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Research Training in Doctoral Programs - What can be learned from Professional Doctorates?

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ABSTRACT Doctoral education in Australia is currently under pressure to become more industry focused. This report discusses the relatively recent experience of offering doctoral education through professional doctorate programs as a contribution to the improvement of doctoral education in Australian universities. The evaluation focused on the extent to which such programs had developed practices for sustaining closer collaboration between universities and industry, through:

• a review of the general literatures relating to the role of doctoral research in contributing to the growth of knowledge and innovation;

• a multi-method exploration of the range of practices and relationships associated with professional doctorate programs; and

• the development of strategies and policy recommendations for optimising doctoral education in Australian universities in terms of industry-focused outcomes.

When set against the 800-year history of the PhD, the professional doctorate is a young doctorate, the first being set up in Australia within the last two decades. The nature and status of professional doctorates remains unclear to many, including a number of university administrators of research training, as well as government and industry personnel. The fact that 61 per cent of professional doctorate programs fall under the classification of ‘research’ higher degrees is not widely understood. Moreover, the 131 programs we found to exist in 35 of the 38 Australian public universities, exhibit a wide range of structures and features.

While there is strong evidence of an increase in the number of professional doctorates being offered in Australian universities, and there is some evidence of innovation in a number of professional doctorate programs, it appears that industry-focused doctoral education is still in its infancy. With a few exceptions, neither industry nor universities were engaging in any significant way to develop sustainable partnerships to serve and support the work of doctoral education. While the government White Paper Knowledge and Innovation (Kemp, 1999a) is clearly having an impact on universities in terms of active improvement of the quality and accountability of research training, industry remains to be engaged in any systematic or sustained way.

Most operational professional doctorates programs may be characterised as having ‘surface’ level links, in that they exhibit the following features:

• A particular industry or group of industries is the source from which most clients come and to which they return;

• There is some attempt made to involve non-academic individuals from industry and/or a professional group in course delivery, supervision or assessment (this is likely to be limited and ad-hoc);

• Research and research activities are workplace-based; and

• Marketing materials stress the value of the program to targeted professions.

A few programs exhibited ‘deep’ levels of linkage with professional and industry bodies as indicated by the following:

• Their establishment is driven by a particular industry or professional association (eg, peak industry groups define the nature of the training to be undertaken and the skills/attributes that are to be developed);

• Industry and/or professions are partners in the delivery and supervision of programs, and this is built into the funding and/or sponsorship arrangements that exist between universities, participants and external bodies;

• Industry/professional bodies play a substantial role in the assessment and credentialing process;

• Research training outcomes are of a nature and in a form that is recognisable as beneficial to the industry/professional partner; and

• The community of learning built around the program includes both academic and industry and/or profession based participants.

While the strengths in a number of the ‘surface’-linked programs investigated are impressive, the potential for professional doctorates to offer a context for more innovative and industry-focused doctoral training is yet to be realised. In particular, there are significant possibilities for the design and development of doctoral programs that deliver new types of quality research training. Programs that are deeply linked to industry and/or the professions are needed to achieve this. There is no evidence that surface levels of engagement evolve into deeper ones.

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May 20, 2014