DESIGNING A QUALITY ASSURANCE SYSTEM FOR DOCTORAL EDUCATION
The Bologna Process has been broadly adopted by most signatory countries. This has challenged universities to adopt the same quality underlying standards for all their study cycles, including doctoral studies. However, there is still a significant number of universities that so far have not adopted any of those standards in their doctoral studies, leaving the later aside from their internal quality assurance systems. One possible reason for such situation may lay in the fact that doctoral studies are indeed quite different from the 1st and even the 2nd cycles of study, namely due to their reliance in a heavy research component, and not so much in the usual classes. Resistance to change this situation and actually include doctoral studies in the scope of internal quality assurance systems has also been a reality.
The University of Aveiro has opted to immediately consider doctoral studies as a 3rd cycle, being one of the pioneers in Portugal in the creation of an organic body to supervise all the activities related to this cycle of studies – University of Aveiro Doctoral School. Since its beginning, the doctoral school has been working in order to fully incorporate the ESG standards into doctoral education, namely through the development of mechanisms for its internal quality assurance and enhancement. This effort has been inspired partly in the mechanisms already in place for the 1st and 2nd cycles, at least for the part relating to the doctoral courses. Furthermore, other models already being tested by several universities of the EUA-CDU have been used as a source for these developments.
Starting from the assumption that a doctoral programme comprises a set of doctoral courses (in the 1st year) and research work (in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th year), the proposed quality assurance system tries to answer the following question: how to assure and improve the quality of these two components? Regarding the doctoral courses, the system focus on the strong and weak points of the curricular units (number; type; programmatic contents; teaching and learning approaches; assessment methodologies; teaching staff; academic results), with the goal of acting correctively if needed, while also sharing the best practices. Different actors intervene at this level, namely the students, the teaching staff, the programme director, the department director and the director of the doctoral school. To every one of them a specific task is assigned, which allows the validation of the diagnosis made and of the corrective actions to be implemented, including the necessary resources for it.
The quality of the research work takes as unit of analysis the doctoral student and considers three different dimensions: i) the scientific evolution of the work; ii) the supervision; iii) the resources available. Again different actors intervene at different levels, including the students, their supervisors, other members of the academic staff, the programme director, the department director, the director of the doctoral school and the scientific and pedagogic councils.
A set of forms have been designed to operationalise the system. At the moment we are in the phase of testing the forms and the workflow within a set of doctoral programs at the university. Then the whole system will be put in place. We firmly believe that such a system may contribute to ensure the quality of the university’s doctoral education, allowing for its sustained development for the future.