Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

To PhD or Not to PhD

Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

To PhD or Not to PhD

Article excerpt


What is a Doctor of Philosophy, a PhD? The award of a PhD certifies that the holder has mastered the skills required, and has demonstrated the ability to, undertake original research that advances the field of knowledge in a particular field of study. This ability is demonstrated by the preparation of a substantial thesis reporting the foundations, methodology and results of a significant research project. Within the university system it is the driver's license to set foot on the academic promotion ladder and for credibility in engaging in continuing research activity. It can be seen as the apprenticeship for an academic career. It has historically been distinguished from the Masters by research and from a variety of doctoral programs by its concentration on a single research objective rather than a combination of coursework and lesser research projects and by the originality or innovativeness of the research.


Who uses PhDs? While there are a number of people in business or non-research positions that have a PhD this tends to be the result of career progression rather than the need for the qualification as a prerequisite for the position. A number of programs have been developed, and are being developed, to fill this market sector such as the Doctor of Business Administration. The major demand for PhDs comes from private sector and government research establishments and from universities where the PhD is seen as the standard qualification for academic staff. The conventional wisdom is that a PhD is a necessary qualification for a career in academe, and this is reflected in university policies relating to the appointment of staff and is demonstrated in the worldwide advertisements for academic appointments.

Why has this arisen? This position developed as a result of the historical development of universities. For a very brief survey and explanation of this development see "Degree, College" in the World Book Encyclopedia (2002) and "degree, also called

ACADEMIC DEGREE" the New Encyclopedia Britannica (1998). They were the acknowledged centres of advanced learning and the major centres for research. As a result they attracted much of the intellectual talent of their times to lead in the search to extend the boundaries of knowledge and to disseminate that knowledge. This led to a master-student situation where much of the learning centred on discourse with the master and involvement in the master's academic activities. The qualification to be a master was based almost exclusively on the academic's depth of knowledge and research ability with little or no consideration of teaching or administrative ability.

The environment that Australian universities operate in has changed in the past two decades and gives every indication that it will continue to change in response to government policy and the requirements of society. Criteria for admission to universities have changed with a wider range of the population seeking to secure university qualifications. As a result the student mix has changed with a greater recognition of work experience, vocational training, mature age and retraining requirements and a wider range of qualifications from other institutions. The internationalisation of education and the recruitment of significant numbers of international students have increased the scrutiny of the university product as governments and society require universities to demonstrate the relevance, quality and integrity of their programs.

In addition, there have been greater demands placed on the universities in terms of finances, academic accountability and social responsibility. Federal funding support has been reduced in real terms for many activities including staff salary rises. This has led to a need for universities to find other sources of income and in the process to become more business oriented. Federal quality audits, professional accreditations and external evaluations of a university's performance in a competitive environment has given rise to a climate where teaching roles are under scrutiny and an increased emphasis has been placed on quality teaching. …

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