Friday, 1 August 2014

Doctor, doctor!

Sorry – not a doctor joke, but a look at what 2012-13 HESA data tells us about doctoral study.

I used the data in HESA Table 15 – HE Qualifications obtained – and looked at the intensiveness of doctoral study. Here’s a scatter plot showing the proportion of degrees awarded at doctoral level against the total number of degrees awarded in 2012-13.


(I excluded three institutions whose data were outliers: the Institute of Cancer Research, with almost 43% of its 70 degrees awarded being doctoral; the Open University which awarded almost 24,000 degrees, with less than 1% at doctoral level; and the University of London central institutes, which awarded 130 degrees, of which almost 20% were doctoral.)

Well, this seems to me to show that there isn’t a scale factor – up to about 8% of degrees at doctoral level you can find institutions large and small.

What if you look simply at the number of doctoral degrees awarded? I think it gets a bit more interesting here.  The plot below shows – using the same dataset with the same exclusions - the absolute number of doctoral degrees awarded in 2012-13 and the proportion of the whole which these represent.


I’ve picked out two clusters – one, in the red oval, are those institutions which are both large in absolute terms (all over 700 doctoral degrees awarded a year) and a high proportion (>6%).  The other, the blue oval which overlaps, are what looks to me like the institutions at the upper end of the trend line – over 350 doctoral degrees per year, but fewer than 10% of all degrees.

It looks a bit like the premier league in recent seasons – there’s three that are at the top and unshakeable, three struggling to break into that top pack; and a fair few that won’t make it any time soon, no matter how hard they try.

I’ll leave it to you to identify which institution is which. There aren’t any surprises.

Does this matter? There's many good universities doing many good things outside the blue and red ovals, and league tables often fail to show this. But in terms of university culture, the red (and to a lesser extent the blue) is where many a vice-chancellor would rather be.

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