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The PhD System Under Pressure: An Examiner's Viewpoint

Alexander, DE; Davis, IR; (2019) The PhD System Under Pressure: An Examiner's Viewpoint. Quality Assurance in Education , 27 (1) pp. 2-12. 10.1108/QAE-04-2018-0033. Green open access

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Abstract

Purpose -- The PhD degree has been described as the "pinnacle of academic qualifications", but it is under threat in terms of the quality of supervision and the outcome of examinations. By bringing the issues into the open and discussing them, more can be done to safeguard the health of the modern doctorate. Design/methodology/approach -- This paper reviews the mainstream academic literature on doctoral degrees from the point of view of the origin and development of the contemporary PhD. Then it offers some reflections on supervision, examination, standards of judgement, benchmarking of results, and different routes to the doctorate. The pressures upon the modern university are related to issues encountered in examining doctoral theses. Findings -- In modern neoliberal environments, the PhD degree is under pressure in terms of its quality and rigour. This paper offers a simple conceptual model of the challenges involved in ensuring the quality of PhD examinations and their outcomes. Priorities for the various stakeholders are suggested in order to ensure that PhD research continues to set the 'gold standard' for excellence. Practical implications -- Recognising and confronting the problems with the modern PhD and how it is examined will help guarantee the quality of the degree. A more open debate on the pressures under which supervision and examinations are conducted will help establish rules or guidelines for conduct. Originality/value -- There are remarkably few evaluations of the PhD examination process, which in recent years has become increasingly problematic. We adopt a comprehensive approach to the issues and relate them to the societal context in which universities are developing.

Type: Article
Title: The PhD System Under Pressure: An Examiner's Viewpoint
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1108/QAE-04-2018-0033
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1108/QAE-04-2018-0033
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: Doctorate, PhD degree, Examination, Pedagogy, Review of practice
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences > Inst for Risk and Disaster Reduction
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10051065
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