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1 The Graduate School: A Model to Enhance Quantity and Quality in PhD Production Maresi Nerad South African PhD Panel Report October 2009 South Africa s universities are confronted with two major challenges. They are to increase the PhD production and they are to assure high quality of PhD education so that their graduates are prepared to solve the problems at home and in the world, inside and outside of academia. The following American Graduate School will serve as a model, as it has many features that could support South Africa s goals for enhancing the PhD production. In the following, the concept of a graduate school will be described. In addition the program structure of doctoral education in the US will be explained to more readily understand the functioning of a graduate school in context. A graduate school is both an administrative as well as an academic unit. It is closely linked to the research agenda of the university. Universities vary in how they ensure that policies and procedures that govern the research activities of the university are directly responsive to the needs of the graduate programs. In some instances the positions of vice-president for research and graduate dean are shared by the same person. In other cases, particularly where large medical schools exist, these two positions are filled by two different people. Regardless, the graduate dean and the vice-president for research are in the inner circle of the president of the university. Basic Functions of the Graduate School The U.S. model of a graduate school has five basic functions:

2 1. It is the executive policy body of an academic senate committee that assures the quality of master s and doctoral education across the entire university. 2. It is an administrative unit for all matters of post-graduate and post-doc affairs. As such, it oversees the basic requirements of admissions and degrees. 3. It is a service unit for post-graduate programs and post-graduate students. In this function, it provides additional professional skills training that allow doctoral students to be successful in a variety of employment settings. 4. It is an institutional research unit for post-graduate matters and it collects and analyzes data on post-graduate education at its university. Institutional research serves as a base for policy setting. 5. It is an initiator and catalyst for innovation in postgraduate and postdoctoral matters. Increasingly the graduate dean takes on the function of fund raising for fellowships for doctoral students. The Structured Doctoral Program in the U.S. While the graduate school is an important academic and administrative unit, the primary locus of graduate education is in the department, in its master s and doctoral programs. It is the academic staff in the department, the tenuretrack and tenured professoriate, who make the major decisions regarding a post graduate program. In designing a new program or deciding to change a program, the professoriate comply with their departmental and university-wide standards and policies in terms of postgraduate student admission, student progress, and degree requirements. These standards are set by a universitywide professoriate committee, the Graduate Council, and they are administered by the Graduate School.

3 Postgraduate programs receive impulses and input from many different constituencies and sources. These are the national disciplinary professional associations, public and private funding agencies for research grants, alumni, trends in student enrollment, and particularly the individual university s cyclical program reviews undertaken by the Graduate Council. One U.S. doctoral education characteristic which is perhaps most difficult to comprehend for countries that have unstructured graduate programs, is that each doctoral program in the U.S. has its own curriculum and is designed around a learning process based on developmental learning theory and sequencing of how students best acquire the necessary research skills and expert knowledge in their particular fields. Doctoral programs can be conceptualized as a process of five phases (see graph one). Graph 1 - Basic Structure of US PhD Programs in Physical, Life Sciences and Engineering Source: M. Nerad Chapter 13, Doctoral Education in the United State, p in: Nerad, M. and Heggelund, M. (Eds.) Towards a Global PhD? Forces and Forms in Doctoral Education Worldwide. Seattle: University of Washington Press After completing an undergraduate degree, which is generally a four-year

4 course of study, an individual is qualified to apply for further education at the graduate level. If a person chooses to go on for a doctorate degree, he or she has various program options. For some programs the procedure is to obtain a master s degree and then apply to continue on for the doctorate. Other programs allow the applicant to apply directly to a doctoral degree program. While great variety exists among doctoral programs, two basic structures are common. One pertains primarily to social science and humanities fields, the other to science and engineering. Both general types of programs have a highly selective admissions process. In general, a quarter of all applicants are admitted. Admission criteria are based on the undergraduate grade point average; the scores on a national graduate entrance exam which includes a verbal, analytical, and quantitative component; letters of recommendation from undergraduate professors; and a Statement of Purpose essay. For the social sciences and humanities the typical program involves up to three years of course work mainly seminars. Many doctoral programs require a certain number of fixed core courses along with a fairly large number of electives. The end of this period is marked by taking general exams and writing a major publishable article, which together serve to demonstrate the knowledge of the field acquired during the coursework years. Usually after passing the exam and completing the article, students embark upon developing their dissertation proposals. These proposals are formally reviewed. Thereafter students are engaged in their original research. This period of time does not necessarily need to take place at the home university, and often it is spent in the field for example in archives, museums, or libraries anywhere in the world. The completion of the dissertation is in most instances a formal presentation by the student to the dissertation committee, which consists of between three to five faculty members, with one person who must be from outside the program. The dissertation manuscript must be signed by the dissertation committee signaling its approval.

5 Science and engineering doctorates follow a similar sequence of course studies, dissertation development, and research. However, an essential preliminary step is an examination at the end of the first year of doctoral study in which the students have to demonstrate basic advanced knowledge of the field. In many programs this exam functions as a way to ensure that only qualified students continue. At the end of year two, or in some cases year three, students take a general exam that includes the presentation of dissertation research and at least a publishable research paper. During the entire period of doctoral study, the students work in their main dissertation advisor s laboratory, usually paid as research assistants. Given that in these laboratories major research is taking place, doctoral students work side by side with their advisors, the advisor s post-docs, and undergraduate students, on research that is likely to shape their dissertation. Completion of the dissertation culminates in a defense, usually at the end of year five. One significant distinction between the fields of study is the nature of their financial support. Social science and humanities students rarely have the opportunity to be paid to work on their dissertation. Instead they are often employed as teaching assistants. This employment is often not directly related to their dissertation. Over the last twenty years many promising practices on how to better socialize graduate students into their field of study have emerged. Graduate schools have taken the lead in offering special workshops for postgraduate students. Such workshops range from preparing for and presenting at national conferences, applying for grants, writing for publication, teaching undergraduate students, preparing for employment, working in interdisciplinary groups, and managing time and projects. Graduate schools work with department chairs, postgraduate students, and administrative staff to make these generic workshops fit disciplinary and program particulars.

6 The workshops for students are now more commonly referred to as professional skills development workshops. One particular emphasis in these professional skills workshops is a focus on broad career development strategies as well as concrete placement skills. Graduate Schools, in conjunction with campus career centers, offer day-long career symposiums, preparing students and postdocs for the world of employment. Finding employment becomes complicated for students who are partnered or married with someone who has invested similarly in advanced postgraduate education and ideally need to find employment in the same geographic location. These workshops respond to national and local surveys of doctoral recipients and postdoctoral fellows who have found that doctoral students lack knowledge and information of life after the PhD as well as life outside academe, and need strategies on how to transition from doctoral study to employment. Specific Graduate School Roles Given this background of doctoral education programs, the graduate school provides quality control over all aspects of graduate education. The graduate council, a subcommittee of the academic senate, comprised of professors from major fields of study, sets the minimum qualification for acceptance into a master s or doctoral program. It also sets benchmark indicators for student progress towards their degree goals. For example, if a doctoral student hands in the dissertation in a time period that passes five years after the qualifying exam, the student has to repeat the qualifying exam. In its role as quality controller, the graduate school coordinates the cyclical department and program reviews undertaken by peers within and outside the university. Typically a department in the U.S. is reviewed every seven or ten years. The graduate school, in connection with the graduate council, also approves all new programs before the approval is sent up to the state higher

7 education coordinating board, in the case of a public university. The primary purpose of program reviews is to evaluate academic excellence. A secondary purpose is the emphasis on future oriented strategic planning rather than retrospective accounting. The staff of a graduate school at universities with about 10, 000 postgraduate students and about 100 different postgraduate programs can be up to 30 people. This staff works closely with academic coordinators and post-graduate staff administrators of the post-graduate program. The graduate school calls semesterly meetings with dedicated professors, who take turns in their responsibility for post-graduate affairs in their departments. During such meetings, arising problems are discussed, information on new policies is provided and feedback is solicited. The graduate school as an administrative unit disseminates essential information to departments and students on all matters relevant to the education process. This information includes deadlines and guidelines for fellowship applications, new federal policies and regulations regarding anything related to post-graduate and post-doctoral education. Analysis of statistics collected about input, throughput, and output measures such as time-to-degree, doctoral completion, satisfaction with the advising, and results of surveys of students experiences with their programs are included. The graduate school, and specifically it s leader, the graduate dean, serves as an advocate for post-graduate education and student concerns within the university administration. As described earlier, the graduate school in its service function initiates professional development workshops for its students and supervisors. Professional development workshops include career planning and development activities. The graduate school is a place that creates a learning community

8 among doctoral students and collaborates with the official postgraduate student representative body. The graduate school in its function as initiator and catalyst assures that the university s admission process keeps diversity as a key goal. Most American graduate schools have a specific person that recruits students from traditionally underrepresented groups of society. The challenge is to find students who are eligible according to the admission requirements. Therefore, the graduate school works on a long-term plan with feeder schools to assure that there is an open pipeline of students from these groups. In its function as an institutional research unit, the graduate school collects and maintains databases on all matters of post-graduate education: numbers of annual applicants, annual admits and newly enrolled postgraduate students, numbers of annual advancement to candidacy, time to master s and doctoral degree, completion rates, numbers of prestigious fellowships awarded to its students, supervisor/student ratio, type of student funding by program, comparison to peer institution in terms of time-to-degree, completion rates, and faculty student ratios. The analysis of this information in return serves as basis for policy setting within the university. Creating such a designated home for postgraduate education may support the endeavor of expansion and change in doctoral education in South Africa.

9 References Nerad, M. (2009). Graduate Education and its Changes in the U.S. In Graduate Education, Now and Future. Hiroshima: Research Institute for Higher Education, Hiroshima University, Japan. Nerad, M. (2008). Doctoral Education in the US. In M. Nerad and M. Heggelund, Towards a Global PhD? Forces and Forms in Doctoral Education Worldwide. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press

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