Industrial PhDs score high on employment and income

Industrial PhD graduates in Denmark have been scoring higher than those with conventional doctorates in terms of employment and income, according to a new report by the Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation.

The recent report, titled The effect of the Industrial PhD Programme on Employment and Income, uses extensive Danish government registers to compare industrial and other PhD candidates.

The Danish Industrial PhD programme – which was among the first in Europe – was initiated in 1971 and transformed in 1988. In 2010, 676 industrial PhDs graduated in Denmark: 54% of them in technical sciences, 19% in medical sciences, 12% in the natural sciences, 7% in agricultural and veterinary sciences, 7% in social sciences and only 1% in the humanities.

The research found high employment rates among both industrial and conventional PhD graduates. The rate of employment for industrial PhDs varied between 95% and 99% from 2004-10.

“Very few experience long-term unemployment,” the report says. “On average, those affected by unemployment are unemployed 15% to 36% percent of the year.”

Industrial PhDs also have high income levels, the report found. In 2010, they on average earned €91,000 (US$113,000) in gross income, and the income level reported was highest among social scientists: €112,000. Industrial PhDs earn significantly more than conventional PhDs, on average €5,500 a year more “irrespective of their field of research”.

Close to 80% of industrial PhDs are employed by the private sector against 50% of the comparison group, where most PhD graduates are employed in public administration.

The report says that income differentials are mostly about where PhD holders go to work; within the private and public sectors, average PhD incomes are similar, but more industrial PhD graduates enter the private sector, where salaries are higher. Thus, effect on income “is indirect and caused by the type of employment to which the PhD leads,” says the report.

Industrial PhDs are typically specialised experts and rarely hold management positions, the study found. Most – 85% – perform functions that “require knowledge at the highest level” and only 8% hold management positions.

“However, conventional PhDs are even more specialised, with 90% performing a work function that requires knowledge at the highest level and only 5% employed as managers,” the report says.

The research found that few industrial PhDs left Denmark after graduation without coming back – only 7% of all graduates.


Professor Anders Flodström of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, who is also former university chancellor of Sweden and education director for the European Institute of Technology-supported Knowledge and Innovation Community network EIT ICTLabs, told University World News:

“It is very rewarding to see the results of the Danish study of the labour market for PhDs within the industrial doctorate programme. It is clear that that the PhDs from the programme get good jobs and very competitive salaries in the labour market for high-level industrialists.

“This is part of an ongoing debate in Europe. Should we educate PhDs for the industrial (societal) or the academic labour market? Today over 70% of PhDs within engineering and natural science will work in the former and less than30% will become academics.

“Is it not reasonable to think that a PhD education having industrial internships, innovation and entrepreneurial practices, would do a better job for this labour market?” asked Flodström.

“At least EIT ICTLabs believes so, and we have created a PhD education based on the concept of doctoral training centres, not sacrificing anything of the academic rigour needed in PhD education.

“Still, PhD education almost everywhere is aimed at the academic career. The justification is that if you succeed in PhD education, learn to do academic research and to publish papers in peer-reviewed journals, you can handle anything in any job.”

“The Danish study clearly shows that this early initiative using a blended PhD education with strict academic criteria, and involving industrial experience and industrially related topics, works very well and creates a new brand of PhDs for non-academic labour markets.”

Thomas Jørgensen, head of the European University Association (EUA) unit responsible for the Council for Doctoral Education, told University World News that the report corresponded well with the broad interest in PhD holders in the labour market, as shown by both the EUA and the OECD.

“EUA's work on collaborative doctoral programmes across Europe through its DOC CAREERS projects has indeed highlighted the motivations, benefits and challenges of such collaborative programmes.

“These projects have also demonstrated that a number of effective different models [for establishing and running such programmes] exist across Europe, with the Danish industrial PhD being just one of them,” said Jørgensen.