Professional Doctorate Awards in the UK

Stuart Powell

Stuart Powell is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Hertfordshire, where he was the Director of Research Degrees.

This report and discussion paper is about the Professional Doctorate Award in the UK – focussing upon the range of awards available and the nomenclatures used.

Main Conclusions

  1. Since the UKCGE report into Professional Doctorates in 2002 there has been a marked increase in the number of different Professional Doctorate Awards offered by UK Universities.
  2. The number of titles is likely to continue to increase with the dominance of Engineering, Education and Business persisting. There are also indications of increasing differentiation in professional areas where such awards already exist and the addition of awards in new’ areas of professional work. 
  3. There is some unease across the sector about the proliferation of titles and the increasing differentiation of award that this reflects.
  4. One major distinction of the Professional Doctorates is the use of the professional area as part of the nomenclature. This stands in contrast to the traditional’ PhD where no qualifier is used. Yet the nomenclature of professional doctoral awards is not routinely standardised. This lack of standardisation in the nomenclature of academic awards is not, of course, restricted to Professional Doctorates though it may seem that here diversity is the rule rather than the exception.
  5. There is a tension between the usefulness of increased specificity and the confusion caused by increasing differentiation of titles – and particularly perhaps of the abbreviations of those titles that candidates are entitled to make use of in their professional work. Arguably, if a title is not widely recognised in the profession then its usefulness is diminished.
  6. New named awards combined with small numbers of students studying them imply that some students at least will be moving on through their profession with an award that very few other professional colleagues will have.
  7. It is not clear that the notion of cohort-based learning is universally applied in the professional doctorate context.
  8. To treat Professional Doctorate awards as synonymous with taught programmes’ would seem erroneous given that comments indicate that for some institutions at any rate the amount of teaching within a Professional Doctorate programme is variable and may be minimal. The balance between taught’ and research’ components may be as much dependent on the nature of the professional area as on the institution and it may vary considerably in terms of whether or not the award of the doctorate is also a licence to
  9. A higher proportion of the pre-1992 sector are offering Professional Doctorate awards than the post-1992 and though the overall number of institutions offering in this way is smaller in the pre-1992 sector than in the post-1992 sector they are offering a greater number of awards in total.
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