Robert Gordon University is heading a project to develop a national strategy for "e-theses". Susan Copeland, RGU's senior librarian and project manager, said: "We are interested in how this could change the whole nature of what a PhD thesis is."
Theses are generally sequential and paper-based, Dr Copeland said, but an e-thesis could include hyperlinks to other information or video clips that could open opportunities in disciplines such as the performing arts.
The RGU-led consortium, which includes London, Cranfield and Aberdeen universities and the British Library, has won some £80,000 under the Joint Information Systems Committee's Fair (Focus on Access to Institutional Resources) programme.
It will investigate international research on e-theses and liaise with Jisc on complementary work at Edinburgh and Glasgow universities to produce proposals for the UK.
The team is likely to come up with a number of options by next summer, to be debated by the sector over the following year. Abstracts of theses accepted between 1970 and 2001 are already available through the Index to Theses, with the British Library offering access to more than 160,000 full texts. But e-theses would be accessible to researchers 24 hours a day, and to a number of researchers simultaneously.
Research from the US suggests that when theses are available electronically, key titles are consulted more often, potentially boosting research and increasing publicity for the author. Dr Copeland said issues to be tackled included the need for student training and access to equipment that would let them fully exploit the opportunities.
Security and archiving are also key concerns.
Any higher education staff involved in producing or considering producing e-theses or dissertations can contact Dr Copeland at: firstname.lastname@example.org .