This week Georg Winckler, President of the the European Universities Association (EUA), launched what is billed as the first organization of its kind across Europe – the Council for Doctoral Education (EUA-CDE) committed to the development of Europe’s doctoral degrees.
According to Winckler, the purpose of the EUA-CDE is to develop greater levels of cooperation and exchange of good practice between the various universities of Europe in delivering doctoral degrees. A doctoral degree, it seems, is the sine qua non qualification for participating in, and delivering on, a more competitive European knowledge-based economy.
In 2007 the EUA tabled its report Doctoral Programmes in Europe’s Universities: Achievements and Challenges directed at the European Ministers and universities. In it the EUA showed that across Europe there had been a rapid expansion in the numbers of doctoral graduates along with a mushrooming of different kinds of doctoral programmes.
Similarly, the EUA Trends V Report (2007) reported that 30% of European higher education institutions surveyed said that they had some kind of doctoral, graduate or research school. This difference, however, as the table below illustrates, is of concern to the EUA who believe that such variation is symptomatic of chaos rather than ‘requisite variety’.
Reviewing and restructuring Europe’s doctoral programmes then– the 3rd cycle of the Bologna Process– is seen as crucial in the construction of the European Research Area. The mandate for the EUA-CDE is to bring doctoral programmes into line with each other by introducing more structured doctoral programmes, developing transferable skills, and ensuring quality.
While the Bologna Reform of the 1st and 2nd cycle of degrees (Bachelors and Masters respectively) has been a remarkable success, it remains to be seen whether the various Member States of Europe will cede some of their autonomy in order to bring the 3rd cycle – doctoral programmes – into line. It is also not clear whether structural conformity will generate the much sought after excellence and innovation for the economy rather than simply uniformity and possible mediocrity amongst doctoral programmes per se. After all, having a competitive edge means offering something new and different.
The problem for higher education institutions is that they are tied to the economy in two ways: on the one hand as engines for the new economy, and on the other as academic capitalists looking for new opportunities to generate funds to augment institutional finances.
Institutions need to be both different and similar at the same time – a paradox if ever there was one in the global higher education market.