Forces & Forms in Doctoral Education – Seattle 2005

How—and how well—is graduate education responding to global trends? An international group of educators met earlier this month in an effort to find out.

In the first of a series of three planned meetings, scholars, funders, and policy makers in doctoral education from 14 countries and six continents gathered here Sept. 6-10 to discuss the state of graduate education worldwide at the international conference, Forces and Forms of Change in Doctoral Education Internationally I, held at the University of Washington in Seattle and at a Cascade Mountain retreat in Leavenworth, Washington.

“Doctoral education is an essential part of investment in economic and social development and how we educate researchers at the doctoral level will play a critical role in cooperation and competition in the emerging knowledge-based, world economy,” explained Professor Nerad. “Bringing together this wonderful group of experts from around the world for this conference is an important part of realizing my longstanding vision of building the first U.S. center for research in graduate education that reaches across national borders.”

Many factors motivate the need for a global understanding of doctoral education, including the internationalization of the labor market and global competition for PhD scientists and researchers; the expansion of opportunities for doctoral education within smaller and developing nations; and a declining interest among international students to pursue graduate education in the United States.

The U.S. government has also recently committed to studying the changing issues involved in higher education: in September, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced the formation of the Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education.

The growing importance of a global perspective within higher education was also highlighted in a recent issue of The Economist (“The brains business,” Sept. 8), which noted,  “…the most significant development in higher education is the emergence of a super-league of global universities. This is revolutionary in the sense that these institutions regard the whole world as their stage…”

Setting a Research Agenda

The Forces and Forms of Change – Seattle conference consisted of highly interactive meetings and workshops designed to forge an effective international network of doctoral education experts, to bring to light global patterns of change in doctoral education, and to outline an ongoing agenda for international research and innovations to improve doctoral education globally.

More than 30 doctoral education innovators participated, including top university administrators, senior members of national research councils and institutes, and doctoral education researchers.  The group included disciplinary backgrounds ranging from astronomy to engineering to zoology and represented 14 nations as well as one international institution, the European University Institute.  Participants came from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.  Participant Marc Renaud, President of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, said the conference crystallized six topics “critical for the knowledge economy and the world.”

These were:
• The two-directional influence of doctoral education on the global economy and of globalization on doctoral education, and how to deal with the “brain drain” of doctoral-level researchers out of developing countries;
• The tension between nation building and local action for development and the necessity for participation in the international scholarly community;
• Whether there is an international consensus about what comprises doctoral education and what competencies the degree should confer;
• The creation of internationally meaningful comparative data on doctoral education;
• How to evaluate doctoral education across national boundaries;
• The identification of policies that promote the most efficient and useful types of doctoral education.

Ahmed Bawa, Deputy Vice Chancellor of Research, Knowledge Production & Partnerships at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, said the diversity of experiences present at the conference “… provided the basis for a tremendous sharing of information and the shaping of new activities.”

To that end, conference participants formed groups and committed themselves to exploring in-depth critical issues in doctoral education during the next year and a half, and will report the results of their work at a second international conference, Forces and Forms of Change in Doctoral Education Internationally II, to be convened at the University of Melbourne, Australia, in 2007 by Professor Barbara Evans, the Dean of Graduate Studies, in collaboration with CIRGE.  It is anticipated that the second conference will produce significant results since all participants evaluated the Seattle conference as having been worth their time and participants from three continents commented that this conference was the best they have ever attended.

The conference was convened by the University of Washington’s Center for Innovation and Research in Graduate Education (CIRGE) under the leadership of  Dr. Maresi Nerad, the University of Washington’s Associate Graduate Dean and Director of CIRGE.  Financial support for the conference was provided by the National Science Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the University of Washington’s Graduate School.

See Final Declaration