Doctoral education in South Africa: models, pedagogies and student experiences

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dc.contributor.author Backhouse, Judy Pamela
dc.date.accessioned 2010-01-20T09:27:10Z
dc.date.available 2010-01-20T09:27:10Z
dc.date.issued 2010-01-20T09:27:10Z
dc.identifier.uri http://hdl.handle.net/10539/7475
dc.description Thesis (Ph.D.), Faculty of Humanities, School of Education, University of the Witwatersrand, 2009 en_US
dc.description.abstract People who hold doctoral degrees are considered valuable national resources able to produce knowledge to address pressing problems, and important sources of labour for the higher education sector. However, in 2006, only 1100 people graduated with doctoral degrees in South Africa. This limits the potential for research and improvements in higher education. In addition, 618 of those graduates were white, making it difficult to address equity concerns. Within the higher education sector there are debates about how to increase enrolments in doctoral education and the best way to run PhD programmes for effective learning, high quality research results and for efficiency. But there is little South African-based empirical research into what makes people undertake PhDs, how the programmes work and what learning and knowledge result. This study explores how different stakeholders – national and institutional policymakers, academic staff and doctoral people – understand the PhD; how these understandings influence the practice of doctoral education; and how different practices affect the PhD experience and the learning and knowledge produced. The primary research question I address is: “How do existing models and pedagogies of doctoral programmes shape the learning of doctoral people and the outcomes of doctoral programmes in South Africa?” The origins of the Doctor of Philosophy degree are often traced back to the nineteenth century reforms of German universities when the idea emerged that all scholars should be actively involved in research. But this is a simplistic view. By examining the evolution of the PhD in greater depth, it becomes clear that it has undergone continuous change and has always served both the high-minded pursuit of knowledge and the more prosaic pursuit of skills for employment. The literature reflects ongoing tension between the scholarly view of the PhD as knowledge generation by an emerging scholar, and the labour market view of the PhD as developing high-level research skills. In the South African context both of these views can be observed, but I also identified a view of the PhD as ongoing personal development through an engagement with knowledge. The three views of the PhD are underpinned by different discourses which inform the practice of doctoral education. In South Africa, the traditional model of individual supervision dominates, and it varies by discipline, department and supervisor. But patterns of practice can be discerned and I identify four of these and discuss how supervisors construct their individual supervision practice. Doctoral education is also a function of the people who do PhDs. Much of the research undertaken in the overdeveloped world focuses on younger people who are starting out on academic careers. However, in South Africa, many people doing PhDs are older and midway through careers which are often not academic. This leads me to propose a model of intersecting contexts, as an alternative to McAlpine and Norton‟s nested context model of doctoral education, which more accurately reflects the local situation. I discuss the PhD experience and make use of the intersecting contexts model to develop the notion of congruence between the PhD, the contexts and the PhD person with more positive experiences being related to higher degrees of congruence. Finally, I consider how the outcomes of doctoral education, the learning and knowledge which result, relate to the expectations of the different stakeholders. The research took the form of a qualitative study with a multiple case-study design employing theoretical replication. I examined doctoral education in four academic units at three South African universities with the units selected to represent different disciplines. All four units were in previously advantaged universities from the English-speaking tradition and all were successfully producing PhD graduates. These rich pictures of how doctoral education takes place contribute empirical evidence to current debates about the PhD in South Africa. At a conceptual level I identify the competing discourses about what a PhD is. I provide a more nuanced understanding of the practice of doctoral education within the overarching model of individual supervision. The intersecting contexts model provides a way to understand the expectations and circumstances of doctoral people and the notion of congruence illuminates their varied experiences. Finally, the study confirms that the outcomes of doctoral education, in terms of learning and knowledge generated, meet at least some of the expectations of policy-makers, supervisors and people who do PhDs. en_US
dc.language.iso en en_US
dc.subject doctoral education en_US
dc.subject postgraduate education en_US
dc.subject doctoral supervision en_US
dc.subject knowledge en_US
dc.subject complex adaptive system en_US
dc.subject agency en_US
dc.subject PhD programmes en_US
dc.title Doctoral education in South Africa: models, pedagogies and student experiences en_US
dc.type Thesis en_US


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