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The potentially useful role of IR in research into doctoral study success: A user’s perspective

The potentially useful role of IR in research into doctoral study success: A user’s perspective. SAAIR Forum NMMU, Port Elizabeth 21-23 September 2009 Eli Bitzer Centre for Higher and Adult Education Stellenbosch University. How desperate are aspiring PhDs (and supervisors)?.

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The potentially useful role of IR in research into doctoral study success: A user’s perspective

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  1. The potentially useful role of IR in research into doctoral study success: A user’s perspective SAAIR Forum NMMU, Port Elizabeth 21-23 September 2009 Eli Bitzer Centre for Higher and Adult Education Stellenbosch University

  2. How desperate are aspiring PhDs (and supervisors)? Germany Rocked By Allegations of Ph.D. Bribes By Jochen Leffers, Der Spiegel (online), 24 August 2009 Did hundreds of German university professors take bribes to work with specific Ph.D. candidates? Investigators in Cologne are looking into whether a company bribed dozens of professors to advance the academic careers of its clients. A number of Ph.D. holders might soon lose their titles, and academics are worried the scandal will put a dent in the reputation of German universities... 2

  3. And PhD degree mills… Dublin News 18 November 2005 Adding grist to the mill for those of us who suspect our politicians have outsourced governing to underqualified professionals, news from breakingnews.ie and practically everywhere else suggests a second big-wig government adviser has attained a PhD from a diploma mill. I didn’t get all that involved in the last debacle, others were far better qualified to commentate on it and it seemed a politically isolated event. It seems that this outbreak of PhD purchasing is not confined to Barry MacSweeney at all.Reports this morning said Dr Con Power, the chair of the Financial Services Ombudsman Council, had obtained a PhD from Pacific Western University, which is regarded as a so-called "degree mill".This morning's reports said he was insisting that his PhD was legally awarded on the basis of many years of research and publications. 3

  4. Universities and their contribution to development (adapted from Castells, M. 2009. Lecture at UWC).

  5. Universities and their contribution to development

  6. Points from an ensuing discussion Traces of all these (historical) functions can be found in any university system at a particular point in time. Systemic diversity is preferable, but all universities need to have access to excellence in the system. The importance of lifelong learning whereby knowledge is constantly recycled and renewed. The importance of technology – particularly in countries where classroom learning for large numbers is not affordable. The production of flexible citizens with core values. Rigidity of the disciplines needs to be negotiated. The importance of universities to operate in the public interest. Autonomy from the state should be earned by public accountability. 6

  7. Implications for doctoral education (in developing contexts) Not all universities need to train doctoral students. Not all universities need to train up to the doctoral level of studies in all disciplines/fields. Flexibility and trans-disciplinarity needed to solve pressing problems. Doctoral inquiry and studies should reflect public interest (not only private and institutional interests). Forms an important basis for the scientific quality and strength of a country. Doctoral quality should not be compromised and (international) standards maintained and enhanced. 7

  8. Postgraduate training – time for an overhaul? Concerns Time-to-degree and completion rates Uneven supervision and mentoring practices Poor research preparation of students Limited number of doctorates in science and engineering After 10 years of study, completion rates in Engineering – 46% Life Sciences – 62% Physical Sciences – 55% Social Sciences – 55% Human Sciences – 47% Median completion time = 7.6 years [Council of Graduate Schools as reported by Cohen and Cherwitz, 2006] 8

  9. The South African postgraduate scene (Mouton 2007) Overall it takes approximately 40 undergraduates to produce one PhD. When adjustments are made for professional bachelor degrees the figure is 22:1 Every third or fourth Master’s student goes on to a PhD The average time to complete a PhD between 2000 and 2005 was 4.7 years. 68% of students completed their studies within the first 5 years. Students in Arts and Education take longer (1 to 1.3 years) to graduate than students in Life and Physical Sciences. Although no accurate statistics are available, it is estimated that up to 40% of students who enroll for PhD studies do not finish. This is not significantly higher than comparable international figures. Mouton found that the problem does not lie so much with attrition, but much more with the quality of PhDs compared to international standards. Systemic issues that need attention: - Overburdened and inexperienced supervisors - Insufficient research preparation for doctoral students - Insufficient financial support for PhD students - Insufficient resources devoted to postgraduate support. What are the factors associated with doctoral degree success and attrition? 9

  10. I. Student background factors • Self-perception of competence • Historical experiences • Academic support • Self-confidence • Learning style • Study skills • Options and choices II. Student factors III. Institutional factors • Academic • Perceived • low level of academic integration • Learning backlogs • Heavy workload • Inadequate study skills • Lacking foundational knowledge • Lack of commitment • Lack of confidence • Social • Perceived low level of social integration • Academic/social imbalance • Language difficulties • Financial constraints • Lack of family support • Academic • Inadequate support • Inadequate language & communication in classes • Large classes • In adequate facilities • Inefficient administration • Skewed access measures • Inadequate teaching • Type of assessment • Inadequate/wrong course information • Social • Limited opportunities • Limited facilities • Inadequate accommodation Louw’s conceptual framework related to student support (Source: Louw 2005)

  11. Factors influencing degree completion and creativity [Lovitts B E 2005: Studies in Higher Education, 30(2):137-154] 11

  12. Factors contributing to/subtracting from postgraduate(M & D) success Positives High stakes: Monetary value of postgraduate studies (2009 rand values): Master’s (50% research component – R 55 284; Master’s (Full research – R 102 602); PhD (Full research – R 307 806) What we know: Academic and social integration are important (Pascarella & Terenzini) Factors influencing PhD completion have been identified (Lovitts 2005; Monathunga 2006) Positive supervision experiences have been reported (see UNSW survey 2006/7) Negatives Intellectual isolation of students (Ryan & Zuber-Skerritt 1998) Financial constraints (De Zoysa 2001) Lack of a sound methodological base and integration into a research culture (Gilliam & Kritsonis 2006) Factors associated with attrition (Kamas, Paxson, Wang & Blau 2001) 12

  13. Most common factors associated with PhD attrition (Kamas, Paxson, Wang & Blau 2001) 13 13

  14. Comments • As in undergraduate education, doctoral studies performance and success seem to be a function of a complex set of variables. • In comparison to the USA, Europe and Australasia, we need more research and action in South Africa on these variables and issues. • Examples of research issues 3.1 The potential effect of the ‘massification’ of PG studies and increasing PhD participation rates. Particularly at Universities of Technology. 3.2 Increasing student diversity and related issues (e.g. distance and culture). Especially supervision to students from Africa and student academic literacy levels. 3.3 Increased student funding needs and possible inadequate levels of funding. 3.4 Strategic areas where postgraduate studies and PhD studies in particular are crucial. The need for inter- and trans-disciplinary studies and accompanying challenges. 3.5 The relevance of PhD studies, its contributions and potential impact. 3.6 The epistemological, ontological and societal value of PhD studies.

  15. Samples of reported research PG Supervision Conference 2007 (examples) (See SAJHE 21:8) • Sid Bourke (Newcastle, Australia): ‘PhD thesis quality – Views of examiners’. Studied 2121 examination reports on 804 theses across disciplines in Australia. Found difficulty in determining thesis quality from examiner reports, inconsistencies and lack of finer discrimination beyond marginal and the best theses. • Heinke Roebken (Germany): Variations in supervision practices. Variants between ‘total freedom’ to ‘apprenticeship’ models. A question of structure, cost and throughput. • Rowena Murray (Scotland): Writing from and disseminating doctoral work. Writing and publishing strategies to make doctoral research publicly known. • Johann Mouton: Myths, conceptions and challenges in the postgraduate system in South Africa. PG Supervision Conference 2009 (examples) (See Acta Academica, Forthcoming) • Gina Wisker (England): The doctoral research journey. A study of threshold concepts in doctoral studies and the non-linear paths of the postgraduate research process. • Barbara Grant (New Zealand): Doctoral supervision in post-colonial sites. The challenges accompanying supervision across cultures and value systems. • Sioux McKenna (UKZN): ‘I won’t be squeezed into someone else’s frame: Narratives of supervisor selection’. Issues of knowledge, embodied subjectivity and power by following three questions arose: Whose knowing is important? Who should I be? Whose PhD is it?

  16. HEQF Level specifications for M & D (2007)

  17. HEQF postgraduate management audit criteria (CHE, 2005) Supervision roles • Advise on postgraduate project management • Guide students through the research process • Ensure academic quality at the appropriate level • Counsel and mentor for student support • Administer the research process. Criteria Research phases: (1) Developing and evaluating proposals (2) Accessing resources (3) Conducting and concluding research (4) Making research public Specifications: (1) Policies/regulations relating to PG research (2) Quality management structures relating to PG research (3) Research information on PG research (4) Support and development strategies relating to PG research

  18. The PhD research journey (Wisker 2009)

  19. Research on PG student satisfaction and needs (an example) Albertyn RM, Kapp CA & Bitzer EM. 2008. Profiling exiting postgraduate students' performance and experiences. SA Journal of Higher Education, 22(4): 749 - 772.

  20. Context • Qualifications at master’s (MPhil) and doctoral (PhD) level in field of higher and adult education • 2007: Exit & alumni survey to scrutinise experiences of graduates from these programmes • 2008: Follow-up qualitative study • to identify the students' needs (survey) • to investigate their experiences of postgraduate studies (follow-up study) • to identify possible ways supervisors can improve their practice of postgraduate supervision (study and reflection) Objectives

  21. Survey • Sample • Students registered between 2001 and 2006 • Graduated and discontinued • 78 students • Measuring instrument • Based on questionnaire designed for previous study (Centre for Higher and Adult Education) • Adaptations made to include constructs identified in the studies of Manathunga, (2005), McCormack (2005) and Lindén (1999) • Biographical, study information, Likert-scale questions on students' needs and supervision needs, and open-ended questions on students' postgraduate experiences

  22. Findings:SURVEY (Student needs) 23

  23. General skills: Difficult aspects Writing Using computer programmes Receiving feedback Interpreting feedback Time management 24

  24. Supervision needs Be more ‘hands on’ and involved i.e. “bug” students for the next chapter MPhil student 25

  25. Supervision needs 26

  26. Supervision needs • Helping develop arguments logically in scientific writing • Extending vocabulary through feedback • Assisting in developing reading and editing skills • Motivation • Counselling • Emotional support 27

  27. Themes: Learning process Impact on: Professional knowledge and skills Application of various scholarships Critical reflection Benefits: Intrinsic outcomes Confidence Metacognition Extrinsic outcomes Competence Recognition Findings:FOLLOW-UP STUDY (experiences) 28

  28. Benefits • I think I have developed more self-confidence and assertiveness but not enough. (MPhil student) • My studies provided that independence and also self-confidence have given me a better understanding of who I am and why I function in a certain way. (PhD graduate) • I think the studies made me more aware that I actually know a little and that a person always remains a student. (PhD graduate) • My input at the various committees (local and international) has been significant in terms of my gained knowledge. (MPhil student) • …the extrinsic is nice. I had comments such as: You have single-handed changed the culture in the university……… I have received an additional two increments in the first year and after 18 months my post was re-evaluated and changed to that of PL back dated to the same date as the increments. (PhD graduate) 29

  29. ‘Doctorateness’ as threshold concept (Trafford and Leshem, 2008)

  30. Problems/concerns/issues • Research output (comparative) • Link: Research   Productivity • Dropout rates • (S)low completion rates • Funding and resources • HEQC (Quality) • HEQF (Outcomes) • Purposes (Differentiated) • Standards and benchmarks • Inexperience (students and supervisors) • Lack of research base • Lack of training

  31. What constitutes quality supervision? (Workshop participants) 32

  32. Challenges of supervising in richly diverse contexts • Increase in diverse student populations at universities • Typical challenges faced by supervisors: - Language and writing - Lack of vocabulary - Cultural background differences and expectations - Research training at the previous level - Teaching and learning styles - Ethical aspects- ownership of work - Student agency/ insecurity - Social practices

  33. Conclusions • Participation in postgraduate education is on the increase and rightfully so. Apparently a worldwide phenomenon as undergraduates increase. • We do not know much about the variables and constraints associated with postgraduate studies and supervision – particularly at the PhD level in South Africa. • Postgraduate supervision constitutes much more than research training. It seems to involve a range of epistemological, ontological and institutional variables and issues. • Researchers needed who do not only focus on trends and macro-level (national and institutional) issues, but also on institutional and educational issues associated with (successful) postgraduate education and supervision. • Apparently, there are particular data and information needs where IR can play a significant role to fill the void.

  34. Examples of PG researcher data and information needs that might link to IR 1. Feedback: From students (current and completed; discontinued; full-time; part-time; international) Supervisors (process and product issues) Examiners (reports; process issues) 2. Departments: Proposal processes; supervisor workload distribution; candidate and supervisor selection criteria and processes; training and preparation for supervision; supervisor-student contracts and agreements; Formative evaluation processes and progress reports; number and quality of outputs/publications from PhD studies. 3. Student throughput: Student admissions (variance); throughput rates; success rates; time to degree; student attrition issues; support systems and mechanisms (e.g. effectiveness and efficiency of assistance with data analysis, language support, writing support); comparative institutional data. 4. Examiner reports: Quality of research products (theses and dissertations); quality of reports; effectiveness, efficiency and contribution of oral examinations to quality. 5. Qualification value: Market value of institutional M/D qualifications; career opportunities and paths of M’s and D’s. 6. Other: Performance in previous degree; undergraduate performance; financial position (e.g. grants and bursaries); implications of PhD attrition at various levels.

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