Professionals eager to join the doctorate ranks

September 17, 1999

Professional doctorates have mushroomed since they started seven years ago, a nationwide survey of universities has revealed.

Researchers from Brighton University found that between 1998 and 1999 alone the number of professional doctorates leaped by 16 per cent to a total of 128 on offer across England. Now three-quarters of old universities and a third of new ones give the awards.

Professional doctorates are distinguished from traditional PhDs because they are taken not by academics but by practising professionals who want to develop their careers through applied research.

Stuart Laing, research leader, said the lifelong learning culture meant professionals were keener to continue their studies.

But the new awards were also a response to government concern that the traditional PhD does not address the needs of careers outside academia. Professional doctorates are more practical and usually involve a taught element as well as original research.

The doctorates cover a narrow range of subjects, typically education, psychology, medicine, business administration and engineering. Awards are being developed in social work and pharmacy.

The research team, which announced its findings at the Bera conference in Brighton last week, said the upsurge raises questions about the distinction between taught courses and supervised research, reinforced by university funding mechanisms.

"Evaluating the success of professional doctorates will not be so much a matter of the demonstrated addition to basic scientific knowledge or humanities scholarship as the transformation of individual professional practice," the team said.

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