Higher Doctorates in the UK

Tina Barnes

Dr Tina Barnes is a Senior Research Fellow with WMG (formerly Warwick Manufacturing Group) at the University of Warwick

Higher doctorate awards are offered by many UK HEIs and yet have received very little attention with respect to comparing procedure, standards and practice, or indeed what purpose they serve and the benefits that flow from them (for the awarding HEI and the academics concerned)

A higher doctorate is an award that is at a level above the PhD (or equivalent professional doctorate in the discipline), and that is typically gained not through a defined programme of study but rather by submission of a substantial body of research-based work. 

This report on higher doctorates suggests that the range and number of awards being made in between 2003–2013, and predicted for the future, is largely static. The small numbers of awards being made seem to reflect the lack of a strategic role for higher doctorates within HEIs, and the fact that such an award is not an essential step in an academic’s promotional path. Arguably, there is little logic in creating a strategic role for higher doctorates since a HEI’s ambitions to achieve ever better research standing (and to motivate its academics in that regard) can be achieved in other ways. But equally, there is little incentive to scale back or terminate these awards, despite inherent problems with the examination process.