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Research + Education = Third Cycle Education?

A very large part of research done at KTH is undertaken by research students. This is not least the case for the proportion of published research articles that are written by research students.  This is not unique to KTH and probably applies to most universities in Sweden.

However, with the recently completed Research Assessment Exercise 2021 at KTH research in mind, this can have raised a few eyebrows. Especially if you draw an analogy with more everyday phenomena, such as vehicles in traffic. Can Sweden become a leader within transport if the vast majority of vehicles on the road have L-plates front and back?

Most people would probably say No to that question and perhaps start to argue and protest about the financing system at Swedish universities, where not even tenured teachers and researchers are fully financed by internal funds.

Instead of stating the obvious that I can leave to others I prefer to focus on what we can actually do ourselves: namely how can we further improve third cycle education?

What you first need to understand is that third cycle education is education within the third cycle, i.e. research. This applies to both the research project and the courses. Research and education are non-separable entities – no learning, no research. And vice versa. This is exactly what third cycle education is about. Of resolving an assignment together, where everyone contributes and learns and where the researchers being trained will, education-wise, receive their driving licence to enable them to become researchers. While the members that are already qualified as researchers continue to learn and develop.

The second thing is to utilise experiences from education at first and second cycle level. At these levels for example, you are far more used to working with constructive linkage between exam goals, learning and assessment activities. In the case of third cycle education, goals for doctorate and licentiate degrees are stated in the Higher Education Ordinance (1993:100), appendix 2. If you work more with goal fulfilment within third cycle education, the courses will become more relevant for the students and this also means you no longer have to think about how many articles must be published before a public defence of a doctoral thesis, as the goals do not specify such a simplified figure.

The third thing is to utilise experiences from third cycle education in education at first and second cycle level. That all levels can learn from each other and further develop together. And here, I am not merely thinking that the content in courses should be based on scientific grounds and tried and tested experience, but more about the teaching methods that are used within third cycle education, especially those that are directly linked to the research assignment. If you utilise the good experiences within third cycle education in an adapted way, such integration will also be more likely to happen at first and second cycle level.

This will mean more open and realistic questions to resolve for students, better integration of necessary factual knowledge and procedural skills in student projects, more natural training in group work and general skills, and a significantly more realistic examination. And the students will become even more motivated to learn a discipline in depth when they realise this is needed to resolve the assignment. Last but not least, our students will be better prepared for working life and the big challenges that lie ahead.