doctoral candidates requires appropriate and sustainable funding.
It is clear and readily apparent that these points are relate to the legal status and position of PhD candidates. Recognition of which is acknowledged in the Salzburg points yet is clearly lacking in the EUA paper. The paper could have included real strategic choices in order to really take on board the Salzburg points and by doing so a choice for high pitched and quality scientific research could be made. In the Salzburg ten points paper, above which the logo of the EUA (amongst others) is seen, it is mentioned that: “Many university representatives would prefer four-year fully funded doctoral programmes in order to achieve high scientific quality and integrity.”
The relation between the legal position and the professional status of the PhD candidate benefits the doctoral trajectory and is to be coupled to the scientific quality and integrity; a strategic choice without a losing side. Why this choice isn’t made in the paper is unclear and incomprehensible. The EUA appears to have insufficient understanding of the ten points of Salzburg. The explication of why this point is so important is included in the Salzburg document which makes this appear to be a strategic choice. A choice that doesn’t do justice to the promise of the subtitle of the EUA paper. The ten points of Salzburg are clear strategic choices, the detailed interpretation is missing less than half of the initial ten points. PNN is disappointed to note that the ten points are interpreted strategically by the EUA. The ten points of Salzburg are no pick-and-choose options but together form a coherent choice. A choice for quality and integrity in scientific research. A choice for sustainability in the pursuit of knowledge and the nurturing of talent. No options but rather a basic model.