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The biomedical doctorate in the contemporary university: education or training and why it matters

Abstract

The form and function(s) of doctoral education continue to be a subject of much debate by stakeholders internal and external to the university. Notable concerns driving this debate derive from a seemingly discursive array of factors including increasing student numbers, increased understanding of the economic value of doctoral graduates, capitalisation of the academic market and a focus on allocating funding using ostensibly narrow, arbitrary measures of ‘program success’ such as completion rates/time to completion, all framed by a wider debate regarding precisely what constitutes valid knowledge in contemporary society. Within the university, the biomedical sciences are one area of scholarship undergoing rapid change in this respect. One of the salient outcomes of these internal and external dialogues is the apparent transition of biomedical doctoral education towards a ‘training model’ that places increasing emphasis on rapid completion and the generation of ‘industry ready graduates’; a transition that is, potentially, occurring at the expense of the edifying and transformative aspects of biomedical doctoral education. Focusing on the effects of academic capitalisation, this paper draws on data from Australia and Europe to examine the drivers and potential effect(s) of this shift on contemporary doctoral education in the biomedical sciences. This paper acknowledges the potential benefit of contemporary developments whilst simultaneously concluding that by progressing too far towards a quantitatively assessed, industry-driven training model we risk eliminating the intellectual and societal transforming aspects of biomedical doctoral education that make graduates increasingly valuable to our economy and, just as importantly, to our society as a whole.

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Acknowledgments

MWK wishes to acknowledge the support of the Women and Infant Research Foundation (Western Australia). The authors wish to thank C. Trevitt for stimulating discussions in the course of editing this paper.

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Correspondence to Matthew W. Kemp.

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Kemp, M.W., Newnham, J.P. & Chapman, E. The biomedical doctorate in the contemporary university: education or training and why it matters. High Educ 63, 631–644 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-011-9464-5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-011-9464-5

Keywords

  • Education
  • Learning
  • Training doctoral
  • PhD