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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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In the following three sections I look at some of the learning outcomes of professional doctorates in the context of the forces shaping the development of the award.

The rise of the knowledge society

The purpose of the traditional doctorate is to develop ‘professional researchers’ and the purpose of the professional doctorate is to develop ‘researching professionals’ (Bourner et al.: 70–71). It could be argued that the development of professional doctorates represents a shift from Mode 1 science to Mode 2 knowledge production (Scott 2000).

Within Mode 1 science the academy engages with science and society through its production of knowledge and through the education of students as a ‘producer of knowledgeability’ respectively. This divided the academy’s role into comprising of ‘scientific’ and ‘social’ responsibilities (Scott 2000: 192). With the advent of what is termed the ‘knowledge society’ the university is not now the main site of knowledge production. The contention that the university was ever the dominant site of knowledge production is relatively recent (Scott 2000: 193). Within Mode 2 knowledge production the number of players who are engaged in the production of knowledge increases (Scott 2000: 200).

The career focus of the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) indicates it is aimed at senior managers. In contrast the Ph.D. is intended for lecturers in higher education (Bareham et al. 2000). The DBA is designed for professionals based outside the academy. After completion of the DBA these professionals are likely to continue to remain outside it. Thus the DBA allows for temporary admittance of professionals to the academy for the pursuit of research related to their professional life.

Differences in the domain of the research topic, research type and research focus between the traditional Ph.D. and a professional doctorate have been identified - see table 2.

One reason for the development of professional doctorates may be that the academy is recognising that externally based professionals can contribute to the development of knowledge at the highest academic level. By undertaking a formalised programme, such as a professional doctorate, professionals can direct their enhanced knowledge to the improvement of their profession or organisation. The type of knowledge ‘industry needs is problem-specific and is increasingly generated in the context of application’ (Delanty 2001: 109). Baez (2002) recounts how Veblen (1918) described the function of lower and professional schools as being ‘occupied with instilling such knowledge and habits as will make their pupils fit citizens of the world in whatever position in the fabric of workday life they may fall’. In contrast Baez (2002) indicates Veblen believed the university’s function is to prepare ‘men for a life of science and scholarship; and it is accordingly concerned with such discipline only as will give efficiency in the pursuit of knowledge and fit its students for the increase and diffusion of learning’ (Baez 2002: 53). Ironically ‘most holders of the Ph.D. do not pursue research (and never have) and now the difference between degrees seems more ideological than material’ (Baez 2002: 54).

The growth of the knowledge society has resulted in questioning of the role of the academy. The admittance of applied knowledge as expressed in degrees like professional doctorates has resulted in debate over what the academy stands for. ‘We use the term ‘university’ but we no longer have any clear sense as to what it might stand for: we no longer have a concept of ‘‘university’’’ (Barnett 2000a: 115).

The ‘gold standard’ Ph.D. appears to sit comfortably with the academy’s conceptualisation of knowledge, despite the fact that its inception, as outlined earlier, was not without controversy. Perhaps it is the bringing into the academy of those mainly externally based researching professionals who are intent on taking their enhanced knowledge out of the academy to locations outside its control is the concern. Another possible explanation is the academy is unsure these temporary researching professionals merit the awarding of a doctorate. Maybe the inclusion of application, skills development and career development aspirations within professional doctorates does not sit comfortably with the academy. A more positive explanation is that while the academy is not quite comfortable with all aspects of professional doctorates it is endeavouring to give recognition to the multitude of locations where knowledge is produced and applied.

Baez (2002), as noted earlier, alluded to the fact that the Ph.D. has not succeeded in its aim of developing practising researchers. It could be argued that the Ph.D. simply became valued as the route for academic progression and its ‘gold standard’ nature was incorrectly attributed to disinterested inquiry and the creation of new knowledge. Researching professionals and professional researchers may therefore share a common goal of career advancement or recognition within their discipline or organisation.

Baez (2002) suggests simply making comparisons between professional doctorates, such as the Ed.D, and the traditional Ph.D. hides ‘the power of academic institutions to create and legitimate classifications of the social world, and thus, to dominate it’ (Baez 2002: 47). It could be argued that the development of professional doctorates symbolises that the power of the academy is now shared with other knowledge producers in the spirit of Mode 2 knowledge production. Alternatively, the academy’s power is diluted by the influence of other knowledge producers on its programmes resulting in programmes, such as professional doctorates, where application has become a significant part of the academy’s highest award.


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