QUALITY ASSURANCE OF DOCTORAL EDUCATION IN PORTUGAL: A RETROSPECTIVE OF THE FIRST ACCREDITATION CYCLE
In the last decades, doctoral education has been under considerable transformation. This has led doctoral education to become increasingly the target of public concern and under the scrutiny of external quality assurance (QA). External QA of doctoral education varies widely across Europe in terms of processes, procedures, criteria, and indicators, framed by QA systems with different regulation degrees and purposes. In Portugal, doctoral education is subject to tight regulation, driven by accountability purposes. Doctoral education is mandatorily included in the assessment and accreditation of study programmes carried out by the national QA Agency.
The aim of this study is to discuss both the forms assumed by the external QA of doctoral education within the scope of a system as regulated as the Portuguese one, as well as the effects or impact of the external QA in this education level. In trying to explore the extension of this impact, special attention is given to the accreditation results (full accreditation, conditional accreditation, and non-accreditation) according to the scientific area and the higher education sector (public and private) of the doctoral programmes.
The study relies on the analysis of information on the doctoral programmes envisaged by the first accreditation cycle (N=405), between 2012 and 2017. Specifically, accreditation results have been analysed according to the doctoral programmes scientific areas and sectors. A content analysis was developed to explore both the reasons justifying the non-accreditation and the conditions underlying conditional accreditation.
Most doctoral programmes submitted to accreditation were from public universities (93%). Among these, 78% received full accreditation, 18% conditional accreditation and 4% non-accreditation. The scientific areas of education, arts and humanities and health were those where accreditation had more impact. The picture changes concerning the private universities programmes, where only about half (55%) of them received accreditation, 33% conditional accreditation and 11% non-accreditation. In this case, most of the non-accredited and conditionally accredited programmes were in the social sciences.
Regarding the conditional accreditations, the conditions imposed addressed several dimensions. The doctoral programmes’ curricular plan, organisation and research were the dimensions mostly mentioned, being this even more evident for the programmes of private universities. Non-accreditations fundamentals, although replicating the previous conditions, also stressed the teaching staff composition and gave more emphasis to research. While not so evident, differences in the reasons justifying the non-accreditation and the conditions underlying conditional accreditation also emerged according to the doctoral programmes scientific areas.
Overall it is possible to conclude that the regulated system existent in Portugal contributed to the reorganisation of the doctoral education offer, by excluding from the system those programmes not satisfying a set of minimal requirements and promoting an enhancement of the others.