Coursework in Australian
PhD programs: Why is this a
boundary and how is it being
• Background to Australian PhD
• Recent developments in Australian
• Study undertaken to identify curriculum
issues and candidate views
• Possible future, once we cross the
Background to Australian PhD• Australian PhD (late 1940s)
• Entry through Honours program based on
the Scottish model
• Mid 1980s – 90s fundamental reform
leading to the unified system
• Changes included introduction of
Potential Boundaries• Traditionally:
– Single supervisor/apprentice model
– Honours designed to provide a sound
research preparation, however, an undergraduate award
• With new developments, candidates, their
Increases in . . .
– Median age across all disciplines is 33
(Chemistry 22 Education 45)
– Part-time for domestic candidates close to 50%
• Entry qualification
– Increase in entry through coursework masters with
decrease in Honours
• Australian Qualifications Framework
(AQF) introduced in 1995, revised 2011 • Tertiary Education Quality and Standards
The Doctoral Degree (Research) qualification (leading to the award of a Doctor of
Philosophy) is designed so that graduates will have undertaken a program of
independent supervised study that produces significant and original research outcomes culminating in a thesis, dissertation, exegesis or equivalent for independent examination by
a least two external expert examiners of international standing
Research in the program of learning will be for a least two years and typically two-thirds
or more of the qualification. The program of
structured learning typically will include
advanced coursework. The program of
learning may also include advanced
coursework to enhance the student’s capacity
to make a significant contribution to knowledge in the discipline (or
and/or research-integrated practice
developed in collaboration with a relevant professional, statutory or regulatory body.
The advanced coursework may support but
not replace the research outcomes. The
advanced coursework and
research-integrated practice will support the research outcomes.
• Involved six different types of Australian
– Interviews with Deans of Graduate Studies
– Extensive workshops and focus groups in two
– Survey of candidates in five institutions
Workshops and focus groups
• “Boundaries” re different perceptions of
– Lectures, exams and all candidates treated
• “Boundaries” between types of coursework
– Enabling e.g. research processes
– Enriching e.g. advanced discipline knowledge
• Need to focus on individual, disciplinary
and institutional variation:
– Needs analysis
– Learning plans
• Involvement of supervisory team in some
• Most respondents in PhD (not Prof Doc)
• Prior to enrolment:
– Over 50% of respondents had been employed
full time and of all respondents (working full-time or part-full-time) approx. 50% in Education
• >50% respondents reported coursework
should be part of the PhD with over 40% suggesting it should be in the first year
Main areas where PhD has helped
• Independent research skills
• Thinking critically
• Analysing data
• Knowledge and skills in field
• Designing research
• Making sense of evidence
• Solving problems
Areas where PhD has been of least help
• Project management
• Working as a member of a team
• Making a contribution to the profession
• Grant writing skills
• Teaching skills
Preparation for employment
• 55% reported needing help relating
doctoral research experiences to employer needs (see Kyvik and Olsen 2012)
• 61% younger (20-30 years), and 33% of
older (31-50 years) reported needing
additional information about the job market
• 45% needed assistance with developing
Possible future, once we cross the
• A general agreement is that it would be
– A set of learning outcomes be developed (to a
large extent discipline specific within an overall university approach)
– For each candidate develop an individualised
learning plan early in candidature to be revised after the Proposal Seminar and annually at the Progress Review
Support for this project has been provided by the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching.
• ACOLA. (2012). Career support for researchers: Understanding
needs and developing a best practice approach: Australian Council
of Learned Academies.
• Cumming, J., & Kiley, M. (2009 ). Research Graduate Skills Project.
Canberra: Australian National University.
• Edwards, D., Bexley, E., & Richardson, S. (2011). Regenerating the
academic workforce: The careers, intentions and motivations of higher degree research students in Australia, Findings of the
National Research Student Survey (NRSS). Melbourne, Australia:
ACER and CSHE for DEEWR.
• Edwards, D., Radloff, A., & Coates, H. (2009). Supply, demand and
• Group of Eight. (2013). The changing PhD: Discussion paper.
Canberra: Group of Eight.
• Humphrey, R., Marshall, N., & Leonardo, L. (2012). The impact of
research training and research codes of practice on submission of doctoral degrees: An exploratory case study. Higher Education
Quarterly, 66(1), 47-64.
• Larkins, F. (2012 ). Australian Higher Education Policy Analysis:
Gender, citizenship and discipline in Australian Higher Education
Research Training. Melbourne L: L.H.Martin.
• Pearson, M., Cumming, J., Evans, T., Macauley, P., & Ryland, K.
(2011). How shall we know them? Capturing the diversity of
differences in Australian doctoral candidates and their experiences.