PhD crisis discourse: a critical approach to the framing of the problem and some Australian 'solutions'

Cuthbert, D and Molla, T 2015, 'PhD crisis discourse: a critical approach to the framing of the problem and some Australian 'solutions'', Higher Education, vol. 69, no. 1, pp. 33-53.

Document type: Journal Article
Collection: Journal Articles

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Title PhD crisis discourse: a critical approach to the framing of the problem and some Australian 'solutions'
Author(s) Cuthbert, D
Molla, T
Year 2015
Journal name Higher Education
Volume number 69
Issue number 1
Start page 33
End page 53
Total pages 21
Publisher Springer
Abstract A feature of HE reform discourse is the tendency to construct the rationale for reform in terms of averting calamity and risk. We refer to this risk talk as 'crisis discourse'. This study examines the formulation of PhD crisis discourse internationally and in Australia. We find that a key feature of PhD crisis discourse is that universities are producing too many graduates for too few academic jobs; and graduates lack skills that enable them to be productive in jobs outside academia. In Australia, the discourse has shifted from one dominated by efficiency concerns from the late 1990s to the present focus on graduate skills and employability. The policy solution to the efficiency crisis in the Australian PhD resulted in system-wide changes in research training funding focused on increased efficiency. The current unemployability discourse has as yet prompted isolated institutional responses, the introduction of new PhD programs or re-badging existing offerings as pro-skills development offerings. Following an examination of three Australian institutional responses, we conclude that the crisis discourse signals tensions surrounding the PhD: should achievement in doctoral education be measured by outcomes in intellectual excellence or the responsiveness of qualification to the current needs and priorities of society?
Subject Higher Education
Specialist Studies in Education not elsewhere classified
Education Assessment and Evaluation
Keyword(s) The PhD
crisis discourse
transferable skills
DOI - identifier 10.1007/s10734-014-9760-y
Copyright notice © 2014 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.
ISSN 0018-1560
Additional Notes The final publication is available at Springer via
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Citation counts: TR Web of Science Citation Count  Cited 32 times in Thomson Reuters Web of Science Article | Citations
Scopus Citation Count Cited 12 times in Scopus Article | Citations
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