Sever the doctoral link

November 29, 2012

Regarding your coverage of the qualifications relevant for teaching in higher education ("Universal lesson to be learned" and "Proportion of academics with PhDs is 'low'", 1 November).

The claim now appears to be that a doctorate offers proof of research competence. I hope that I will not disillusion too many Times Higher Education readers when I say that close scrutiny of the theses of many current academic PhD award holders would show that a high proportion have little substantive research content.

Moreover, it is also clear that a surprisingly low proportion of award holders have been trained in research methods prior to or since their awards.

This state of affairs is a direct consequence of institutions' growing insistence that academics have PhDs prior to their appointment as higher education teachers.

This approach has led to universities granting doctorates to people who are obviously great teachers but have little or no aptitude or passion for research. Current PhD students can see this and want more of the same, so it can be very difficult to get them to take seriously either research training or the need for them to actually do research for their doctorates.

The link between academic appointment/promotion and the possession of PhDs needs to be severed. It is damaging the credibility of the doctorate as a research qualification while simultaneously diminishing the status of professional training qualifications for academic staff on vocational courses whose practitioner status should be the basis of their appointment and promotion - not whether they happen to have a PhD.

Paul Kiff, Director of PhD research skills training Graduate School, University of East London.

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