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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 academy and lifelong learning

The Report on the Taskforce on Lifelong Learning (2002) cites the definition of lifelong learning as defined by the European Commission: ‘All learning activity undertaken through-out life with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competencies within a personal, civic, social and/or employment-related perspective’ (Report of the Taskforce on Lifelong Learning 2002: 6).

The issue of lifelong learning has become an area of debate and priority due to ‘the realisation that developed economies are moving into a post industrial phase where the emphasis is increasingly on the ability to continuously acquire knowledge, skills and competencies in an environment of constant change’ (Report on the Taskforce on Lifelong Learning 2002: 5).

It could be argued that professional doctorates, such as the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), represent the demands of and response to the lifelong learning agenda. These demands emanate from various sources, for example the state, employers, professional bodies, and individual students.

The massification of higher education has led to graduates of higher education undertaking higher degrees in order to ‘regain positional advance in an overcrowded labour market, to secure enhanced status in an increasingly volatile society or to satisfy cravings for self-realisation in an anomic post-modern world’ (Scott 2000: 195). In order to facilitate students undertaking doctoral studies the academy has developed programmes such as the DBA that are structured in such a way as to appeal to professionals based outside the academy. Universities ‘gain their public prestige and income by being validating bodies’ (Gray 1999: 11). While higher education currently has the monopoly on accreditation, if it fails to respond to the needs of other knowledge producers, such as industry, it may run the risk of this monopoly being challenged.

The admission criteria for the professional doctorate is a little more flexible than the traditional Ph.D. In respect of professional doctorates, the admission criteria may be ‘a ‘good’ first degree’ with students generally initially enrolling or participating on subjects on a master’s programme. In contrast the Ph.D. generally requires either a ‘relevant’ or ‘good’ undergraduate degree or participation on a ‘conversion’ masters degree. (Bourner et al. 2001: 72). The admission criteria for both the Ph.D. and professional doctorates are still very much based on the prior completion of a course of study or participation on a conversion course both of which derive from the academy.

The entry criteria for professional doctorates generally includes that the student is an ‘experienced practitioner within a profession’. In contrast the Ph.D. is intended for ‘apprentice researchers who may have no experience in the field beyond the possession of a good first degree in the proposed field of study’ (Bourner et al. 2001: 72). The admission criteria for the academy’s highest level award are still based on criteria understood, controlled and granted by the academy.

Universities are ‘under increased pressure from the state to make their teaching programmes relevant to employment’ (Delanty 2001: 108). In Ireland the submission by the government-established Expert Group on Future Skills (EGFS) to the OECD’s Review on Higher Education in Ireland expresses concern that courses undertaken by students ‘often do not reflect the changing skills needs of the economy’ and that ‘priority should be given to the critical importance of embedding a culture of life-long learning in Ireland’ (EGFS 2004: 2).

In the United Kingdom a trend has developed to ‘accredit work-based learning and to bring vocational qualifications and academic qualifications into closer alignment’ (Winter et al. 2000: 27). The learning outcomes of professional doctorates, such as the DBA, include learning outcomes related to research in the field of business administration, a follow-up learning outcome of implementation by the student of their research findings, and the student’s own personal development comprising of self-management skills and knowledge acquisition (Bourner et al. 2000: 482). These learning outcomes are very unambiguously presented and are expressed in terms readily understood by the student and professional bodies/industry. It is easy to understand the benefits of undertaking a professional doctorate. The language used to describe professional doctorates promises application in the workplace and personal development of the student.

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