University colleges to increase staff PhDs tenfold

Danish university colleges are developing a plan to raise the proportion of staff having a PhD tenfold, from 5% to 50%, by 2022.

The colleges – which are comparable to universities of applied sciences in other European countries and provide profession-specific higher education in teacher training, engineering, nursing, physiotherapy and many other disciplines – were given the right to undertake research in 2013.

Previously, research and development, or R&D, within the specific professional areas were undertaken solely by universities. In addition to carrying out applied R&D, the university colleges must ensure that the new knowledge is transferrable into practice by delivering more research-based teaching.

Since 2013 university colleges have been receiving independent R&D funding, and to an increasing degree will target external funding in collaboration and competition with Danish universities.

Examples of university colleges include the Danish School of Media and Journalism in Aarhus offering undergraduate programmes in photojournalism, multimedia, PR, communication, and design; and the VIA University College in Risskov, offering 35 higher education programmes.

The University College Capital, or UCC, offers bachelor programmes and postgraduate diploma studies in 16 locations in the Greater Copenhagen area.

Reaching the target

University Colleges Denmark – a secretariat serving administrative and policy-making functions for the university college sector in Denmark – has commissioned a report from DAMVAD socioeconomic and policy consultancy entitled “Investigation and Analysis for the Professional Colleges in the Implementation of a PhD Strategy” (with a summary in English).

The report concludes that almost 1,700 PhDs are needed from now until 2022 to reach the target of one in two teaching staff having a PhD. When taking retirement of the current staff into account, as well as the current number of PhDs among the teaching staff, 400 of the existing teaching staff have to be upgraded to a PhD-level.

DAMVAD estimates that there will be a shortage of between 900 and 1,300 relevant PhDs in 2022. The gaps are found within the three larger bachelor educations: the bachelor degree in social education, didactics and nursing. These three areas combined amount to 60% of the total need for PhD qualifications.

DAMVAD is presenting five different scenarios for delivering 190 new PhD candidates each year. The university colleges will cooperate with universities and hospitals in training of the PhD candidates and the total cost, depending on which model of training is chosen, is estimated to be between DKK1.4 billion and DKK1.9 billion (US$204 million to US$277 million).

Stina Vrang Elias, CEO of the Danish think tank DEA, which is supported by the Danish Society for Education and Business, told University World News: “It is essential that the Danish university colleges maintain their character and preserve the close link between theory and practice that distinguishes them from the academic university studies.

“University colleges’ R&D activities must be something other than the research that academic universities conduct. The quality must be the same – but the focus on retaining the practical approach should be different.”

The head of the Chairmen of Danish University Colleges, Carsten Koch, told University World News that capacity building of R&D within the university colleges should not be an aim in itself.

“I consider it of great importance that the university colleges stick to their raison d'etre, namely, to deliver research which is practice-oriented.”

He said the specific R&D task and field for the university colleges are much too important for them to simply copy universities.