PhD employment data 'need to be richer'

PhD holders may not be securing a job as easily as some governments believe

January 3, 2015

This is the conclusion of a research paper that looks at the issues surrounding doctoral graduates in the European knowledge economy.

The author, Heidi Skovgaard Pedersen, a PhD student in the department of political science and government at Aarhus University, says that more national-level data are needed to understand how PhD holders get on in the labour market if policies to increase their numbers are to be successful.

Over the past decade many European economies have invested in research and development in an effort to grow and prosper. By virtue of this, whether the outcome of explicit policies or not, the number PhD holders has also increased in many countries.

The paper, published in the December issue of the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, looks at what is at stake for economies that are increasing the number of PhDs to fill expected roles in the science, technology and innovation sectors. The study mainly draws on the European Commission’s Careers of Doctorate Holders surveys on PhD labour market outcomes.

Ms Pedersen writes: “Several policies have been implemented to promote the production of PhDs and support their labour market outcomes. However, the latter has received relatively little attention empirically.

“In general, governments have believed that PhD holders are easily absorbed into employment, which may not be the case,” she adds in the paper, “New doctoral graduates in the knowledge economy: trends and key issues”.

More data are needed to find out the demand for doctorate holders and what factors help shape their career choices, she explains.

“Given the lack of evidence on demand, prioritisation for increasing the number of PhD graduates may not be in line with the perceived demand,” she says.

“There is a need to increase knowledge within the area to understand mobilisation patterns, to ensure continued attractiveness of doctoral education in the longer run and provide a research strategy to assist policymakers in their decision-making,” she concludes.

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