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Denmark evaluates impacts 10 years after milestone PHD expansion

The Danish Ministry for Higher education and Science has carried out a comprehensive analysis of the impacts that a substantial increase in PhD intake in the period 2003-2010 has had on key aspects as recruitment, quality of programmes, labour market uptake, as well as socio-economic benefits. In 2006, backed by a majority of the countries parties, a major political agreement - ‘The Globalisation Agreement’- spilled increased investments worth 40 billion DKK (EUR 53.7 billion) into Denmark’s research landscape and a wide spectrum of activities was supported to augment growth and innovation capacities. For Universities this meant a big increase in the annual intake of PhD students to 2400, with a specific focus on natural sciences, engineering and technology, medical and health sciences and ICT. 10 years after the adoption of this milestone governmental strategy to significantly expand the numbers of PhD students and research talent for the labour market, effects are becoming visible and measurable with a first pool of graduates stepping into the job market.

The numbers confirm the successful growth of PhD students – 1,500 in 2006 and 2,600 in 2010- but the strategy seems to have been effective in increasing not only the volume but quality of Danish research. The recent analysis, which comprises responses from around 8500 PhD students, 6000 supervisors and 4000 international academics, shows highly promising results in terms of the quality of studies in comparison international standards, graduate employability as well as completion rates.

Key findings include:

  • 75% of international PhD examiners rated the quality of submitted thesis to be good or very good compared to leading international universities.
  • A notable proportion of PhD supervisors (25%) found the quality of PhD studies has risen in the past decade.
  • Around 40% of PhD students showed very high or high satisfaction levels with their studies. Completion rates are high at approximately 90%.
  • The successful boost in enrolment rates is partly attributable to increased international recruitment with a rise of international PhD’s of almost 20% between 2003-2014. A notable proportion of international graduates (41%) choose to stay-on in the country post-studies.  
  • Denmark places fifth among OECD countries in PhD employment rates, with 19 out of 20 graduates (94%) finding a job -37% of PhD’s becoming employed in the private sector (placing Denmark here first among OECD counties)   

The Goal of the ‘Globalisation Agreement’ has been achieved in terms of successfully boosting the provision of research talent, particularly in STEM, doubling the PhD intake and accounting an estimated financial return of 400-700 000 DKK ( around EUR 54 – 94 000) over the course of a PhDs working life. Exempting PhD students from the 2006 introduction of tuition fees, payed off also in the overall assessment of the socio-economic return that PhD’s deliver – the gains roughly equalling the costs based on income, on top of which the added value of research and knowledge production is a notable contribution.

Full report: PhD program quality and relevance - compilation of main results (in Danish with summary in English)