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Building on success? Future challenges for doctoral education globally

Lynn McAlpine (Department of Education, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK and McGill University, Montreal, Canada)

Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education

ISSN: 2398-4686

Article publication date: 13 November 2017



In the past 20 years, doctoral programmes have become the focus of policy initiatives. This has led to considerable changes in their structures and consequently student experience. In this essay, the author explores some of the changes by situating an examination of doctoral education-past, present, future-within the broader context of academic life, and the nature and role of research in developed economies. This analysis provides the context in which to draw out some implications for the future study of doctoral education.


The essay draws on a synthesis of the research on doctoral education, early career researcher trajectories, research structures and academic work environment.


The analysis suggests the following: doctoral education reform is being driven largely by policy concerns, rather than by evidence or disciplinary intention; and academic work environment is becoming less and less attractive due to increasing demands for productivity and accountability.


The author concludes with a call to action: unless we, as academics, take action on several fronts, we may find that the PhD becomes purely a policy instrument, and that in the long-term, life of an academic will no longer be attractive to PhD graduates.



McAlpine, L. (2017), "Building on success? Future challenges for doctoral education globally", Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education, Vol. 8 No. 2, pp. 66-77.



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