Tailored training sought

June 11, 1999

Swedish body calls for a broader training of researchers to meet the needs of graduate students and business. Michael de Laine reports.

The Association of Swedish Higher Education (SUHF), which represents Sweden's 39 universities and other higher education institutions, is recommending that researcher training be improved to meet better the needs of graduate students and the business sector.

The SUHF says that researcher training should be made more comprehensive, with more emphasis on work in groups and across disciplines, project management and information technology. There should also be more freedom of choice in meeting individual objectives. Research schools should be used to broaden graduate students' experience.

Nominal study times for a doctor's degree should be 12 to 18 months; graduate students should not have unreasonable teaching and other duties; and study times must be lengthened to reflect such duties.

The association adds that there is a dire need for substantially more resources for postdoctoral, non-tenured positions so the many PhDs who want to continue their research after their thesis can do so.

The SUHF's recommendations are based on an in-depth survey of 10,000 people - researchers under training, licentiates and PhDs (nominally six and eight years of study, respectively) and employers - to determine which changes are needed to tailor researcher training programmes better to the needs of society outside the universities.

While the SUHF survey did not substantiate Swedish industry's criticism of new PhDs and licentiates for being too old and too few, employers and researchers agreed that the training programmes did not prepare graduate students adequately for careers outside academia.

To cater for this, the association recommends that universities, the business community, academic unions and public authorities should collaborate to provide better career information aimed at researchers in training and their academic advisers.

In addition, the proportion of students taking part in projects run jointly with non-academic employers, without the universities waiving their overall responsibility for the education, should be increased. Further, the rest of society should be better informed about graduate education.

Many licentiates and doctors believe that they are over-qualified for their work and are dissatisfied with their status and salaries; at the same time, many employers do not distinguish between different academic degrees when they hire or promote licentiates and doctors or decide salaries.

The survey, which is thought to be unique in Europe in its scope, also led the SUHF to conclude that advisers should also have a formal training, possibly paired with the test for assistant professors. More than one-third of the graduate students surveyed complained about insufficient thesis advice, which was a major factor in prolonged study times.

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