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‘Reconstructing the Doctorate in former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe’
CEU Curriculum Resource Centre
4-5 NOVEMBER, 2004
Speaking on behalf of the Open Society Institute, William Newton-Smith introduced the
workshop by outlining the reasons for convening this event. It has never been Mr. Soros’s
intention to restrict his support for higher education in Eastern and Central Europe to the
creation of Central European University. He embarked on the idea of creating a network of
innovative institutions and thus was born the so-called Higher Education Support Programme
(HESP). This programme received financial resources roughly at the same level as CEU, so
that CEU would not take away human capital from the region. As a result, HESP grew from a
network of innovative institutions HESP into a much larger and more comprehensive
In those early days, HESP was largely concerned with the transfer and provision of
academic content. Thus Soros-professors were invited from the West to teach in the region,
while Eastern and Central European academics could travel for shorter periods of time to
Western European universities (initially in particular to Oxford and Cambridge) to be assisted
in the development of new courses. At a later stage, however, direct transfer was no longer
necessary and there was increasing demand for sustained faculty development as well. In
response to this demand, further funding was allocated to enable the extended stay of faculty
members at Western universities.
Nevertheless, it was clear that long-term progress would only be possible through
quality doctoral training in the region. Consequently, more and more universities from the
region requested HESP to help with the development of centers of excellence that provide
doctoral programmes. This in turn raised the question what form doctoral programmes should
take since, as is well known, there are considerable differences in the structure of different
doctoral programmes across Western Europe and North America. Our workshop is aimed at
answering this question. It is hoped that it can contribute to a better understanding of what an
ideal programme or – taking a more pluralistic outlook – what good doctoral training
programmes should look like. This discussion can also make it easier to decide which
programmes should be supported in the region and what are the crucial issues that future
policies should take into account.
Jerzy Axer, President of the Artes Liberales Academy, Warsaw University started his keynote
address (The full version of Jerzy Axer’s keynote can be downloaded here: by identifying the principal shortcomings of the
system of doctoral training as it exists today. Why is it, he asked, that so many of us feel a
terrible anxiety when looking at the direction PhD-education is taking in Central and Eastern
Europe? Only by taking stock of current difficulties can we hope to come up with solutions.
In this connection, Jerzy Axer called attention to two particular significant problems.
First, it is crucial to understand that the reasons why the doctorate in the humanities and
social sciences is to be reformulated in Central and Eastern Europe are quite complex. On the
one hand, they are to do with the general situation of the university today and the role of
education in postmodern society. However, local conditions – including political oppression,
financial shortages, inadequate legal framework, academic traditions – play an important part
as well. Second, it is also necessary to give some thought to how PhD-programmes can be
specifically aimed at renewing university faculties and improving the general level of
academic scholarship.
The present type of university functioning from the Atlantic to Moscow and further to
the east lacks structures that would enable professors and students of exceptional merit to
interact. Outstanding people, young and old alike, are scattered across an undifferentiated
educational landscape, without any means to assert their individuality through the pursuit of
quality. Until recently, it was the PhD that offered such a chance, Jerzy Axer argued. This is
because, at this level, the selection of master and student did play a certain role. Thanks to the
relatively small number of people wanting to obtain this title, direct relations were possible.
Today everything has changed. It is said that in a country as “backward” educationally
as Poland, 20,000 to 30,000 young people start PhD studies in the humanities every year with
about 5,000 dissertations defended. Most universities do not find it worthwhile to try to
improve the situation because of the high demand for such low-level doctorates.
This situation is only exacerbated by local difficulties and constraints. These stretch
from straightforward political repression to bureaucratic interference with the operation of
universities on a daily basis. However, even in the absence of political hostility, misconceived
reform measures in higher education can create further problems. Such is the case in Poland
where the negative effects of the universities’ newly-granted extensive autonomy is coupled
with the internal decentralisation of these institutions. This has made it more difficult to assess
the quality of knowledge production and hindered the emergence of favourable conditions for
effective research collaboration among universities.
However, in Jerzy Axer’s view the main reason for the declining standards of PhDstudies in the humanities is not the regional situation but a general crisis of the university.
State-run universities have gradually lowered their requirements. They have, in effect, made
teaching a routine chore and divorced it completely from scholarly research, thus reducing
teaching to an unpleasant servitude. At a time when the recommendations of the Bologna
Convention have initiated an anxious review of doctoral-level education in Europe, it seems
more urgent than ever to search for models that could serve as positive examples and to create
laboratories with a positive impact reaching far beyond their immediate environs.
The main issue at hand, Professor Axer emphasised in closing, is how to educate a
new generation of academics that will take over universities from leading scholars of today.
The concept of the “complete scholar” should be at the forefront of this debate. Recognising
the significance of this concept shows that one regards faculty development as an ongoing
activity aimed at a certain ideal, namely the ideal of scholarship determined to respond to the
needs of one’s own university as well as to the needs of society.
Yehuda Elkana, Rector and President of Central European University, began his contribution
by emphatically warning against giving any ground to anti-Americanism in the area of higher
education. Many of the shortcomings of the higher education system in Europe could be
remedied, he argued, by following America’s example. It would also be mistaken, however,
to ignore the regional differences in European higher education. Thus, for instance, while the
level of training in natural sciences (as well as in mathematics and partly in economics too)
has been traditionally high in Eastern Europe, there is a much greater disparity between
Eastern and Western Europe in the area of social sciences and humanities.
The principal challenge to be faced by all doctoral programmes, Yehuda Elkana
argued, is to adapt to ongoing fundamental changes in intellectual and social systems and the
labour market. The essential problem is that in the course of the normal span of a doctorate,
roughly five years nowadays, the skills required and the state of relevant knowledge may alter
radically rendering the research topic originally chosen as the subject of the doctorate
outdated by the time the student finishes. It is imperative, therefore, that doctoral programmes
train students to become more flexible and mobile. In particular, ample opportunity should be
provided for the continuous reassessment of changing academic contexts and professional
In response to these changes, we should also abolish all distinctions between pure
research, basic research, applied research, policy-related research, etc. The only significant
distinction is between high-level and low-level research.
Clearly, the gravest shortcomings of the European higher education system are to be
found in the social sciences and humanities. Here, structures are through and through
antiquated. Doctoral students in most places are not involved in the life of their departments:
there are no work-in-progress seminars, doctoral committees, nor are students asked to write a
prospectus of their thesis upon commencing their research work. Given the greater need for
cheap labour in what tend to be more cooperative research projects of the natural sciences,
graduate students enjoy closer contacts with the faculty in those areas. In addition, for
historical and cultural reasons, research communities in the natural sciences have always
sought consensus more intensively than in the social sciences and the humanities.
Another, not unrelated, issue concerns the tendency of some social scientists to take a
somewhat self-depreciating attitude when seeking financial or other support for their research
with the motto: “our research may be irrelevant, but at least it is cheap”. On Elkana’s view,
the exact opposite is true: social science research is not cheap, nor is it irrelevant, however.
This is clearly demonstrated in the fact that the bulk of research in putatively “irrelevant
areas” – such as anthropology, history, literature, etc. – was done in and financed by colonial
empires who, in coming in contact with previously unknown civilisations, desperately needed
more knowledge and information on how to deal with them. By the same token, the lack of
relevant expertise, which such “irrelevant areas” could have provided, has seriously hindered
current US operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In sum, the real difference between the natural sciences and social sciences/humanities
is not in the respective costs incurred. The true distinction concerns the value of mediocre
research. While even non-innovative research projects in the natural sciences and other
quantifiable areas may be put to good use and even find their ways into textbooks, this is not
the case with second-rate historical studies and other research work in the social
sciences/humanities that requires creativity and innovation.
It is often said that the European system of higher education is more egalitarian than
its American counterpart. In the views of many commentators, this is the chief reason why
European universities continue to lag behind. As Yehuda Elkana pointed out, however, this is
a misleading assessment. European universities are indeed egalitarian when it comes to the
constitution of their student bodies as there are very few European universities with rigorous
selection procedures. At the same time, rigid hierarchical structures still dominate faculty
recruitment and the organisation of departmental life, including the student-supervisor
relationship. Although it is also true that American universities have access to a somewhat
higher state funding (an average of 2.7% of the GDP as opposed to 1-1.5% in Europe), the
reluctance to democratise academia is the real reason for the relative backwardness of higher
education institutions in Europe.
In this connection, it is an interesting historical detail about the Soviet Union that
faculties, which were given preference on political and economic grounds, were organised in
the same egalitarian fashion as they are now in the United States. In these areas, critical
thinking was encouraged and promotions were made on a meritocratic basis. This stood in
sharp contrast with undemocratic structures elsewhere.
The current European situation is further exacerbated by the proliferation of mass
universities which were created in response to demographic pressure and the corresponding
shift of demand on labour markets. No matter how difficult it may be to bite the bullet, it is to
be recognised, Elkana insisted, that such mass universities will not be able to combine quality
research work with teaching large numbers of students. As a result, the Humboldtian ideal of
universities with both high-level research and teaching is to be reserved for a thoroughly
selected academic “elite” (that could account for about 5-10% of present-day mass
universities). In such an arrangement, all researchers would be required to teach, but not all
teachers would have to participate in high-profile research.
Contributors to the following discussion continued to focus on the issue of democratisation in
higher education. It was generally agreed that the survival of “feudal traditions” in academia
constitutes – especially in the East but in a different way also in Western Europe – one of the
biggest obstacles in the way of further progress. Professor Jozsef Laszlovszky argued that in
humanities and social sciences there is a tendency that leading professors use the “feudal
system” existing at universities to exploit low-paid doctoral students in their research projects.
However, by doing so they also create an opportunity for their students and research assistants
to gain practical and research experience in their fields. Mobility among higher education
institutions is severely restricted due to the fact that moving to another university is still often
perceived as the betrayal of one’s alma mater, Jozsef Laszlovszky concluded
Another important issue concerns the future of habilitation. Given the present coexistence of masters, doctorate and habilitation, there is a growing danger of “degree5
inflation,” Laszlovszky said. But, as Jerzy Axer noted, habilitation can only be abolished once
quality doctoral programmes have been instituted. Otherwise, a further lowering of general
standards in higher education threatens (the mushrooming of low-level higher education
institutions could at least be slowed down until now by fixing the required minimum of
“habilitated” faculty members at a university department).
Ugo Pagano called attention to potential drawbacks of the selective importing of only
some aspects of the American higher education system. There can be no doubt that, by and
large, American universities lead the field but it is also to be recognised that the American
system consists of many finely-attuned parts which cannot be easily separated from one
another. The effect of taking over certain bits may only therefore cause more harm than good.
Whereas exploitation of students’ labour is certainly to be condemned, collaboration in
projects and teaching activities headed by senior faculty provides crucial teaching and job
experience . As Sophie Howlett argued, there is a difference in the way graduate students are
being used at US and British universities. In the UK it emerged that students did not have
opportunities to gain teaching experience, and therefore could not get teaching jobs. Offering
them opportunities to teach, therefore, was a means of helping them to gain the experience
they needed for employment. However, Howlett argued, in the US students have been used as
a way of avoiding marking, avoiding running seminars.
Yevhen Bystrystky pointed out that the disintegration of scientific communities – both
in natural sciences and social sciences - has reached extreme levels in Ukraine and in other
former communist Eastern European countries. It is difficult to see how these communities
can be re-created from the very atomised academic world. This constitutes a severe problem
for the development of doctoral programmes as the quality of these is crucially dependent on
their embeddedness in well-functioning research networks. However, as Elkana noted in
response, the training of doctoral students is one of the most efficient means of building
intellectual communities. In other words, it would be wrongheaded to attempt to concentrate
reforms solely on the senior academic level hoping to proceed to lower levels at a later point.
Any change must take a comprehensive approach.
Juozas Vaitkus, whose background is in natural sciences, raised a question concerning
the criteria of assessment of “high-level” or “good” research in social sciences, as well as the
evaluation of doctoral programs. This is also a practical issue as usually only a few people are
put in charge of the development of such programmes at each higher education institution.
Elkana argued that there should be no difference in assessment criteria for humanities and
social sciences, on the one hand, and natural sciences, on the other. The quality of faculty
research can be best evaluated on the basis of the number of publications in peer-reviewed
international journals in all disciplines.
Chris Golde, Senior Scholar, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, outlined
the current situation of doctoral programmes in the United States as well as recent efforts
undertaken by the Carnegie Initiative to improve the overall quality of doctoral education (Dr.
here: ). Despite the widely-recognised
high standards of American higher education, it is important to keep in mind that the US has a
strongly differentiated university system with over 4000 colleges and universities, some of
which are public and some private, and almost all of which rely on mixed funding from both
private and public sources. Approximately 400 institutions award the doctorate. Involvement
of the federal government grew after World War II. In sciences and engineering, graduate
students are often funded through large departmental grants acquired by faculty members,
while the financing of graduate studies in the humanities/social sciences is more mixed
including teaching assistantships, loans and savings. In general, faculty hiring has been
subject to rather unpredictable boom-bust cycles.
There has been a steady increase in the number of doctorates, of which women claim a
growing share. Currently about 25% of doctorates go to non-US citizens, predominantly in the
natural sciences (this percentage may decrease in the aftermath of 9/11). Current figures show
40,000 doctoral recipients per year. Life sciences dominate while the rest is fairly evenly
distributed among other disciplines.
Masters programmes have been subject to much greater differences, their status and
structure varying according to the policies of departments and universities. The milestones of
every doctoral programme include an initial coursework period (2-4 years) and an exam,
prospectus writing, and individual supervision by a faculty member. Work on the dissertation
is typically a solitary affair in the humanities/social sciences, and time to degree is very long
(up to 7-9 years), while teamwork is more common in the natural sciences. Completion rates
average around 50% and are lowest in the humanities.
In light of a shrinking job market, especially inside academia, and the decreasing
amount of time allotted to face-to-face supervision, the current trend of PhD overproduction
poses a serious challenge. Another considerable difficulty is overspecialisation. Graduate
students have too little exposure to teaching and administrative experience. In addition, many
receive insufficient training to prepare them for teamwork and participation in departmental
life. However, it is often impossible to trace career trajectories once graduates enter the job
market and thus overall assessments are not always easy to make.
Janet Metcalfe, Director of the UK GRAD Programme, presented current changes and
challenges in United Kingdom’s higher education system (Dr. Metcalfe’s Powerpoint
presentation can be downloaded here: ). This system
comprises 166 higher education institutions, 118 of which are universities with the right to
award doctorates. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of doctoral students (31%
in the last five years) as well as in the share of international students (now representing 38%
of the total graduate student population). Five universities represent a quarter of all doctoral
students while another 100 universities represent another quarter.
In the early 1990s, the UK government became seriously worried about low
completion rates in doctoral programmes. A number of initiatives have been launched in
response. These include the following:
Research Careers Initiative: This initiative focuses on postdoctoral careers
recognising at last the fact that research is also a professional activity like any
other. Accordingly, postdoctoral students are now regarded as fully active
junior professionals and members of their respective faculties.
Joint Skills Statement: This project was aimed at an in-depth catalogisation of
the skills and competencies generic to doctoral students in all disciplines. The
list compiled specifies the criteria for assessing doctoral programmes in terms
of their contribution to the development of the general capabilities of doctoral
Code of Practice (re-issued 2004): this is a UK Higher Education endorsed
statement of good practice. It provides institutions with a set of precepts to
assure the academic quality and standards of their degree programs. The
revised version of the code is more student-focussed.
Roberts-report: This was a governmental report on higher education the
recommendations of which were buttressed by the allocation of additional
resources. It proposed to increase the length of graduate studies by an average
of six months, increase stipends and introduce generic skills training to
improve the employability of doctoral graduates.
The UK GRAD Programme with a network of regional Hubs based in
universities. This initiative was received very enthusiastically as it made it
possible for all those participating in doctoral programmes to share their
experience with each other in a more direct fashion.
The principal objective of these initiatives was to bring about a cultural change at British
universities. The aim is to achieve a balance between the requirement to produce an original
piece of research, i.e. the thesis, and to produce a trained researcher. It is also necessary to
raise awareness of the value of PhD-degrees for the national economy. This requires a more
intensive involvement on the part of national institutions, especially funding and research
In order to realise these objectives, a number of challenges will have to be met. First, it
is imperative that doctoral students are no longer seen as apprentices but rather as young
professionals launching their own careers. Second, resources will need to be increased to
provide a broader research training for all doctoral students. Third, there is an increasingly
diverse population of doctoral students; international, mature, part-time, and an increasing
diversity of doctoral programmes: Professional Doctorates, Integrated PhDs, Distance PhDs,
PhDs by Practice. Fourth, there are concerns about the supply of researchers to sustain the UK
academic environment as the numbers of UK domiciled PhD students has remained fairly
static and could fall if the impact of increasing undergraduate student debt reduces the
attractiveness of PhD study.
The French university landscape is also quite diverse. Yves Chevrier from the École Doctorale
at the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris explained that French
universities are public institutions, but there is a great number of specialised higher education
schools as well (especially in physical sciences and engineering). Similarly to other countries,
the French system of doctoral studies has undergone spectacular changes in the last 25 years.
The size of the doctoral student population has grown rapidly. There has been a gradual shift
away from the dialogic master-apprentice model and solo performances towards more
structured programmes.
This has been particularly true of the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales
(EHESS). This is a school with a low share of state-supported students, the time for
completing a PhD degree is more than required (6-7 years) and a high share (45%) of foreign
students. In reshaping doctoral programmes, the school has adopted policies that increase
doctoral students’ autonomy and academic independence while also seeking to involve them
in research seminars and research teams. A relatively good faculty-student ratio makes it
possible to allocate significant amounts of time to face-to-face supervision.
Graduate students are trained as future professionals. They are encouraged to organise
and participate in junior conferences and tutor younger students. The school also helps them
to take part in international workshops and scientific projects. For the same purpose, they
receive additional support to improve their knowledge of English.
EHESS has continued to pursue a policy of internationalisation. It has sought to
intensify its participation in cooperative academic endeavours and develop doctoral
programmes together with academic institutions from other countries. Most importantly,
however, it has entered the Bologna-process by also transforming the structure of doctoral
studies. The length of the doctoral programme is being reduced from four years to three,
which is to the say that the first year of the doctoral program and the fourth year of the predoctoral education have been combined into a newly introduced two-year masters
programme. It is hoped that the efficiency of doctoral training can be increased by placing the
doctoral students at the centre of the whole system.
Ugo Pagano, Head of CEU Department of Economics and Chair of Doctoral Studies and
Research in the Coimbra Group, offered a comparative account drawing on his experience of
both the Italian and the Anglo-American doctoral system.
Confirming the view of previous speakers, he identified the gradual disappearance of
master-apprentice model and the development of structured doctoral programmes (that can be
better evaluated) in its place as the most significant novelty in higher education. For instance,
at the University of Siena external reviewers were invited in order to enable a more
diversified and professional assessment of doctoral theses.
It is essential for successful doctoral programmes, Pagano emphasised, to have a
critical mass of both graduate students and faculty members in the relevant areas. Only this
can ensure “competition” among potential supervisors and safeguard against excessive
specialisation within departments. In addition, it seems a good idea to assign doctoral
supervisors only at a later stage so that students are in a position to make a sufficiently
informed choice. Further reforms could include more emphasis on the teaching of research
methodology and interdisciplinary exchanges. Pagano was arguing that multiple funders,
benefactors and evaluators would increase the quality of doctoral education in Europe, and
expressed his and the Coimbra Group’s concern with the Bologna process’ requirement to
have doctoral degrees completed in three years.
Thorsten Nybom representing the Department of Humanities at the University of Örebro,
Sweden, talked about what is in many ways a uniquely Scandinavian approach to doctoral
Paralleling the first wave of massification, the “Americanisation” of the Swedish
system of higher education began already in the 1960s. At this time, funding for social
sciences quadrupled with the establishment of the Bank of Sweden Foundation. Habilitation
was abolished as early as the 1970s. Simultaneously, the first graduate programmes were
launched, the distinction between teaching and research careers became more pronounced and
competitive salaries were introduced. In the 1980s, the office of the “Doktorvater” also ceased
to exist. Graduate students began to receive salaries, social benefits and were given their own
These changes partly explain why the number of doctoral students doubled in Sweden
during the 1970s and then once again during the 1990s. In order to curb further growth, a
four-year limit to the length of graduate studies was imposed. In addition, it was specified that
students could only participate in doctoral programmes provided that they could demonstrate
access to funding for the entire length of the four-year period. At the same time, foundations
withdrew from the financing of doctoral studies concentrating their efforts from then on
entirely on cutting-edge post-doctoral research. Doctoral programmes are now entirely funded
by the state.
Teodor Shanin, Rector of the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences, reported on
the massive challenges posed by the modernisation of the outdated Soviet-Russian system of
doctoral training (Kandidat). Having adopted and adjusted the nineteenth-century institutional
design of German higher education, this system (the largest in European tertiary higher
education) is based on 5 years of studies and then earning the “candidateship” (kandidat)
degree. It is generally recognised that the overall standard of this type of training is lower than
the level of PhD-programmes, as the kandidat work is much less challenging, much less
questioning, that the Western-type PhD research (so from this point of view its value is
comparable rather to a British masters degrees). Calls for reform were only partly satisfied by
grafting a BA/MA-system onto the previous system. The lack of harmonisation was
responsible for the ensuing chaotic situation that frequently creates problems for graduates
entering the job market, as the BA level of education is often not enough to get a serious job.
By abolishing the “specialist” education (usually 5 years of studies resulting in a specialist
diploma), the following major questions arise: how does the new MA degree relate to the
kandidat degree and to the western PhD and in which ways can the kandidat be improved?
Current ministry proposals, Shanin went on, foresee the transformation of masters
programmes into a preparatory stage for PhDs. This preparatory stage would focus mainly on
providing students with the necessary methodological skills required for independent
research. It is hoped that once the level of postgraduate degrees can be raised to the required
level, the standards of masters programmes can also be improved. All these changes – even
partial fulfilment of which would constitute significant progress – can help the Russian
system to converge on the Bologna-process.
Commentators and discussants provided a number of important additions and queries. Thus
Daniel Alexandrov (Vice-Rector for Research at European University at St. Petersburg)
remarked on the difficulties of assessing the Russian system of higher education as a whole.
While research in the social sciences and humanities is thoroughly fragmented, lacks a
national discourse, and has not been integrated into international networks, other disciplines,
such as mathematics for instance, even in Soviet times have been well organised at the
national level, and are competitive in the international arena.
There is still considerable resistance by those who rate the Russian system higher than
any other kind of doctoral training, both Alexandrov and Shanin argued. Students often find it
expedient to re-submit their western PhDs for the Russian kandidat as well. This is because
obtaining this degree on top of their PhD often makes it easier for them to find jobs in Russian
academia and elsewhere. Nevertheless, more and more are ready to respond to the appeal of
the Bologna process. Thus there are several locally initiated reforms under way changing the
face of Russian higher education. For instance, Professor Shanin explained how his own
Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences (MSSES) seeks to integrate the AngloAmerican and Russian systems.
Under the present arrangement, each student at MSSES has the opportunity to obtain a
PhD jointly offered by the Moscow School and the University of Essex in Colchester.
Students are registered at both universities. Doctoral committees are recruited from both
faculties and communicate on a regular basis either in person or electronically. Each Russian
student spends at least one year at the University of Essex and has two supervisors, one from
each university. The only restriction on the topic of the dissertation is that it has to address an
aspect of Russian society. Completion rates are close to 85%.
Rector Elkana was interested in knowing more about how the length of a doctoral
programme and its quality are related (if at all). The argument can often be heard, BillNewton Smith said, that there is no need to allot more than three years for the completion of
the doctoral thesis since thesis work is about selecting those eligible for an academic career
and not about producing a masterpiece. However, three years suffice even for this limited
objective only in cases where full funding is made available to doctoral students (Chevrier).
Others remarked that it is essential to display a considerable degree of flexibility with
regard to the time allotted for thesis work. Not infrequently, one’s research requires special
skills (e.g. foreign languages, practical expertise), access to resources, involvement in longterm research, etc. the acquiring and fulfilment of which is a time-consuming process
(Vaitkus, Chevrier). Even more importantly, however, the imposition of all too severe
deadlines could scare young people away from taking on big problems in their field of
specialisation. Several participants also noted that estimating the appropriate length of time
must take into account elements such as how much time young researchers are likely to spend
after their doctorates, in postdoctoral positions, before they receive permanent positions
(Golde). Also, the flexibility and efficiency of doctoral students’ previous training at the
masters level should be considered (Howlett, Pagano). Shanin noted that supervisors should
be given the power to give extra time to their PhD students for finishing their theses in
exceptional cases.
Janet Metcalfe said it is interesting in this connection that while most people seem to
advocate the reduction of the length of doctoral studies, there is talk now in the United
Kingdom to extend the period of study by an average of six months. In fact, it may be helpful
to think of Higher Education in terms of a seven year envelope to be allocated into BA, MA
and PhD according to personal needs and academic requirements. In any case, the
“invisibility” of the activity of many doctoral students, and of the whole process of PhD
studies and research, especially in the humanities, certainly contributes to the prolongation of
students’. Experience shows that invisibility can be reduced and completion rates improved
by introducing progress points at which students have to report on their work.
Following up on Janet Metcalfe’s earlier remarks, Sophie Howlett argued that the
emphasis on producing apt researchers rather than seminal theses may speak in favour of
reducing the length of PhDs. For her part, Chris Golde said many students want to protract the
time spent on their dissertations hoping thereby to render their work more marketable. Finally,
at least in some countries such as Russia, cutting time allotted for the dissertation could result
in even lower completion rates. (Elena Perekhvalskaya).
In opening this session, Yevhen Bystrytsky called attention to the productive ambiguity of its
title. It is important to clarify whether one is looking at the utility of doctoral studies for
individual students, for a given research community or for society at large.
Juozas Vaitkus, Pro-Rector for Research at Vilnius University, talked about current realities,
challenges and proposed changes in Lithuanian higher education. Lithuania is a small country
with only 3.5 million inhabitants, 15 higher education institutions only 2 of which are large
universities with independent research activities. As will be seen, this fact creates significant
problems for the reform of doctoral studies, even though the level of basic education is
relatively high.
Vilnius University has already begun to adjust doctoral education to international
standards both at faculty and student levels. Departments are to give evidence of the
international recognition of their scientific activities. Doctoral studies last four years, students
are expected to complete 20 credits of course work (which equals to approximately 400 hours
of classes in total) and to engage in continuous research during these years. They are asked to
hand in at least one progress report per year and to take part in departmental seminars.
Doctoral committees include both internal and external faculty members.
Meanwhile, the search for ways of improving the standard of doctoral studies has
begun. It is still a debated issue whether these improvements should encourage specialised, indepth work or rather a broader, and more interdisciplinary approach. Whatever the answer to
these questions, however, improving the international nature of its doctoral programmes is a
must given the small size of the Lithuanian academic community. Doctoral programmes
offered jointly with universities from other countries would be particularly beneficial. Finally,
low academic salaries should be raised so that professors would no longer be forced to take on
multiple academic positions that keep them from spending more time on supervision and
basic research.
Giedrius Viliunas, Head of Department of Lithuanian Literature at Vilnius University,
complemented the foregoing picture by reporting on his participation in the development of a
new national strategy for the development of humanities and social sciences in his function as
advisor to the Minister for Education and Science in Lithuania. He called attention to the fact
that the shortcomings of doctoral programmes have not so much to do with specific
regulations pertaining to graduate studies, but rather with general characteristics of academic
life in Lithuania. As already mentioned, the main difficulty is the lack of a critical mass of
students and faculty (for instance, on average only one student per year enrols for PhD in
Lithuanian literature at Vilnius University). This makes it almost impossible to organise
graduate courses and doctoral seminars. There are too few professors, many of whom do not
have international exposure so students are not exposed to the necessary width of academic
approaches. Institutions are underfunded, fragmented, resistant to change and tend to compete
rather than cooperate with one another. As a result, there are no interdisciplinary doctorates
on offer. To make things worse, administrative bodies put considerable pressure on university
departments not to accept students unless they can be guaranteed jobs upon finishing their
So, in short, cooperation – national, international and interdisciplinary – is the order of
the day. However, consistent governmental policies will also be necessary. In particular, two
important recommendations are being discussed: (i) creation of a National Council for Social
Sciences and Humanities, and (ii) establishment of an Institute for Advanced Studies.
Turning once again to the issues raised in the title of this session, Professor Viliunas
noted that only reforms of the kind mentioned above can ensure that doctoral training
responds more flexibly to social needs. In transitional countries, such as Lithuania, there is
still too little information and research available on social and economic processes. Better
doctoral training can importantly contribute to filling these gaps.
As Professor Ulrich Sedelmeier’s (Department of International Relations and European
Studies at CEU) presentation made it quite clear, specifically regional characteristics can
crucially impact on the structure and content of doctoral programmes as well. Thus for
instance international relations was not taught as a separate discipline in Eastern and Central
Europe (but rather as part of diplomatic studies, if at all) before the regime change. In the
absence of such traditions, the design of the IR doctoral programme at CEU had to start from
scratch in several respects. One important question, for example, was whether the programme
should give priority to the teaching of theory of international relations or rather take a more
applied, policy-oriented approach.
It was quickly realised, however, that the distinction between the theory and practice
of IR is somewhat overstated. First, even diplomats need to draw heavily on theoretical
resources nowadays. Second, theoretical training of scholars from the region is essential if
they want to become more than just data providers for theoretical debates and research
conducted elsewhere.
At the same time, few of the students selected arrive at CEU with the necessary
theoretical background in IR. As a result, the first year of the doctoral programme is devoted
entirely to coursework serving to introduce them to key theoretical debates. This year is
completed with the comprehensive exam which is followed by the submitting and defence of
the research prospectus and the selection of a supervisor.
In his commentary on the presentations, Professor Howard Robinson (Head of CEU’s
Philosophy Department) highlighted the difficulties involved in striking an adequate balance
between utilitarian aspects and creative intellectual impulses. The nature of these difficulties
differs from one subject to another, as there are higher expectations towards certain social
sciences (such as economics) in bringing about social and economic changes than is the case
of humanities, particularly philosophy. It is generally true, however, that doctoral programmes
should establish a helpful administrative framework without stifling motivation, innovation,
and intellectual adventures. Professor Robinson argued, enhancing intellectual life is to be
given priority over administrative prescriptions. This is particular important under the still
chaotic circumstances in transitional countries.
On the same note, Elkana warned against the dangers of a despondent “let’s wait and
see” attitude. A lot can be done in transitional countries as well as in Western Europe despite
the ubiquitous malaise of underfunding and oppressive administrative controls. There is
enough room even today to promote the creation of intellectual communities and centres of
excellence. It is imperative, however, not to restrict basic research and work in so-called
“useless disciplines” in the putative interest of job security (while of course students have to
be advised of the potential consequences of choosing a certain area of specialisation). This
applies to both the natural sciences and the humanities/social sciences, Elkana stressed.
József Laszlovszky (Head of Department of Medieval Studies at CEU) remarked on an
interesting contradiction in the matter of quality control. In academic circles, it is commonly
acknowledged that international cooperation is the key to academic excellence (a conclusion
amply corroborated by contributors to the present workshop as well). At the same time,
centralised control of the quality of doctoral programmes by bureaucratic means is by its very
nature not conducive to international cooperation. For example, the rigid specifications of
national legislation often severely reduce the international compatibility of doctoral
programmes and degrees. In addition, governmental incentives serving to ensure the presence
of a critical mass of students and scholars at every national institution also restricts the room
for cooperation both domestically and especially on the international stage. As a result, many
students who return home find themselves forced to re-submit their degrees to obtain a title
recognised in their own country as well.
Placing the problem of the overproduction of PhD degrees in social sciences and
humanities in a wider context, Dr Metcalfe suggested that doctoral training should not be seen
as merely a means to refresh the academic community but also as an important resource on
the supply side of the labour market.
This discussion led to the issue of the economic value of PhDs (Alexandrov). There is
plenty of evidence that the PhD is a much appreciated qualification in many areas of industry
and business (e.g. pharmaceutics, etc.) While it is true that salaries of degree holders are
seldom higher than of those who lack the same title, those belonging to the former group are
often found to rise faster through the ranks (Metcalfe). On the other hand, overqualification
can also constitute a problem on the job market outside the academic world (Howlett).
The reasons for the value of the doctorate are manifold. According to one
interpretation , people with graduate training can on average process larger amounts of data in
a shorter amount of time and are attributed better intellectual abilities (Vaitkus). These
characteristics often guarantee them jobs outside the academic world as well. The task now is
to dispel the mystery still surrounding the skills and abilities gained during doctoral studies
and raise awareness of the value of the PhD both among future employers and doctoral
students themselves (Metcalfe).
Part of the problem of assessing the economic value of doctoral programmes is that in
most countries it is exceedingly hard to keep track of where graduate students go after the
completion of their degrees (Golde, Chevrier). In United States it is estimated that 30-40% do
not work in academia, but it is not known where exactly graduate students find jobs (Golde).
Why reliable figures are difficult to obtain is clearly linked to the misguided view of the PhD
as a “war of attrition.” This perception rests on the lingering prejudice that any holder of a
PhD who leaves academia is but a failed scholar (Howlett). In fact, not infrequently non-
academics with doctorates are themselves reluctant to talk about their careers, as they feel
uneasy not to fulfil the academic expectations towards holders of PhD degrees (Shanin).
Gábor Tóka (Head of CEU’s Department of Political Science) launched this session by
describing the structure of the political science doctoral programme at CEU. For a better
understanding of the principal objectives and problems encountered here, it is important to
keep in mind that this is an American-style programme placed in a distinctly Eastern
European context. Thus the programme has been designed in a way that should encourage
students to return to their home countries or at least remain in the region after the completion
of their studies. Paradoxically, however, the more successful their training, i.e. the more they
become up-to-date, mobile, open-minded scholars, the less they are likely to be content with
the jobs available to them at home.
Nevertheless, the vast majority decides to stay in the region. They usually work not at
state universities, but rather in comparably more lucrative positions at private colleges or
NGOs. On average, there is a higher percentage of academics among CEU graduates than
among graduates of US universities.
The main features of the programme can be summed up as follows. Coursework
usually takes one year. The number of credit courses on offer per term is twice as high as
students must take. This means that students are granted a wide range of different ways to
fulfil their course requirements, and specialise in areas of their research interest. At the end of
the first year, students are expected to take a comprehensive exam. This is followed by the
submission of a research proposal. Students take between two to five years to complete their
doctoral theses. The inclusion of at least one external reader (preferably a distinguished
scholar of the area from abroad) is mandatory. The program admits 7-8 doctoral students
every year, and they all receive a full tuition waiver and a monthly living allowance. The
special attractions of the programme include a fully financed semester (or in many cases a full
academic year) abroad and substantial travel grants enabling students to participate at
international conferences and workshops. This has a highly positive impact on students’
motivation and on their self-perception as members of the international research community.
Completion rates have been steadily high.
Drawbacks have largely to do with the fact that CEU is a graduate school and in
addition a relatively small one. As a result, doctoral students have only very limited
opportunities to gain teaching experience, while training in advanced research methodologies
cannot be as extensive as at large Western universities. Improved cooperation with other
universities from the region and the pooling of resources (libraries, fieldwork, etc.) would
help to solve many of these problems.
Originally trained as a biologist, Daniel Alexandrov (Vice-Rector for Research at European
University, St. Petersburg) is now teaching sociology of science and education. His home
institution is a small graduate school focusing exclusively on social research at the doctoral
level. The school is funded by various foundations and programs on an annual basis. The
price of academic independence resulting from the university’s funding scheme is low job
Professor Alexandrov pointed to a generational change in students’ attitudes.
Nowadays, graduate students increasingly seek to become “free-floating intellectuals”
working for NGOs, private business, independent research or as journalists. Accordingly, they
expect their chosen doctoral programmes to prepare them for these occupations. This demand
collides to some extent with the excessive individualisation of faculty members (especially of
those who received their PhDs at British or American universities). Students are interested in
collaborative work as they see this as the best way of learning “how to do science”.
After this, Alexandrov went on to discuss more fundamental issues and contradictions
of academic life. One such contradiction is to be found between creativity and routine.
Figures indicate that less than 10% of researchers produce 90% of all citable scientific results.
Nevertheless, the remaining “uncited” 90% are also essential to ensure the survival of
academic communities and the handing down of theoretical knowledge.
Another contradiction, pointed out by Alexandrov, is that the collective practices of
academic communities remain under-researched to this very day. What we do know is that
there is considerable variation in such collective practices across different disciplines.
Mathematics is famous for being the most collaborative area where researchers share a strong
collective identity and there is close cooperation between faculty members and graduate
students. As for the rest, it is often said that in solitary sciences students are abandoned, while
in cooperative disciplines they are exploited. In the latter fields, the choice of students is quite
limited as funding is tied to their participation in large-scale scientific endeavours run by
senior faculty members.
It is worth considering why there can be such disparities across different disciplines in
the readiness to cooperate. “Economic reasons” immediately offer themselves, i.e. the
relatively low cost of learning each other’s theoretical idioms in mathematics, as opposed to
the high costs of doing the same in the social sciences. The laws of local job markets and the
internal logic of each discipline are also important factors.
Finally, Alexandrov commented upon the problems of size in the organisation of
academic departments. Large departments need to organise several departmental seminars
which may limit the intensity of interdisciplinary exchange. On the other hand, small
departments are often fraught with the excessive concentration of power in the hands of a few
distinguished scholars. In Russia, investigations have shown that the age structure of
department is seriously influenced by the large fluctuation among younger academics. While
the constant flow of people can undermine departmental continuity and tradition, it
precipitates the acceptance of new research ideas.
Professor József Laszlovszky is Head of the Medieval Studies Department at CEU. This
subject, he emphasised, is not as theoretical as it might seem at first sight. Much practical
work is carried out, for instance, in the management of cultural heritage worldwide. In
addition, Laszlovszky is currently President of the Hungarian Scholarship Board as well. He
was thus in a good position to provide an in-depth account of the main policies governing the
distribution of research funding.
He began by calling attention to the difficulties students of different disciplines have
to face if they intend to join high-level research centres. In many ways, the problems of
natural scientists are the very opposite of those encountered by social scientists. Fellowships
at research institutes are nowadays awarded on the basis of dissertation work, publications,
and finally, the applicants’ statement of purpose. In the natural sciences, however, students’
research plans have to be adapted, already at the doctoral level, to the ongoing projects of the
given research centre. In other words, financial support and close supervision become
available in these areas at the expense of severe restrictions on students’ freedom in choosing
research topics. By contrast, graduate students in the social sciences/humanities enjoy
practically unlimited freedom of choice but receive neither additional financial support nor
close supervision. This dichotomy becomes even more pronounced through the policies of
grant-giving bodies. While funding bodies positively welcome the inclusion of graduate
students in the natural sciences, they do not encourage such practice in social
sciences/humanities research projects. In short, Laszlovszky summarised, doctoral students in
the natural sciences have little freedom but better funding and the opportunity to participate in
collective research endeavours, whereas those in the social sciences/humanities can work on
their most preferred subject but are underfunded and often have to work alone.
Professor Laszlovszky also reflected on the issue of collective practices in academia.
There are too few accounts of these practices, he emphasised, written by people who are not
part of these practices themselves. This is unfortunate because such accounts could also
prepare the way for a more reflected approach to the reform of doctoral studies.
In the following discussion, Sophie Howlett suggested to make a distinction between the fact
that the doctorate is a “lonely business” (and therefore departments should encourage people
with similar interests to exchange ideas on their own individual work) and the fact that
students and faculty should do joint research projects in order to attract funding. She warned
against the dangers of the move towards collective research only in order to obtain more
funding. She also expressed her wish to find out more from Laszlovszky about the unique
blend of American, British and regional characteristics of CEU’s doctoral programmes, that
is: three year funding (British model), course work and comprehensive exam (US model), and
an MA function which is often remediation.
In response, Laszlovszky explained that this mix was partly developed in an attempt
not to have to draw the set of eligible students too narrowly. Thus masters programmes were
designed in a way that can prepare students coming from a wide range of different
disciplinary backgrounds for their doctoral studies.
Several participants noted their interest in the “anthropological perspective” on
collective practices within academia. What are the rituals of fundraising? How do you keep
your academic freedom independent of funding schemes? How much does the actual work of
researchers reflect what they promise to do in their research proposals (Nybom)? What room
is there for doctoral students engaged in large-scale research projects to demonstrate their
individuality (Alexandrov, Vaitkus)?
Bystrytsky pointed out that “anthropological” studies of academic communities are not
entirely unprecedented. He also volunteered one reason why the work of social scientists
tends to be more solitary: research in this area is driven by the “spirit of the topic” rather than
the kind of “team spirit” and collective identity more common in the natural sciences. Finally,
Marine Chitashvili highlighted a particular difficulty of the transition from the old Soviet-type
higher education system to new models of graduate education: lack of academic writing skills.
The first speaker, Chris Golde, gave a detailed account of the Carnegie Foundation’s
“Initiative on the Doctorate” (Dr. Golde’s Powerpoint presentation can be downloaded here: ). This initiative, launched in 2001, seeks
to rethink and reshape doctoral education in six different disciplines: chemistry, education,
English language and literature, history, mathematics, neuroscience. The initiative followed
the period of the 1990s during which quite a lot of attention was given to the doctorate in the
USA – including a series of high-level projects, governmental reports, etc. prompted by
changes in the job market – but little was actually done to put the findings into practice. By
contrast, the Carnegie Foundation has sought to become a “change agent” not only producing
recommendations but also helping to put these into practice.
Carnegie’s “research and action project”, which has funding for five years, operates
directly at the departmental level. It acts on the assumption that doctoral programmes are
locally structured and controlled so that the relevant actors would respond much better to “big
ideas” than to direct interference from outside. In spite of resistance on the part of some
departments, Carnegie insisted that doctoral students would have to form an integral part of
the project all throughout. The main objective was to enable sustainable changes rather than to
encourage quick and radical measures through the awarding of large one-off grants. Carnegie
has also continued to publicise the results of this work not wanting it to remain a merely
private or local enterprise.
The project has been designed in the belief that the main purpose of the PhD lies in
training people to become stewards of their disciplines. Academic stewardship can be defined
as the (i) generation, (ii) conservation, and (iii) transfer of knowledge. In other words, those
who obtain the title of PhD are expected to (i) understand and recognise patterns of
knowledge in their respective disciplines, (ii) preserve the best of their discipline’s history,
and (iii) be able to teach and communicate in the broadest sense, i.e. share their knowledge in
classrooms, through policy papers, etc. In addition, the doctorate is also associated with a high
moral stance. Although it is sometimes argued that this definition is backward-looking, in fact
it emphasises the role of the doctorate in carrying forward traditions and welcomes a risktaking towards the future.
A few basic qualities or structural elements of good doctoral programmes have been
established in the course of Carnegie’s work with university departments. First, doctoral
programmes are to be purposeful, i.e. they are to make it clear what professional activities
they prepare students for. Unfortunately, however, this is seldom done in practice. Students
are not advised on what the doctorate is about and what they are supposed to be trained for.
Second, doctoral programmes need to be regularly assessed to assure quality. Third, quality
doctoral programmes ought to be reflective involving a continuous interchange between
faculty and students. Finally, doctoral programmes are to maintain a high level of
transparency. Students are to be explained the rationale behind procedural rules such as why
qualifying exams are necessary. “Because it has always been done that way” does not suffice
by way of explanation.
In the course of Carnegie’s actual collaboration with university departments, the latter
were asked to remedy the problems identified. Needless to say, assessing the quality of a
doctoral programme depends on a number of local parameters and varies from discipline to
discipline, university to university and so on. Carnegie Initiative sees its main role in
facilitating dialogue and in sharing its finding with departments. This work has involved the
circulation of working papers and the hosting of a number of conferences. As for the latter,
each of the 50 departments Carnegie has cooperated with was invited to send one faculty
member and one graduate student. Perhaps surprisingly, the best contributions and most
original ideas came not infrequently from the students themselves.
Departments have now also started to implement Carnegie’s recommendations. They
seek to enhance transparency through the publication of doctoral policies in handbooks and on
departmental websites. Information gathering activities on alumni and students who drop out
have also intensified. Departments have begun to put more emphasis on training in research
methodology. There has also been significantly more reflection on the purpose of the
qualifying exam: should it be aimed at testing whether graduate students are capable of
teaching any area in their chosen discipline or be able to do research, or should the monitoring
of other qualities be given priority? Finally, departments have been putting more emphasis on
integrating students into academic life and intellectual community (both in more
“individualistic” and “collective” disciplines).
Lika Glonti representing Tbilisi State University in Georgia focused on the more technical
difficulties involved in the introduction of the PhD-degree in Georgia. While bachelors and
masters programmes were adopted already 10 years ago, the replacement of the old
aspirantura/kandidat system with Western-style doctoral education will create an entirely
new situation. There is a growing consensus, however, that students who take part in PhDprogrammes will constitute the best resource for the future of the Georgian academic
community. It is hoped that they will profit from a broader interdisciplinary approach, be able
to adjust better to new social and economic realities and also be better equipped to teach the
next generation of students.
At present, Georgia has 26 universities most of which offer the old-style doctorate.
The introduction of the PhD will certainly reduce the number of universities capable of
offering doctoral training. Thus reform of doctoral education is bound to have negative social
and political consequences and these will have to be addressed as well.
It is proposed that doctoral studies should take at least three years in the new system
with the possibility of extension to four or even five years should this be necessary. A masters
or equivalent degree will be asked for as a minimum entry requirement. 30-40% of the time
within graduate education is expected to focus on attending courses (preferably during the
first two years), while the remaining 60-70% should be spent on independent research and
teaching. This arrangement would remedy one of the greatest shortcomings of the former
aspirantura/kandidat system, namely the complete lack of a teaching component.
Doctoral education will have four main focal points: (i) teaching disciplinary subjects,
(ii) training in practical research methods, (iii) training in teaching methods, and (iv) training
managerial and communicative skills in the interest of those who want to pursue more policyrelated careers later on. Seminars and interactive courses will be given priority, while the
number of old-fashioned lectures will be reduced to a minimum. The adoption of a broadly
interdisciplinary approach will be encouraged so that doctoral training becomes both wider
and deeper.
Implementing the proposed reforms is likely to be hindered by surviving attitudes
from the past, in particular the still dominant view of students as apprentices rather than as
future colleagues capable of valuable contributions themselves. The introduction of the PhD
will also make it necessary to rethink bachelors and masters level education. Fortunately,
those in charge of reform at Georgian universities received some help in their work from an
independent private college in Tbilisi that already offers the PhD. The coexistence of old and
new type of degrees in the ensuing transitional period will no doubt create numerous
difficulties. However, Lika Glonti said in closing, this revolution in Georgia’s academia is the
only way ahead.
Commenting on the two presentations, Jacek Kochanowicz (Director of Doctoral Studies,
CEU Department of History) called attention to possible obstacles standing in the way of
reform. Thus the involvement of the state in the implementation of reform measures can lead
to a re-nationalisation of higher education. This development can only be avoided through
changes initiated from below. However, the readiness of educational institutions to reflect on
their ongoing practices may be quite limited. Calls for more transparency are seldom greeted
with enthusiasm. It is, therefore, no accident that students frequently complain of being
Since change is also a question of power, mission statements often fail to be
implemented. Institutions often evolve rather than move towards a clear mission. Moreover,
doctoral education is through and through embedded in local contexts. In sum, we have
reason to be somewhat sceptical of the success of sweeping reforms. Piecemeal
transformation of institutional practices seems more likely to succeed, claimed Professor
Jozsef Laszlovszky opened the discussion by calling attention to the contrast between formal
and informal assessments of the value of a PhD in academia. Despite the existence of national
guidelines, independent evaluations, etc. in many circles PhDs continue to be assessed solely
in terms of the reputation of a given university and supervisor (even if the influence has
decreased in comparison to the former role of the almighty “Doktorvater”).
If indeed doctoral training is so strongly shaped by local traditions, it is also worth
asking whether it is possible to identify any general guidelines for educational policies at this
level (Alexandrov).
Doctoral education is locally embedded, Kochanowicz insisted, in the sense that the
PhD has been adopted in countries of highly different historical, economic and cultural
traditions. As a result, measuring quality is highly problematic. While procedures are
relatively easy to compare, substantial differences are not. Procedural rules will not solve the
problem because they can be filled with quite different content. In addition, national
governments are often quite clueless as to how to proceed, while underfunded universities are
too weak to implement change. In this connection, the US-model of higher education might
play a helpful guiding role (Nybom).
In response to this discussion, Chris Golde pointed out the difficulties involved in
talking about an American model as such. Arguably, one of the peculiarities of that system
lies precisely in the enormous variance across all dimensions of higher education including
quality. On the other hand, as Jozsef Laszlovszky noted, there may be shared features of the
American educational scheme. Most importantly, there is a procedure in place that every
graduate student has to go through, involving prior selection and then a number of wellcircumscribed stages of doctoral training in one’s coursework and research. While that is
certainly true, Golde responded, all of these parameters can differ significantly from one
department to another. Taught courses are often limited to a single year in the natural
sciences, while they can take up to four years for a doctoral degree in English. By the same
token, a dissertation in chemistry can consist of a handful of papers put together, in a
humanities subject such as English it usually takes the form of a book manuscript.
Professor Shanin remarked on formerly existing differences between the American
and the British doctoral systems. The latter, while highly selective and competitive, involved
neither mandatory coursework nor methodological training (as the assumption was that
methods are different for each specific topic). Emphasis was put on face-to-face supervision.
This enabled students to establish a personal relationship to their supervisors and fostered
originality and creativity. As a result of the Americanisation of British higher education,
however, these differences have gradually disappeared.
However, according to Metcalfe, it is disputable whether the developments described
by Shanin are indeed the result of Americanisation or not. The introduction of taught courses
in social science doctoral programmes was motivated by the recognition of the fact that social
scientists in the British economy had been insufficiently trained in statistical methods and
research methodologies. This lack of training created considerable difficulties for them in
obtaining governmental funding for more comprehensive research projects.
The influence of the American system is reflected in changing expectations concerning
the role of both bachelors and masters programmes. They are no longer regarded as
preparatory stages for future academics. This function has been comprehensively taken over
by doctoral studies (Howlett).
Lika Glonti said that the reform of the system of doctoral education in Georgia has
drawn most strongly on the American model, while of course the necessary local adjustments
have been made. One very positive such adjustment lies in the attention given to the training
of graduate students as future teachers. This aspect is often sidelined in American doctoral
Regional differences manifest themselves in the unequal availability of resources as
well. In Hungary, for instance, while everyone agreed that the introduction of the new PhDsystem was necessary, there was very little additional funding allocated for the development
of new syllabi, disciplinary programmes, teaching methods, etc. In other words, those faculty
members involved in elaborating and implementing the new framework received no financial
compensation for their extra duties and work. It is easy to see, however, that the lack of a
separate budget for this purpose can undermine the whole purpose of the reform
Shanin argued against the excessive democratisation of doctoral education.
Universities that can offer doctoral programs should be carefully selected. One needs to
recognise and accept that doctoral training (whatever the ’68 generation may have thought
about this) as a special form of knowledge-transfer is by its very nature and structure an elitist
enterprise. So it may even be helpful to concentrate doctoral studies in a small number of
university locations. Such a high concentration of doctoral students in one place can promote
intensive and high-level dialogue within the intellectual community.
Speaking of the same subject, Golde called attention to the importance of the ranking
of doctoral programmes carried out every 10 to 15 years in US. While the relevant criteria are
hotly debated (more and more people call for the inclusion of considerations other than those
referring solely to the academic reputation of faculty members and their publications), it is
clear that every institution of higher education attaches great significance to such rankings.
Francisca de Haan (Director of Doctoral Studies at CEU’s Department of Gender Studies)
spoke about questions of interdisciplinarity in gender studies, and more specifically, about the
PhD-programme in comparative gender studies at CEU (The full version of Professor de
Haan’s presentation can be downloaded here: ).
Gender studies, she emphasised, is a broader discipline than women’s studies as it focuses on
the ways in which gender – i.e. notions of masculinity and femininity – shapes individual
identities as well as culture, society, economics, politics, science, etc. on different levels in
more or less visible ways.
From the very beginning, however, scholars engaged in women’s studies and later in
gender studies, have acted on the presupposition that their field of research and teaching is
through and through interdisciplinary. The reason for this focus on interdisciplinarity seems
obvious. In order to understand the complexities of women’s lives, one cannot limit oneself to
a single domain (e.g. only to the “private sphere,” economy or politics) since women have
been and are secondary citizens in all of these areas. At the same time, pointing out that we
have to study women’s lives in their interrelated complexities does not in itself suffice for the
creation of a truly interdisciplinary field of research. There is a difference, in other words,
between a multidisciplinary approach, i.e. one that merely combines more than one discipline,
and genuine interdisciplinarity. The latter goes much further and is also more difficult to
accomplish, argued Professor de Haan.
Are women’s and/or gender studies genuinely interdisciplinary in this sense? Can one
identify common overarching theoretical and methodological concerns among scholars of
gender studies? Are there shared paradigms? To all of these questions, Professor de Haan
said, we can return a tentative ‘yes’. Recent developments in women’s/gender studies point to
the emergence of truly interdisciplinary research merging historical, sociological, literary,
postcolonial and other approaches and concerns pertaining to women and gender.
An important part of this process involves the institutionalisation of this field, a
process that went from minors and majors to full MA-programmes and in recent years to
PhD-programmes as well. CEU has been in the forefront of these developments offering the
only fully-fledged PhD-programme in gender studies in Europe. Its focus on integrative and
comparative approaches in gender studies is key to the unique profile of CEU’s Gender
Studies Department. This is also reflected in the objectives and methodology of teaching at
the department. The emphasis is on introducing students to a way of thinking and looking at
the world – critical, integrative, global and comparative – and on giving them a language with
which to describe their experience of gender hierarchies. A number of built-in mechanisms
and forms of external control serve to ensure the high-quality of the programme: prospectus,
external readers, the mandatory presence of an external examiner (preferably a foreign scholar
of international renown) at the comprehensive exam, and so on.
Francisca de Haan finished by calling attention to potential limits of interdisciplinary
academic undertakings. For one thing, in practice the integration of disciplines is typically
restricted to only two or three disciplines. In addition, few people integrate far-apart
disciplines such as literary studies and natural sciences. Lack of depth is another frequently
mentioned pitfall of interdisciplinarity. This danger, however, Professor de Haan argued in
closing, is by no means restricted to interdisciplinary academic projects. Also, it is worth
asking whether an excessive stress on the specific associated with traditional disciplinary
approaches does not merit the charge of superficiality even more.
Ayse Caglar (Head of CEU’s Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology) began by
describing the PhD-programme in sociology and social anthropology at CEU. What
distinguishes this programme is its integrated vision of sociology and anthropology as the
comparative study of all contemporary societies from “remote” villages to metropolitan cities
in any region of the world. Positioning the programme in this fashion is based on a desire to
transcend classical methodological and inherited geographical dichotomies between sociology
and anthropology (dividing traditional from modern and the Western from the non-Western
This expansion entails much more than just a larger geographical scope and new
theoretical horizons. It also sets an agenda to overcome a conventional understanding of the
relationship between sociology and anthropology as two juxtaposed disciplines combined
mechanically on the basis of straightforward complementarity. Thus the integrated approach
to sociology and social anthropology at CEU involves an attempt to bridge the two disciplines
in order to create perspectival knowledge without ignoring the embeddedness of the
pertaining conceptual approaches in specific historical experience. As Professor Caglar
explained, this approach is crucial because it can open up a theoretical and methodological
space for new questions that would not be posed if one was to follow traditional approaches
and epistemologies of sociology and anthropology.
Accordingly, the principal aim of teaching at the department is to situate students with
regard to current methodological and theoretical debates in both disciplines. They are
encouraged to deepen their critical and perspectival knowledge and invited to reflect on
historical (as well as institutional) entanglements between the two disciplines. This kind of
training seeks to stress a problem-oriented rather than a discipline-bounded approach to
academic research.
But why should such a rethinking of the relationship between sociology and
anthropology take place exactly now and why, of all places, at Central European University?
The latter question is easier to answer. CEU is an institution crossing several boundaries, both
literally and figuratively speaking, and hence it is a most suitable place for such a “radical”
endeavour. In addition, however, now seems to be the right moment for adopting such a novel
approach. With the complex re-scaling and restructuring of social relations, academic
scholarship is confronted with the emergence of new themes and problems. This opportunity
can be used to reflect on the new realities of scale in social research and to take a new look at
“older” concepts in both disciplines.
Professor Caglar offered the problem of changing contexts of ethnographic fieldwork
in the age of globalisation as an example of the above mentioned methodological challenges.
To respond to this challenge, one needs not only to reflect on ethnographic fieldwork in its
mainstream formulation, the presupposed distinctions between “inside” and “outside”, the
“native” and the “outsider”, but also to ask questions concerning fieldwork practice in the
context of colonialism.
This not to say, Professor Caglar warned, that one should give too much weight to
interdisciplinarity in the design of graduate studies. Given the career risks involved in postdisciplinarity and the considerable inertia of established disciplines, doctoral training should
steer clear of a radical rejection of disciplinary boundaries. Transgressing disciplinary
boundaries in order to redefine and relocate certain theoretical problems should not amount to
denying that recognition, authority and communication are still channelled by disciplinary
institutions such as conferences, journals, etc. Without a thorough theoretical and
methodological understanding of classic texts and disciplinary canons, any kind of
transgression is bound to end in failure.
Professor Shanin’s comments focused on the limits of interdisciplinarity. He noted that
the move towards interdisciplinarity is in some cases motivated by fashion and the lack of
critical thinking. Worried about “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”, he urged that we
should not lose sight of disciplinary values, the historical achievements of individual
disciplines nor of their indubitable effectiveness.
As to the nature of the disciplinary relationship between anthropology and sociology,
he noted that in the course of the last few decades the differences between the two areas of
study have often dwindled to mere variations in style and could disappear altogether with the
next generation of researchers. Therefore, in some ways it might even be helpful to
investigate what separates these disciplines from one another and especially from other
disciplines (e.g. economics). In sum, the value and usefulness of interdisciplinarity must be
constantly tested and should never be taken for granted.
Responding to these comments, Professor de Haan argued that the growing role of
interdisciplinarity is the outcome of profound cultural and social changes. In other words, the
drawing of disciplinary boundaries (as well as the exclusion of women from academia) is to
be traced back to important historical reasons and so is the present drive to overcome these
boundaries. On the same note, Professor Caglar pointed out that interdisciplinarity in itself is
neither good nor bad. She opposed, however, the view that differences between sociology and
anthropology are about to disappear. In many ways, the closer the two disciplines locate
themselves to one another, the greater will the urge be to differentiate their methods and
conceptual schemes.
At this point, it is worth raising the question how the growing role attributed to
interdisciplinary research should be reflected in doctoral education. Does interdisciplinary
graduate training increase one’s chances on the job markets (Alexandrov)?
Given the steadily increasing interest in gender-related issues in both academics and
politics, the inherently interdisciplinary nature of gender studies is certainly beneficial in
pragmatic terms as well (de Haan). At the same time, it is advisable for doctoral programmes
to proceed somewhat more cautiously than research projects in the matter of
interdisciplinarity. Students have to acquire the ability to converse meaningfully with other
disciplines. This presupposes familiarity with crucial disciplinary concepts and methods.
Meanwhile, it would be unhelpful to reject disciplinary boundaries altogether at the doctoral
level (Caglar).
While resisting the view that interdisciplinarity is a mere academic fashion,
Laszlovszky noted the dangers of pursuing interdisciplinarity for merely pragmatic reasons. It
is often the case that, in view of existing bureaucratic restrictions, interdisciplinary doctoral
schools are launched simply because there are not enough scholars available to establish
separate disciplinary departments. Although interdisciplinarity is a much-appreciated
catchword in research-related fundraising, interdisciplinarity out of necessity can often harm
the quality of an academic enterprise.
Professor Chevrier added that multi- or interdisciplinarity is always “work in
progress”, i.e. a continuous exploration and transgression of disciplinary boundaries. Great
examples of interdisciplinary endeavours include the work of the Annales-school or the
current challenge posed to formalised economics on the basis of the latest experimental
findings in cognitive sciences. This should not move us, however, to underrate the
significance of traditional disciplines. As far as doctoral education is concerned, what is
essential is to widen the range of options available to graduate students. The value of
interdisciplinary endeavours is to be constantly monitored (Chevrier).
This insight, however, also leads to more practical issues (Metcalfe): How should one
find academic and financial support for multidisciplinary projects? And how should one
organise their supervision at the doctoral level? Such questions are faced on a daily basis by
those engaged in multi- or interdisciplinary projects. For instance neuroscientists are
constantly required to “navigate across” organisational boundaries and departmental divisions
When discussing the issue of interdisciplinarity, it is also important to pay attention to
relevant theories in philosophy of science and scientific methodology. The need for a
synthetic approach was emphasised by a number of philosophers much before the recent rise
of interdisciplinary scientific practices (Bystrytsky). And indeed, as Professor de Haan
pointed out, such philosophical reflections form an important part of gender studies.
To what extent is interdisciplinary more than a mere synthesis of existing approaches?
There are certainly examples of new combinations, such as biophysics, but these often
crystallise into entirely new disciplines. And if there are such new combinations can they be
successfully accommodated within the framework of doctoral training (Vaitkus)?
The answer to all of these questions seems to be positive. For instance, the study of
informal economies has been only made possible through the deliberate transgression of
existing disciplinary boundaries (Shanin). Similarly, some of the best AIDS-research is based
on a combination of medicine, anthropology and history (Caglar).
By contrast, one should not talk of a synthesis of sociology and anthropology. This is
not to say that combining their approaches cannot yield exceptionally valuable results. A
further example for this supplied by Professor Caglar is of a research project aimed at
analysing patterns of explanation and prediction on Wall Street. In addition to such microstudies, however, in-depth theoretical reflection on the similarities and variation of key
concepts and methods across different disciplines is also necessary.
Another frequently disputed question is when a new approach becomes so significant
that it is necessary to institutionalise it through the establishment of separate departments and
research institutes. Computer science clearly reached this stage at one point, while bioethics,
irrespective of its great current importance, may never do so (Golde).
Finally, the broadly interdisciplinary orientation of graduate programmes in social
sciences can help to train students to become more versatile. Having obtained such a degree,
they are more likely to be prepared for policy-making, social research and teaching
In closing, Sophie Howlett thanked the Higher Education Sub-board of the Open Society
Institute for suggesting and funding the workshop. She expressed her gratitude to Professor
Jerzy Axer for inspiring this event, Mátyás Szabó for his organisational work and all
participants for contributing to this thoughtful and constructive conference.