Scandinavian PhD education: goals and recommendations

Research schools based on strong Nordic research communities with international impact – this is one of the recommended policy initiatives in a NIFUSTEP foresight study concerning researcher recruitment in Norway. Corresponding reports on the situation in Denmark and Sweden also discuss the development of research schools in relation to national ambitions concerning recruitment and quality assurance in public PhD-education.
Strategic investments required
The foresight study, Forskerrekrutteringsbehov i Norge [The demands for researcher recruitment in Norway], published by NIFUSTEP 15. May 2007, is based on the Norwegian government’s aims to increase FoU-investments, improve the quality of the PhD-education and increase the throughput rate. The report states that strategic investments in PhD-education are required in order to achieve the defined goals. SISTER (The Swedish Institute for Studies in Education and Research) published a status quo report on Sweden and Denmark earlier this year: Arbeidsrapport [Working paper] 2006/51.

Research schools : Scandinavian experience
In the late 1990s the number of research schools at the Swedish research institutions increased considerably, and in 2001, 16 National Research Schools were established. Preliminary evaluations imply that these schools promote student networking and the PhD candidates’ international orientation, improve supervising and PhD-course programmes and enhance recruitment, both in quantity and quality, due to the status of the national research schools. The Norwegian experiences with institutional research schools are also satisfactory. In Denmark, interest in research schools has increased during the last few years but evaluations indicate some problems concerning vague definitions and loose organisational structures. Reform propositions also include recommendations for more international contact and collaboration, and further development of the Industrial PhD-programmes.

PhD-education : Nordic initiatives
NordForsk is funding both Nordic research schools, networks of national research schools and Nordic PhD-courses. The NordForsk PhD-course scholarships are also relevant funding instruments in this context: they cover the additional costs involved when research schools and courses include PhD-students from abroad. For NordForsk network grants it is also decisive that PhD-students and young researchers participate actively. The Nordic research schools are up for evaluation during 2007. This might reveal whether or not they promote the increased quality and throughput in PhD-education that the Nordic research policies are aiming at.

The concept research school lacks a precise definition, but the Danish Research Coordination Committee provides some useful characteristics: A research school is an organisational unit with well-defined leadership, it gives a structured, coordinated, and integrated PhD education and creates a large enough environment (students and academic discourses) to enable broad learning and opportunity for reflection. According to the Swedish report, research schools are often co-organised across institutional or national borders, and they might be multi-disciplinary. The NordForsk funding instruments mentioned above, all comprise several of these characteristics. Read more on,

SISTER report Arbeidsrapport 2006/51
NIFUSTEP foresight study Forskerrekrutteringsbehov i Norge