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"What light do professional doctorates throw on the question of what counts as knowledge in the academy at the start of the twenty-first century?" (Bourner et al. 2001: 81)

Author - Sandra Fisher



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The growth of professional doctorates

Bourner et al. (2001) conducted two surveys plotting the growth of professional doctorates in the United Kingdom. The first survey undertaken in 1998 found 109 professional doctorates. The second survey in 1999 showed an increase of 16 per cent, with 128 professional doctorates in existence. The surveys indicated increasing diversity in the disciplines offering professional doctorates ranging from education, medicine, business administration, psychology, architecture, fine art, social work and work-based learning. They also uncovered the development of ‘subspecies’ among professional doctoral programmes. For example, a new designation being applied to the Doctor of Finance (D.Fin.) that differentiates it from the older Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) (Bourner et al. 2001: 68–69).

When developing professional doctorates academics are concerned whether their proposed doctorate will stand up to the ‘inevitable’ comparison between it and the traditional Ph.D. (Portwood and Thorne 2000: 109). In Middlesex University it took three years to obtain approval for the professional doctorate in work-based learning (D.Prof.). The academic team involved in developing the D.Prof. were able to argue that the traditional Ph.D. was for the development and socialisation of academics and researchers. They demonstrated that there was demand from a wide range of professionals for a D.Prof. Opposition to their proposal emanated mainly from the social sciences and engineering (Portwood and Thorne 2000: 109).

In Ireland I have so far only found two(see note 1) professional doctorates currently being offered, namely, the Doctor in Clinical Psychology (D.Clin.Psych.) provided by Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and University College Dublin’s Doctoral Degree in Clinical Psychology (D.Psych.Sc.). Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), which is the largest higher educational institution in the state, does not offer a professional doctorate. DIT is an amalgamation of a number of established vocational educational colleges. It was statutorily established as an autonomous institution in 1993 with its own degree-awarding powers. To date DIT has only awarded doctorates by research.

In 2003, DIT arranged to host the University of Sheffield’s professional doctorate in education on-site in Dublin and provides facilities and local support for the provision of the programme by the Sheffield based academics. This programme is aimed at staff of DIT and also is open to staff from other institutions. A similar such education doctorate is now being advertised by the National University of Ireland, Maynooth.

While the main impetus for the initial development of professional doctorates in the United Kingdom originated with the ‘old’ institutions, the ‘new’ universities accounted for three quarters of the growth rate between the 1998 and 1999 surveys (Bourner et al. 2001: 69).

Maxwell (2003) outlines the development of ‘second generation’ professional doctorates in Australia. First generation professional doctorates tended to follow a ‘coursework plus thesis model’ and ‘appeared to be dominated by academe’ (Maxwell 2003: 279). However by 2000 the emergence of ‘second generation’ professional doctorates indicated:

that there are some programmes in Australia that have the features of what have been termed second generation professional doctorates. In these the realities of the workplace, the knowledge and the improvement of the profession and the rigour of the university are being brought together in new relationships.
(Maxwell 2003: 290)

The development of professional doctorates designed to appeal to professionals employed outside the academy is gaining momentum. The University of Western Sydney (UWS) Ed.D. programme is based on partnership between UWS and educational employers (Maxwell 2003: 280). I can only speculate as to whether this sort of initiative represents co-operative education between higher educational institutions for the development of their academic staff or whether the training of academics like other professions has become marketised.


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