Third-cycle studies – a way to labor market

Third-cycle studies seem to be time and energy well spent – in any case in the field of technology. These are the findings of a study by the Swedish Higher Education Authority published last week. The report shows whether those who completed a doctoral degree between 1998 and 2012 have a job or not – that is, whether they have established themselves in the job market three years after their degree.

It is through courses, study programmes and research that KTH Royal Institute of Technology is able to respond to society’s need for pioneering innovative expertise. This can be observed in that our courses and study programmes continue to be very well subscribed.

The report shows that the proportion established in the job market was highest among those with a Ph. D. in technology – that is, 86 percent of the women and 89 percent of the men in total. For KTH in particular, the average was somewhat lower, but more even between the sexes.Of the 2,330 people who completed their Ph. D. during the period, 84 percent were established in the job market three years after doing so.

In this regard, funding is naturally a crucial issue, with third-cycle studies with reasonable terms and a good working environment meaning that the number of students completing their studies is increasing. Is there still more to do in this area? The fact that the scholarships are being phased out is basically a good thing, but KTH has a number of international agreements with exchanges at first- and second-cycle level that also include third-cycle studies funded through individual scholarships. It is not self-evident that these individuals wish to take up a position in Sweden, but rather that the purpose of their study programme is to enable them to return home after completing their degree or continue their academic career somewhere else in the world. On the other hand, third-cycle students with scholarships are being deprived of the opportunity to take part in courses and study programmes or other activities within the organisation that provide valuable experience.

Even if the number of women who choose to take third-cycle studies has increased over the years, there is still much to be done in this to make it easier for women to pursue an academic career on equal terms. As I previously mentioned, this is a crucial quality issue.

The study also reflects the expertise demanded by society and the surrounding world, where for example 93 percent of those who had been awarded a Ph. D. in computer and information science had established themselves in the job market within three years. Mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and electronics are other areas with high figures.

According to the report, however, the results are different when it comes to foreign Ph. D. students who decide to study here – which increasing numbers are choosing to do, but a majority of them do not decide to stay in Sweden after completing their degree. Sometimes, this is due to practical difficulties associated with staying in Sweden. Slow, complicated processes make it difficult for the individual, which risks leading to a lack of expertise among those with a third-cycle education in Sweden in relation to companies and the public sector. Sweden is missing out on a potential valuable link to the rest of the world through these individuals, who could serve as ambassadors for their home countries.

In the field of technology – unlike other subject areas – a majority worked in the private sector, and a lower proportion at for example KTH chose to remain at their own university. If research and education is to reflect the needs of the surrounding world and its challenges in the form of global demand, good terms for researchers are an absolute must, as well as high-quality third-cycle education.

Another piece of the puzzle is lifelong learning, with Vinnova recently being tasked by the Swedish Government to produce short, flexible courses at university level for specialists who have already embarked on their professional lives. It is very pleasing that resources can now be offered for trials of new concepts for short courses within lifelong learning.

The fact that Vinnova in particular has been tasked with this is possibly somewhat surprising; courses at university level are, as we know, the responsibility of universities and institutes of higher education. How I see it, however, is that the joint dialogue on which real cooperation is based will be crucial if resources are made available. This important dialogue between universities, the business community and the public sector is precisely what I have found lacking on several occasions when lifelong learning has been discussed. We can’t all blame one another; we are now able to seriously test our collaboration on lifelong learning. That is at least what I am hoping for.