This week the European Council of Doctoral Candidates and Junior Researchers (Eurodoc) released two statements on the topic of doctoral education.
The first one “Doctoral Education – A Research Education” is the product of a more than one year long process led by the Eurodoc Doctoral Training working group. This statement summarises Eurodoc’s extensive policies and opinions on what makes up doctoral education. It has three parts: 1) the skill set of doctoral candidates, 2) the formal requirements for doctoral education, and 3) the quality assurance of doctoral education. Please read and join the conversation on how to strengthen doctoral education in our working group.
The second one “Response to UKRI’s New Deal for Postgraduate Research” is a statement released by the board of Eurodoc criticising the announcements made by UKRI on September 26, 2013. UKRI, the largest research funder in the United Kingdom, recommended in its report “New deal for postgraduate research” to not employ doctoral candidates. Paradoxically, the report acknowledges that doctoral candidates in the UK today do not have sufficient social security, yet they maintain that such social security could be provided better in other ways than employment but fail to make any concrete suggestion of how to do so.
Eurodoc maintains, and has done so for the last 20 years, that doctoral candidates are professionals, most recently in the above mentioned statement “Doctoral Education – A Research Education” and in the statement “Setting high quality employment conditions for early career researchers”. That doctoral candidates are professionals are also established in the Salzburg principles (European University Association) based on the Bologna Follow Up agreement, and confirmed in the Research Manifesto (Initiative for Science Europe). Doctoral candidates are professionals contributing to the core tasks of the higher education institutions, i.e. research, teaching, and self-government. Accordingly, they should be treated as professionals and have employment, social security and be provided with reasonable working conditions.
22 years after the formation of Eurodoc, the reality is still that many doctoral candidates across Europe are financed by scholarships without proper access to social security, only partially financed, or not financed at all. Over the last 20 years, the research career at the same time has continued to grow increasingly precarious with an increase of short term contracts for the ones wishing to be pursuing an academic career seems to be increasing.
Higher education and research are essential parts of the democratic infrastructure. To advance society, safeguard democracy, and prepare for the challenges of the future, teaching critical thinking, challenging the current boundaries of knowledge, and advancing our understanding are crucial. Thus, to refuse to offer reasonable employment conditions to those who work in this sector – including doctoral candidates – is a societal problem. We cannot accept, nor expect, that professionals need to finance their professional life through scholarships or private funds and have reduced access to social security only because they are "young" or in early career stages.
We encourage academics, higher education institutions, funders, and policymakers to consider the following questions:
- Who is doctoral education supposed to be for? Is it for everyone equipped and skilled to embark on a research career, no matter their social background and financial or family situation, or is it only for those who can afford it? Without proper employment conditions, doctoral education becomes available and profitable only for those who can afford it and already are part of the academic élite.
- Under the current conditions, why should a person equipped with all the skills necessary to join the research profession decide to embark on a precarious career? A career in which doctoral candidates, postdocs, or other early career researchers need to expect to earn less than they would elsewhere in the public or private sector, and with a lack of social security, and planning that the precariousness of such careers brings with it.
When we in Eurodoc, on behalf of our member organisations from across Europe, argue that doctoral candidates need to be recognized as professionals and be employed, it is because conditions for doctoral candidates and early career researchers lie at the core of not only ensuring sustainable research careers for both the individuals and the academic institutions, but fundamentally also a high quality in research, education, and outreach.
Is it really controversial to believe that professionals working in the private or public sector should be employed with reasonable working conditions?
List of authors
This piece was written by members of Eurodoc’s task force on the higher education areas:
- Pil Maria Saugmann : 0000-0002-3548-0134
- Sarah Pilia: 0000-0001-8221-3082
- Linnéa Carlsson: 0000-0002-7123-3173
- Hannah Schoch, 0000-0002-3987-4106
- Karl Kilbo Edlund, 0000-0001-7586-4119
This piece was edited by:
Anna Pavelieva: 0000-0002-2306-1928