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TODAY THEY ARE POSTGRADUATE STUDENTS, AND TOMORROW – PHILOSOPHY DOCTORS

On January 26, the procedure for awarding and revoking the decision to award the degree of Doctor of Philosophy was published on the official government portal.
(The decision was made at a Meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers on January 12.)

This document has been awaited by a large scientific and educational community for many years – since the Verkhovna Rada approved the Law of Ukraine “On Higher Education” on July 1, 2014, which defined a Doctor of Philosophy as an educational and first degree at the third level of higher education. In 2016, new rules for the training of doctors of philosophy were introduced. And from the next year, future applicants for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy began to study according to new programs.
However, the first of them could defend their theses only with the adoption of the experimental and, later, temporary procedure for awarding the academic degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

So, in 2019 the first thesis defenses of PhD applicants took place, during 2020 about 300 dissertations were defended, and about 2 thousand – in 2021.

These figures are fixed in the Analytical Report “Achievements and Challenges of the Experiment for Awarding the Doctor of Philosophy degree”, organized by the Center OsvitAnalityka (EducationAnalytics) at Borys Hrinchenko Kyiv University in partnership with the Council of Young Scientists at the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine. The report was published on the eve of the government’s decision, and thus became a kind of result of an experimental-temporary period, identifying certain positives, trends and challenges, whose understanding allows more successful transition to the European degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

REQUIREMENTS AND ALGORITHMS

What does the Procedure for awarding and revoking the decision to award the Doctor of Philosophy degree provide for?

It stipulates that the applicant must “acquire theoretical knowledge, skills, abilities and competencies defined by the standard of higher education of the third level in the relevant specialty, conduct his/her own research represented in the form of a thesis, and publish its main scientific results”.
They should be published in at least three publications. As in the previous “Procedures”, these may be papers in scientific journals included in the list of scientific professional publications of Ukraine on the date of publication. (If there are more than two co-authors, one paper is equivalent to 0.5 publications). These may be papers in scientific periodicals indexed in the Web of Science Core Collection and/or Scopus databases (except for periodicals published in the state recognized as the aggressor state by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine). A patent for an invention that has passed the qualification examination is deemed equivalent to one paper, as well as individual monographs (or individual sections in collective monographs), if they are recommended for publication by academic councils of institutions and have been reviewed.

According to this list, a paper published in journals indexed in Web of Science or Scopus databases is not mandatory, unlike the previous conditions. If there is one, and if it is published in the edition of the first or third quartiles, then one paper is equated to two. The same applies to individual monographs, if they meet certain criteria.
The dissertation can be written in Ukrainian or English. Requirements for its design are set by the Ministry of Education and Science, and the volume of the text depends on the educational and scientific program and the specifics of the field of knowledge or specialty.

There is an important clarification in the document: “it is not considered self-plagiarism to use the applicant’s own scientific works in the text of the dissertation without reference to these works, if they are previously published to highlight the main scientific results of the dissertation and indicated by the applicant in the dissertation abstract.”

The degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Ukraine will be defended in the same way as in most countries of the world: a university or research institution trains, graduates a young Doctor of Philosophy and is responsible for the quality of his/her training.

A one-time specialized Council that will make decisions is created by the institution where the graduate student was trained.

The list of requirements for the competence of the members of the one-time Council, the absence of conflicts of interest, academic decency, etc. is written very thoroughly, we will not fix on it and refer a reader to the government document.

The resolution describes in detail how the applicant shall act when the education is completed, the thesis is written and its key messages are represented in scientific papers. The applicant must “apply in writing (to his/her structural unit) to obtain an opinion on the scientific novelty, theoretical and practical significance of the results of the thesis”. The application is accompanied by: the thesis in printed and electronic form, scientific publications (or their copies), academic certificate about the completion of educational and scientific program and the opinion of the advisor(s). In order to give an opinion on the scientific novelty, a public presentation of the scientific results of the thesis shall be made at a meeting of the structural unit. This is a kind of pre-defense.

If the presentation was successful, the candidate for the degree applies to the Academic Council with a request to form a one-time special Council, annexing the same set of documents and the opinion on the scientific novelty, theoretical and practical significance of scientific results represented in the dissertation.

The Academic Council (no later than two months from the date of receipt of the application) forms a one-time specialized Council, which consists of the Chairman of the Council, two reviewers and two official opponents. The document states that if it is not possible to appoint two reviewers, the one-time Council shall consist of a chairman, one reviewer and three official opponents, who are invited “from outside” with their written consent.
Then, on the official website, information about the members of the one-time Council is published, as well as electronic copy of the thesis, and a link to the website where the thesis defense will be broadcast. Since this date, the countdown of 45 calendar days begins in order for reviewers to submit their review to the one-time special Council, and official opponents to submit their opinions. After that (not earlier than in two weeks, and not later than in four weeks) the one-time Council appoints the date, time and place of public defense of the dissertation. This information is published on the website of the institution and is registered in the information system.
All members of the one-time Council, without exception, must be present at the public defense. However, all of them, as well as the applicant, can participate through real-time video communication. The institution provides broadcasting. It is noted that the defense shall be organized as an open scientific discussion. The decision is made by open voting. A Doctor of Philosophy degree is awarded if at least four members of the one-time Council have voted in favor.

The document approved by the Cabinet of Ministers also defines the grounds for revoking the decision to award the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, if it becomes known about the violation of academic decency by the applicant or the procedure for defending a thesis established by law.
In addition, the document regulates the financial issue: the expenses related to the qualification of the applicant, including the payment for official opponents, are paid from the sources for applicant’s training funding or by the institution. The applicant, his/her research advisor(s) is prohibited before, during and/or after the defense of the thesis to provide or offer members of the one-time Council or other officials “any tangible and/or intangible benefits, including funds or any other property, payment for food, transportation, accommodation of such persons”.

WHERE ARE THE STUMBLING ROCKS?

Everyone who was acquainted with the previous experimental and temporary conditions, apparently, noticed differences in the new document. The main one is the growing role and responsibility of the educational and scientific institution for the training of the researcher and the defense of his dissertation.

At the same time, after the adoption of the new document, there are no cardinal changes in the algorithms for preparing the future PhD. Therefore, the analytical report “Achievements and challenges of the experiment in awarding the degree of Doctor of Philosophy”, which is already mentioned, remains relevant, and its conclusions can help overcome new challenges at a new stage.

As Yevhen Nikolayev, a researcher and moderator of the OsvitAnalytyka Center, told during the round table in Ukrinform, the research team, which included not only Kyivites but also professors from Zaporizhia National University and Dnipro Polytechnic University, analyzed the results of an online interrogation of graduate students and heads of postgraduate study departments, as well as data from the State Statistics Service of Ukraine and the Unified State Electronic Database on Education, budget process documents and accreditation cases of the National Agency for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (NAQAHE).

In the last decade, interest in entering graduate school has significantly decreased. The peak of admission was observed in 2010 and 2011, when more than 10,000 applicants studied in postgraduate schools. Since 2017, about 7,000 graduate applicants enter postgraduate schools. Their number in academic research institutes decreases more significantly. As far back as 1985, every third graduate student obtained a degree in academic institutions, but now they are only 7.4%.

Since the educational component of training has undergone radical changes since 2016, the team of analysts, conducting a survey, asked graduate students and heads of Postgraduate Study Departments to assess this component, express their opinion about its understanding and content. The graduate students noted that they do not have the disciplines that are really needed to train a scientist, they would like their opinion to be taken into account when selecting disciplines. Heads of Postgraduate Study Departments also noted that the educational content needs to be improved.
In recent years, more than 2,000 postgraduate educational and research programs have been developed in Ukraine.

But only 38% of them were accredited by the NAQAHE. Isn’t that a problem? It’s a big one! The problem is the small number of graduate students. In a third part of universities and the vast majority of scientific institutions, the number of graduate students does not exceed 10 people. Discussion environment, exchanging views, mutual assistance… there are other things to worry about. No more than 10 people were enrolled in half of the educational programs in five years, i.e., 2-3 graduate students per year. And only 14% of programs for small graduate schools are accredited.

THE NAS ANALYZES

The urgency of training scientific staff for the National Academy of Sciences can be seen from the fact that one of the first meetings of the Presidium of the NAS of Ukraine this year considered the work of graduate and doctoral students schools at scientific institutions, and, in particular, the last year results. The state order for admission to postgraduate departments in the autumn was 300 people (which is 2.3% less than the previous year).

ccording to the results of the exams, 227 graduate students were admitted. Three institutes did not apply for admission at all, and up to 11 institutions that announced admission did not receive applications from applicants.
But not all institutions faced problems with admission: in more than two dozen institutes (M.M. Bogolyubov Institute of Theoretical Physics, O.Ya. Usykov Institute of Physics and Electronics, E.O. Paton Institute of Electric Welding, O.V. Palladin Institute of Biochemistry and others) there was a competition among the entrants.

The President of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine Anatoliy Zagorodniy advised his colleagues to cooperate more closely with universities, and not only in the capital.

It is not easy for academic institutes to be accredited for educational programs, which they started in 2020. So far, 36 of them have been accredited. This year, the institutes intend to submit the next 44 educational programs. However, the participants in the meeting complained about the bureaucratized system of evaluation and disregard for the specifics of institutions…

“Today’s training should not focus only on the educational component, and such a skew is observed with the “naked eye”, said Taras Finikov, one of the reviewers of the Analytical Report and President of the International Foundation for Educational Policy Research. – It should be focused on the scientific component. The study and development of modern methods of research should be in its focus …”

By the way, there are proposals in the Analytical Report to create joint graduate programs for the higher education institutions and academic institutions, which would reduce the problem of small number of applicants. Among other things, there is a growing interest in postdoctoral studies: 73% of graduate students plan to continue the research topic. Academic mobility should be more active… We are at the beginning of the road.

Larysa OSTROLUTSKA, Dmytro SHULIKIN
Svit newspaper, № 3-4 2022

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