Agència per a la Qualitat del Sistema Universitari de Catalunya

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Results in Catalonia

The main conclusions of the analysis of the situation of PhD programmes from the students' point of view revolve around three main points:

Student profile

It can be seen from the data that, of PhD students in Catalonia, 50.2% are female and 49.8% male. The majority are of Catalan origin (67.3%), followed by students of Central and South American origin (21.4%).

Origin  %
Catalunya 67.4
Rest of Spain 6.3
Europe 3.3
Central and South America 21.4
Others 1.6
Total 100

There are basically two reasons why students study for a PhD: as preparation for a career in faculty teaching staff (54%), and interest in the subject (23%).

Doctoral theses

As far as the format is concerned, the majority of theses are monographs (75%), with the thesis in the remainder consisting of a collection of articles (25%). These data vary considerably however from one subject area to another: 96% of all theses in the Humanities are monographs, whereas in the Health Sciences, they only account for 48%. 47% of all theses are written in Spanish, 31% in Catalan and 21% in English (mainly technical subjects).

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Students' views on their postgraduate training: introduction to the postgraduate programmes

Regarding the process of starting their PhD studies, students were satisfied in relation to the clarity of the requirements for registration, which is the result of a clearly established regulatory framework. Only slightly more than fifty percent however believed that the information they received at the start of the programme was satisfactory, and less than half of those taking part in the opinion poll gave the information received from the department a positive rating. The lowest rating was given to the information on students' rights and obligations.

There were no significant variations according to subject.

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Students' views on their postgraduate training: relevance of the subjects taken

This aspect is the one where most improvements to the running of PhD programmes can be made. While 53% of students affirmed that the quality of the subjects and courses was high, less than half considered that subjects were useful or relevant for the research they were undertaking.

Subjects were more highly rated in the Social Sciences and Humanities, while the lowest rating was in the Health Sciences.

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Students' views on their postgraduate training: how supervision works

Students' relationships with their supervisors and thesis directors is one of the strong points of the PhD programmes being run. In addition to positively rating the quality of supervision (receiving constructive criticism on research, discussing aspects concerning methodology, etc.), they also positively rated the interest shown in general in their PhD studies. The aspect that thesis directors show the least interest in was PhD students' plans for the future. Only 16% declared that supervision created obstacles to their research work; 13% had seriously considered changing their thesis director; and 8.5% found themselves in a situation of dependency.

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Students' views on their postgraduate training: the PhD studies environment

While two thirds of all students rated the PhD studies environment as positive and stimulating, just over half of them considered that they felt accepted as a member of a group research team. Student participation in departmental activities was quite low: slightly more than half had participated in discussions on the discipline, and only 18.5% had the feeling that they could exert an influence in the department. The degree of influence is logically higher in disciplines where thesis work is undertaken in research groups, as in Science and Technical subjects.

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Students' views on their postgraduate training: the results

As far as the results are concerned, a distinction should be made between professional results (competence in research) and personal results.

Students were either quite or very satisfied with the degree to which their PhD studies were useful for developing competence in research, and this was the most highly rated aspect of the entire study. They affirmed that their studies were useful for acquiring the skill to independently carry out research (75%), acquire more knowledge and understanding of scientific theories (73%), and acquire knowledge and understanding of scientific methodology (81%). Considering that PhD studies create the pool of future researchers, the students' rating of the results that refer to these objectives was undoubtedly very high. There were no significant variations according to subject area.

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The results concerning the degree to which their PhD studies were useful for broadening their general education were less gratifying. Two thirds of all students affirmed that their PhD experience was useful for reflecting on their personal values, whereas slightly more than half (56%) affirmed that they felt more involved in developing society, and that their studies enabled them to better understand people from other cultures. Only 36.2% considered that the experience was useful for gaining a better understanding of gender-based cultural and social differences.

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To summarise, these results highlight the controversy between the academic and social sides of PhD studies. It would appear that there is a clear bias towards the academic side although the question should be asked whether it is right for researchers to perceive their PhD environment as being isolated from the society that supports them.

The overall rating for PhD programmes is accordingly positive: 85% would re-enrol to do the same PhD studies if they were to start over again, 77% would choose the same university and 75% considered that their studies were either good or excellent. The most highly rated aspects were the effectiveness of PhD studies for developing competence in research, followed by well-run supervisory processes. The aspects where improvements need to be made are those associated with the PhD studies environment, followed by the students interest in and relevance of the subjects.

Technical features

In 2004, there were 12,500 PhD students in Catalunya, of which one thousand had participated in the MIRROR project. 

Areas Population Sample % replies Sampling error
Humanities 2.346 166 7,08 7,48
Social Sciences 3.152 370 11,74 4,88
Experimental 1.836 189 10,29 6,89
Health 2.509 128 5,10 8,61
Technical 2.614 148 5,66 7,99
Total 12.457 1.001 8,04 3,03

The sample is sufficiently large to make comparative analyses betweeen the body of PhD students in Catalunya and those in Sweden, Finland and Ireland, and also to detect differences between the five main disciplinary fields.

Document PDF MIRROR survey

23.5.2013