Gamble on PhD double or quits

March 16, 2001

Cambridge University is to offer "two-for-the-price-of-one" doctorates in partnership with overseas universities, writes Phil Baty.

The board of graduate studies has approved a plan in which Cambridge doctoral candidates can submit one thesis to obtain PhDs from Cambridge and from a "comparable" overseas university from the same body of work.

In a letter to faculty degree committee chairmen, the board secretary explained: "The candidate undertakes a course of research under co-supervision in the two institutions and submits a single thesis, which is examined separately by the two institutions for their respective doctoral degrees."

Concerned dons plan to petition for a senate house discussion on how the move will affect the university's reputation.

Gill Evans, Cambridge historian and policy chief at the Campaign for Academic Freedom and Academic Standards, has separately lodged a complaint that the move is unconstitutional under the university statutes.

A degree committee secretary who did not wish to be named said: "This really is a two-for-the-price-of-one PhD. Would the impression be given that two theses had been written?" The letter from board of graduate studies committee secretary Laurie Friday says: "The board recognises that for some graduate students whose field of study or whose professional interests are firmly rooted in two countries, the experience of working in two universities and the attainment of degrees under both systems would be a significant advantage.

"The board welcomes this opportunity to strengthen the university's academic links with other institutions and broaden the education experiences of its graduate students."

The letter says the scheme will meet rigorous quality criteria. The student will have two supervisors, one in each institution, and will have to spend at least 30 per cent of the three-year course in each institution. The PhD thesis will be examined twice according to the two institutions' own examination procedures, and Cambridge will examine the thesis first. The thesis will go to the partner institution for examination only if approved at Cambridge.

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