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Debate: Stop the witch-hunt of health science PhD graduates

It is paradoxical that recognition of the need for more research has been accompanied by a growing scepticism.

By Allan Flyvbjerg, Dean of the Faculty of Health (AU), Ulla Wewer, Dean of Health and Medical Sciences (KU), Ole Skøtt, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences (SDU) and Lars Hvilsted Rasmussen, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine (AAU)

2015 saw some heated discussions about the need for more or fewer PhD students, particularly in the health sciences. This encouraged the Ministry of Higher Education and Science to carry out a study of the area. We look forward to this. Analysing the effect of PhD graduates is helpful, while it would also be beneficial if we had a fact-based and thus objective debate on the subject.

As deans of the health sciences in Denmark, all four of us share a common understanding of the importance of research-based education and treatment. In fact, it is difficult to find anyone who disagrees with this point of view.

It is therefore paradoxical that this recognition of the need for more research has been accompanied by a growing scepticism. One example is the way in which it is suggested that doctors only use the PhD degree to crawl higher up the career ladder – even though only around half of all health science PhD graduates are actually medical doctors. 

This scepticism and badmouthing is not only frustrating. It is also harmful for our reputation and talent development when a strategy that has not yet shown its full benefits is brought into doubt. In an international context the future success of Danish research is contingent on whether we can recruit and retain the most talented graduates for a career as a researcher. We are open to verifying whether we achieve the desired goal with the PhD initiative. 

Both the quality of the research being delivered and the acquired competences must be measured. We have said all of this several times when we have been involved in the debate in our role of health science deans.

Now we will give the ministry some peace and quiet to carry out the study. In return we would like to see the ministry maintain focus on providing the optimal conditions for research and for the training of researchers in Denmark, not least in the long term.

The article was published in the Danish newspaper Information on 11 April 2016.