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US Council of Graduate Schools and European University Association Joining Forces: a Transatlantic Dialogue on Doctoral Education

bridges vol. 13, April 2007 / Feature Article
by Daniel Denecke

The Office of Science & Technology is publishing with CGS permission the following summary of a September 2006 conference that was co-sponsored by CGS and EUA. This summary of the discussions and findings during the three-day summit in Salzburg was published in the October 2006 CGS Communicator. It was written by Daniel Denecke, of the Council of Graduate Schools and coauthor of the CGS publication Ph.D. Completion and Attrition (2004).

Last September, a three-day conference sponsored by the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) and the European University Association (EUA), engaged the boards of directors from both organizations - representing 19 countries - in a transatlantic dialogue about the role of doctoral education in two areas: the production of global talent and national research capacity, and strengthening economic competitiveness.

Over 40 graduate education leaders from North America and Europe convened at the Schloss Leopoldskron in Salzburg, Austria, to discuss doctoral education in a global context. Participants discussed the latest findings by some of the world's leading researchers on graduate education, presented in papers commissioned for the conference; exchanged ideas about best practices in the administration of doctoral programs; and engaged each other in an international dialogue about the political, social, and economic forces shaping doctoral education.

The following is a summary of the discussions and findings during the three-day summit in Salzburg by Daniel Denecke, director of "best practices" at the Council of Graduate Schools and coauthor of the CGS publication Ph.D. Completion and Attrition (2004).

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick - all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest} Doctoral education has moved to center stage as key to responding to the challenges of the knowledge society in North America and Europe. Future success of the doctoral enterprise in the US and Canada and in Europe will depend upon greater information exchange and international cooperation. CGS Board Chair Richard Wheeler, dean of the Graduate College, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said that sharp declines in international student applications, changes in US immigration policies, and changing perceptions about the US have "compelled us to think harder about what we mean when we talk about globalization or about the global context of higher education. This conversation is still in its early stages. We hope this conference will help move it forward."

Georg Winckler, EUA president and rector of the University of Vienna, said that doctoral education is now a "global growth business," and expressed his hope that this information exchange would be the beginning of a sustained transatlantic conversation. Participants exchanged information about priorities held in common such as: providing adequate financing crucial to student success, better preparing students for careers inside and outside academia, emphasizing teamwork, and enhancing the "generic skills" of Ph.D. students to ensure their success in all aspects of their future careers as researchers and scholars. Discussion focused on the structures of successful doctoral education systems and strategies for an inclusive graduate community in different regional and national contexts.

One of the goals for the meeting was to create an international forum for sharing information about decade-long reform initiatives that have changed the face of doctoral education on both sides of the Atlantic. In the United States and Canada, doctoral reform initiatives since the early 1990s (such as the CGS-sponsored Preparing Future Faculty Program and the Ph.D. Completion Project) have focused on preparing doctoral students to better balance their research and teaching responsibilities as future faculty members; encouraging students to actively participate as leaders and public intellectuals in the civic arena; and helping universities to ensure that greater numbers of students who enroll in doctoral programs complete those programs (especially underrepresented minorities, who have historically completed at lower rates than majority students). Until now, there has been no specific opportunity among international graduate education leaders to exchange information about the progress of these reforms or to ascertain their national, regional, and global implications.

Since the Bologna Declaration in 1999, when 29 countries resolved to create a European Higher Education Area by the year 2010, European universities have been engaged in the so-called "Bologna Process," a major reform initiative now involving 45 countries, and designed to increase mobility within Europe and to enhance the economic competitiveness of the Region (Click here to read the bridges article on the Bologna Process by Barbara Weitgruber).

Now that the structures for bachelor's and master's degrees are in place, Europe is turning its attention to doctoral education. CGS has been working with the EUA, the representative organization of universities and national rectors' conferences in 45 European countries, to inform North Americans about higher education reforms in Europe through CGS annual meetings and other conferences in the US and Canada focused on international issues. Such dissemination is part of the EUA's mission to promote the development of a coherent system of education and research at the European level, and part of the shared mission of CGS and of the EUA to strengthen institutional governance and leadership through projects and member services.

The first part of the conference focused on three global drivers of change in doctoral education:

1) the increasing attention (among legislators and business leaders) devoted to matters of economic competitiveness;
2) the demographic trends occurring in the United States (where minorities will soon comprise the majority population) and in Europe (where policies are seeking to promote more intra-European international mobility); and
3) the social and political aspirations of nations and regions.

1) Competitiveness

Given the increasing emphasis worldwide on the scope and success of doctoral education as a key indicator of a nation's ability to thrive in today's knowledge economy, universities are adopting a more strategic approach to attracting the best candidates in a highly competitive international education market. Participants at the conference discussed the growing investment in research and the changing nature of that investment as the Bologna Process unfolds and as universities forge new partnerships with business and industry and respond to calls from government to better anticipate and meet new workforce needs. In Europe, there is a broader push toward higher expenditures of GDP in tertiary education. At the university level, however, there are national differences in the relative earnings advantages that graduate degrees afford that may, for example, limit the capacity of some countries to raise tuition and fees. And as the costs of research escalate, some countries will find it more difficult than others to remain competitive. One of the "growing pains" of the Bologna Process entails balancing broader European socio-economic priorities with these national differences.

2) Demographics

Kenneth Prewitt, Carnegie Professor of Public Affairs, School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, discussed the importance of demography in US graduate education, and specifically "how eligibility for advanced education turns on who belongs to what group as well as who has the requisite ability." In the United States, Dr. Prewitt argued, social justice came to be added to the university's "traditional mission of scholarship, teaching, and public service" as part of the civil rights movement, when diversifying the graduate student population meant including formerly excluded parts of the nation's population, and hence implied statistical proportionality. The definition of "diversity" has since expanded, however, partly as a result of political and legal pressures, to include a wider range of differences and has thus acquired a "rationale independent of its origins" in compensating for earlier discrimination. This expanded definition made diversity much harder, if not impossible, to measure; it has also complicated the social justice mission of the university and raises important new questions for US doctoral education in the twenty-first century. By contrast, Europeans tend to use the term "diversity" to refer to differences of nationality in a broader European framework. The demographic composition of European nations is changing, due to "replacement migration" (sometimes encouraged because populations are not reproducing at rates high enough to replace their aging population), or due to the alluring opportunities that these nations may pose to prospective immigrants. Because of this, European universities, Dr. Prewitt suggested, will likely experience pressures to diversify the doctorate in new ways that expand their social justice mission as they currently perceive it.

3) Social and Political Context

An important distinction emerged between social rates of return and private rates of return on the investment in doctoral education. Dr. Winckler stated that 50 percent of all Ph.D.s in Europe work in government or in the public domain. While valuing this public role for the doctoral degree, he explained, the European Union (EU) is now seeking to promote more inter-sectorial mobility between Ph.D.s in the public and private sectors. Because the EU has broad responsibility for European research but little responsibility for higher education, progress on competitiveness and social agendas in many European countries requires that new kinds of relationships be forged between government and industry.

Peter Scott, rector and vice chancellor of Kingston University (UK) and president of the Academic Cooperation Association, discussed some of the tensions that emerged for doctoral education when these three themes (competitiveness, demographics, and socio-political context) intersected in the new global knowledge society. Examples of such tensions included perceptions of the doctoral degree as a first step in a research career vs. as an ultimate academic degree (and the related tension between perceptions of doctoral students as employees vs. as trainees); and the "external" view of doctoral education in the international war for global talent vs. the "internal" view of doctoral education as a strategy for cultivating domestic talent on the heels of rapid "massification" across Europe at the undergraduate level.

During the second part of the conference, speakers provided a comparative perspective on reforms and changes in doctoral education in Europe and North America. Presentations focused on the increased provision of "generic skills" training in doctoral programs related to employability; the establishment and structure of research groups, clusters and networks; the structure and nature of the doctoral degree (and international differences therein); and doctoral student supervision, mentoring, and assessment.

Michael Nettles, executive director for the Center for Policy Evaluation and Research at the Educational Testing Service presented a paper commissioned for the conference based on a study of 21 universities that resulted in "Three Magic Letters: Getting to Ph.D." (2006), coauthored with Catharine Millett.

Dr. Nettles discussed indicators of doctoral student success by demographic group and field in four major categories of doctoral student experience:

· Application and enrollment
· Socialization
· Research productivity
· Satisfaction.

In addition to highlighting the study's findings that students' experiences of success indicators differ by income and by race/ethnicity, the paper addressed how the findings on factors that inhibit and those that contribute to doctoral student success may imply action recommendations for policy alterations at doctoral institutions. Three US deans followed with presentations that provided examples of ways in which universities have been addressing these issues through doctoral reform initiatives.

Lewis Siegel, former chair of the CGS board and former vice provost and dean of the Graduate School at Duke University, and Jon Butler, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Yale University, both discussed Ph.D. completion and attrition and their universities' involvement with the Ph.D. Completion Project. Dr. Siegel focused on the use of completion and attrition data to enhance the quality of doctoral programs across the university. Dr. Butler discussed an extensive array of programmatic resources and forms of support that contributed to successful student completion of the Ph.D. at Yale University. Each highlighted Ph.D. Completion project activities as an example to make the case for a strong graduate school. The structure of graduate schools with general or exclusive responsibility for doctoral programs is becoming more widespread across Europe.

One of the organizing themes of the conference was the role of competition and cooperation in shaping doctoral education in the global context. Many of the presentations addressed, either explicitly or implicitly, these questions: What is needed in order for the US and for countries and regions around the world to attract and retain the world's top talent in the twenty-first century? How much will depend upon each country's follow-through on national competitiveness strategies, and how much upon the success of strong international collaborations? A third theme that emerged from the meeting was the growing need for stronger articulation of doctoral education as a public good. This was necessary from the perspective of public accountability and responsible stewardship of public investment. But it was also appropriate, given the fact that doctoral programs are currently concentrated in the most highly developed countries in the world, that the dialogue about articulating doctoral education as a public good include a broader array of global partners from developing countries in all parts of the world. In this context, the worldwide expansion and enhancement of the scope of doctoral education might include both indirect benefits (to the economy of nations and developing regions, and thus to their social and political stability) and direct benefits (for example, in addressing, through innovative research, the most pressing global issues such as poverty, disease, and conflict.)

Next Steps

All participants agreed that further discussion is needed, particularly to adress three common concerns:

· The articulation of master's and doctoral education
· The definition, purpose, and structure of Ph.D.s as well as professional doctorates
· The broadening of international dialogue on graduate education to the global arena.

This initial conference in Salzburg with the boards of directors of both CGS and EUA was the beginning of what will hopefully turn out to be a long-term global dialogue about graduate education. With the increasing flow of talent across international borders and the growth of international research collaborations, such international exchange of best practices will be increasingly important for our mutual and future success.


The author, Daniel Denecke is Director of Best Practices at the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS).


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