Social Sciences Ups the PhD Pace as Candidates Feel Heat to Complete

The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE, March 5, 2015 | Go to article overview

Social Sciences Ups the PhD Pace as Candidates Feel Heat to Complete


REF data show big jumps in number of doctoral degree awards in some subjects. Holly Else reports

Growth in the number of PhDs awarded in some academic disciplines has far outstripped that in others, evidence submitted to the research excellence framework shows.

The percentage increase in doctoral degrees awarded in the social sciences during the REF period was 35 per cent, compared with just 18 per cent in medical and life sciences, for example.

The push to improve completion rates in disciplines that traditionally take longer to submit PhDs could be one factor behind the trend, according to a dean of arts and social sciences.

Universities had to give information about the number of PhDs they had awarded in each discipline as part of their submission to the environment section of the REF, which accounted for 15 per cent of their total score.

Details about the number of PhDs awarded by main panel, which are listed in a series of panel overview reports published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, track the percentage increase in doctoral awards from 2008-09 to 2012-13.

The biggest percentage jump in awards over the assessment period was in the social sciences, up 35 per cent, followed by the arts and humanities (31 per cent). The smallest percentage increase, 18 per cent, was in medical and life sciences, while the physical sciences recorded a rise of 24 per cent.

Even though social sciences and arts and humanities outpaced other fields, the absolute number of awards in 2012-13 was still higher in the medical, life and physical sciences.

Katie Normington, dean of arts and social sciences at Royal Holloway, University of London, suggested that there could be a number of factors behind the rises in the social sciences and the arts and humanities. …

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