January 2015


Doctorate holders: doctoral studies and labour market outcomes

AQU Catalunya - Editorial Department

The third AQU Catalunya survey and study on the labour market outcomes of holders of doctorate degrees from Catalan universities was completed in 2014. Surveys and studies on graduate destinations coordinated by AQU Catalunya are a consequence of the interest of the social councils of the universities in Catalonia in obtaining data and benchmarks on the quality of the labour market outcomes of graduates. In the case of the transition to employment of holders of doctorate degrees from universities in Catalonia, these surveys and studies have been undertaken once every three years since 2008 (2008, 2011 and 2014).

New aspects of this third survey are the fact that all of the seven public universities in Catalonia (University of Barcelona/UB, Autonomous University of Barcelona/UAB, BarcelonaTech/UPC, Pompeu Fabra University/UPF, University of Girona/UdG, University of Lleida/UdL and Rovira i Virgili University/URV) and the Open University of Catalonia/UOC (for the first time) participated; also, foreign doctorate holders were interviewed online. Although it is not possible for significant conclusions to be reached due to the response rate, development of the database does provide for analysis of the profile of foreign students according to country of origin and the field of studies, the university where they studied, etc.

This third survey makes the Catalan university system one of just a few which systematically monitor their doctorate holders. It also provides the university system with a good opportunity to undergo a realistic analysis of the employment-related outputs of doctorate holders and to design relevant actions and policies according to identified needs and requirements.

On 17 December the Pompeu Fabra University (Campus de la Comunicació) hosted an AQU Catalunya workshop titled "What needs to be improved in doctoral studies?" in which, in addition to a presentation of the findings of the last survey of the transition into work of doctorate holders, the training of doctoral students at European level was dealt with, a presentation was made of the methodology used by AQU Catalunya for the monitoring of doctoral programmes as an instrument to improve and enhance doctoral training, and a round table discussion held of aspects where particular attention is required for improvements and enhancements to be made to doctoral degree programmes.

Skills achievement of doctorate holders in Catalonia

The labour market outcomes survey covered Spanish and international doctorate holders awarded their doctorates in 2009 and 2010 by either one of the seven public universities in Catalonia or the Open University (UOC).

Doctorate holders Reference population (people) Sample
(sample error less than 8%)
Survey type
Graduates of 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 academic years Spanish: 2.080 1.426 Telephone
International (foreign students): 969 92 Online

The employment record of 3,585 doctorate holders has been monitored since 2008. Given its regularity and scope, this is one of the most significant surveys on the labour market outcomes of doctorate holders in Europe.

The profile of doctorate holders

According to the main subject areas, the distribution of doctorate holders is as follows: Experimental Sciences (36%), Social Sciences (17%), Engineering and Architecture (17%), Health Sciences (16%) and Humanities (14%); according to gender, 50% are female; and according to nationality, one third of those awarded a doctorate in 2009 and 2010 were foreigners (969 out of 3,049). Social Sciences and Engineering and Architecture were the most international (45% of those awarded a doctorate were foreigners) while Health Sciences had the lowest proportion (16%). 60% of all international doctorate holders were from Latin America (Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Chile) and 32% from Europe (mainly Italy).

The added value of higher studies

The findings show that the higher the level of studies, the higher the level of employment, with the employment rate of doctorate holders being twice that of those with only a primary school education. The added value of education has moreover increased with the economic crisis.

Trends in employment

9 out of 10 people were in full-time work three years after obtaining their PhD. In the previous survey (2011) there was a slight drop in the unemployment rate, whereas in 2014 it had increased by 3 per cent.

Place of work

6 out of 10 doctorate holders were working at a university or a research institute, with the remainder working in private enterprise and industry. In Health Sciences, 7 out of 10 were working in health organisations.

Education-job skills match

There was an 8 per cent drop in the education-job skills match in relation to 2011. 59% of those surveyed had doctorate-level job duties and responsibilities. In Experimental Sciences and Engineering and Architecture, the percentage was 68% and 64%, respectively. In Health Sciences the level of match was lower although the level of match with prior studies was highest.

85% of those working at a university and 73% of those working at research institutes had doctorate-level job duties and responsibilities. In private enterprise and industry, however, only 29% had doctorate-level job duties and responsibilities. This percentage was highest in Engineering and Architecture (38%) and Experimental Sciences (34%).

Job mobility

78% of doctorate holders were working in Catalonia and 14% were working outside of Spain, a percentage that shows an upward trend.

Mobility was higher among doctorate holders in Experimental Sciences (23% were working abroad) and lower among doctorate holders in Social Sciences (5%).

It is worth mentioning that, for doctorate holders working outside of Spain, the education-job skills match was 89% (compared to 55% for those who remained). There has therefore been an increase in the added value of looking for work abroad, given that the decrease in the education-job skills match for Spain was more pronounced.

Satisfaction with doctoral studies

La inserció laboral dels doctors i doctores de les universitats catalanesDoctorate holders rated their overall satisfaction with their doctoral studies at 7.4 out of 10.

A slightly positive trend can be seen in the overall assessment of doctoral studies as far as all aspects are concerned except for the content of learning activities.

85% of doctorate holders would take the same doctoral programme again. This percentage ranged from 87% in Health Sciences and Experimental Sciences to 77% in Humanities.

Satisfaction with acquired skills

Doctorate holders rated the majority of their acquired skills at between 7 and 8.1 out of 10. The rating was highest for skills customarily associated with research, whereas the rating for other skills (networking, fund-raising and resources for research and teaching) was lower.

These and other data are explained, together with tables and graphs, at: The labour market outcomes of holders of doctoral degrees from Catalan universities and Skills acquisition of doctorate holders in Catalonia.

Monitoring of doctoral programmes

During the workshop a presentation was also made of the methodology that is to be used for monitoring doctoral programmes, which undergo the same procedures of validation, monitoring and accreditation as those applied to recognised Bachelor and Master’s degrees. These procedures are laid down in Spanish legislation (Royal Decree 1393/20071, 29 October, concerning the academic governance of recognised programmes and awards from universities in Spain).

Over and above what is laid down in the regulations, the monitoring of doctoral programmes as developed by AQU Catalunya has a two-fold purpose. On the one hand, it needs to be a useful instrument for university management that can be used for the internal assessment of programme development and delivery using indicator analysis (theses defended, employment outcomes of doctorate holders, the satisfaction of doctorate holders, teaching staff, etc.), with the aim of being able to make a diagnosis of the situation and draw up enhancement proposals. On the other, monitoring, together with the site visits made to faculties and schools, will provide the main evidence for the accreditation of doctoral programmes.

The same standards, evidence and indicators used in accreditation will be used for the doctoral programme progress (monitoring) report and the indicators for the monitoring methodology aligned with the indicators given in WINDDAT. Monitoring of doctoral programmes will focus on continuous improvement and enhancement. If a doctoral programme is not working properly, this will clearly be detected during monitoring, not during accreditation, and if this occurs it means that monitoring has not been properly designed.

More information at The monitoring of doctoral programmes as an instrument for improving and enhancing doctoral studies.

The AQU workshop on "What needs to be improved in doctoral studies?" began with a presentation by the director of the Pompeu Fabra University’s School of Doctoral Studies, Núria Sebastián, on Doctoral studies in Europe, and ended with a round table in which the following participated: Lluís Torner, chairman of AQU’s Research Assessment Commission/CAR; Antonio Huerta, academic director of the Plan for Doctorate Holders in Industrial Engineering; Francesc Díaz, director of the Rovira i Virgili University’s School of Postgraduate and Doctoral Studies; and Maria Salamero, general manager of Aqua Development Network.

Approximately a hundred people participated, including heads of doctoral schools in Catalonia, doctoral programme coordinators, vice-rectors in charge of quality, research and internationalisation at Catalan universities and heads of quality units.


Generalitat de Catalunya

c/. dels Vergós, 36-42. 08017 Barcelona. Tel.: +34 93 268 89 50

© 2014 AQU Catalunya - Legal number B-21.910-2008