Exploring the nexus between research and doctoral education

Year: 2012

Author: Pearson, Margot, Evans ,Terry, Macauley, Peter

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This presentation considers the relationship between research and doctoral education in Australia. The growth of doctoral education since its inception post-WW2 broadly parallels the expansion of the university research endeavour, including developments in the ways research is organised and funded. There have been increases in both disciplinary specialisation and inter/multidisciplinary research, in collaborative and industry-based research in both science and technology areas and professional fields, and the use of new information and communication technologies.  Governmental funding schemes have spawned specially funded research centres within universities and across institutions, the latest of which in is the Industrial Transformation Research Program. This scheme supports industrial PhD students and researchers to gain 'hands-on', practical skills and experience.

The presentation draws on data gathered in an ARC-funded study of PhD program development in Australia carried out in 2006-2009 by the authors to illustrate the variety and complexity of arrangements in doctoral education.  The research included eight case-studies of PhD programs at four universities spanning a range of disciplines— foundational, inter/multidisciplinary, professional and emergent—that established doctoral programs at different times since 1948: Agriculture, Anthropology, Astronomy, Biomedical Sciences, Chemistry, Computing Science and Engineering, Finance, and Law.  The findings show that significant features of research education include doctoral programs distributed within and across a range of entities, sites and structures, both within and external to any one institution, regardless of where students are officially enrolled. For example, externally funded research centres may host students from more than one institution and provide local doctoral educational support.  Adjunct academics in external and government agencies may also host cross-institutional groups of doctoral candidates. The evidence shows a diverse array of locations and arrangements for doctoral research that cross university boundaries and structures for teaching and research.

Drawing on their study the authors discuss the tensions and issues raised by these developments for structures and practices in university research education.  These developments in research education are occurring in a university system that has been moving to more corporate models of governance and organization to manage the expansion of student enrolments and pressures for accountability, risk management and quality assurance.  It will be argued that critical examination is required of what is appropriate and workable to address these pressures for doctoral education that is about producing knowledge as well as highly skilled research workers.