Exploring Difference - Recruitment, Selection and Admission of Doctoral Candidates

Exploring Difference - Recruitment, Selection and Admission of Doctoral Candidates

Monday, 26. April 2010, British Embassy in Berlin

In Germany, the Excellence Initiative and introduction of staged studies through the Bologna process have led to the emergence of even more structured doctoral studies. At the same time, organisational frameworks have greatly diversified as have the goals and purposes of attaining a doctorate. 

Additionally, increased international competition for the best doctoral candidates is on the rise. Structured doctoral studies (i.e. embedded into programs, centres, schools, colleges etc.) require more regulation for entrance and admission in comparison with the traditional 'individual' doctorate (with only one supervisor), in order to ensure transparency, reliability and justify claims of quality.

Another aspect to be considered is the growing number of doctoral candidates from diverse scientific and cultural fields: these require clear(er) eligibility criteria, defined rights and obligations, evaluation procedures and progress controls both with the entrance to the doctorate and with the process of attaining a doctorate in order to guarantee optimal support and success. 

The sixth conference in the ID-E Berlin series addressed the challenges concerning the transitional phase into graduate training and doctoral promotion. A detailed understanding of the institutional motivations for recruitment, selection and admission procedures was elicited from participating speakers from Germany, Canada, the United States of America and the United Kingdom. 

Three central questions guided the conference proceedings.

  1. What is a PhD? What does it stand for?
  2. What is the institutional mission of graduate education and how is this achieved through recruitment, selection and admission processes and institutional framework conditions?
  3. What is the ideal doctoral candidate, how to select them and who sets the quality standards?

Points identified during the discussion included:

  • the variations in graduate school models in the different systems depending on whether they are aimed at bachelor graduates or whether they provide a general framework for doctoral students at an institution;
  • the increasing differentiation, also to be observed in partner countries, between "research" and "professional" doctorates; what is interesting here is that, despite this stronger differentiation, in most partner countries as well as in Germany only about 1/3 of doctoral graduates go on to work in the academic field;
     
  • in comparison to Germany, access to doctoral programs is far more individualized, these also being open to experienced professionals even if they do not have standard university or college degrees;
     
  • compared to the German system, much stronger institutional responsibility for doctoral studies demonstrated by general supervision standards, the regular accreditation of schools offering doctoral programs (including regular verification of the right of individual professors to confer doctorates assessed on the basis of, for example, achievements in supervisory functions, personal research activities, etc.), and the regular further training of supervisors; this is accompanied by much lower drop-out rates for doctoral students, in Germany estimated at 2/3.

As regards international recruitment and the selection of doctoral students, the experts participating in the discussion emphasized on the one hand how they are increasingly falling back on dependable, tried and tested partnership structures: good universities and colleges cooperate with other good universities and colleges. Long-term cooperation with colleagues, especially in emerging economies, creates dependability in the "sending" of particularly suitable foreign doctoral students. On the other hand, reference was also made to the institutional assistance provided in the form of bridging courses, making it easier for foreign doctoral students to integrate into the academic culture, etc.

Also worthy of note was the feedback from the international experts regarding the German system, whose quality is seen rather in its depth than in its breadth (i.e. not enough "general education" in bachelor studies).

To summarize, the commonalities and the differences between the international systems presented and the possibility of such models being applied in Germany were addressed in detail. Unfortunately, the Australian speaker was unable to attend due to the volcanic ash situation, but he had submitted a very comprehensive paper, which was distributed to the participants and referred to several times during the discussion.