Being both students and early stage scientists, doctoral candidates perform individualised original research, which is deeply dependent on their relationship with the supervisor.

 Being both students and early stage scientists, doctoral candidates perform individualised original research, which is deeply dependent on their relationship with the supervisor. As stated in the Salzburg II Recommendations (2010), it is the practice of research that cultivates flexibility of thought, creativity and intellectual autonomy. Complementing this fundamental aspect, the overall reform in third cycle education introduces training in transferable skills, stimulates mobility, fosters interdisciplinarity,and establishes a consistent quality assurance policy based on reliable indicators.

In this frame, and in order to be fully aligned with the European Higher Education Area overarching Framework for Qualifications, third cycle degree programmes need to be structured and transparent, while avoiding overregulation. Academic institutions are urged to ensure that their programmes endorse the above-mentioned innovative patterns; while facing the needs of the employment market, notwithstanding that industry has not yet developed sufficient absorption capacity to harness the potential of university-based research.Training through research builds a mind-set appropriate for many sectors and careers. In fact, the CAREER 2012 survey confirms that there is a remarkable coincidence among competences developed and appreciated by doctorate holders and those asked by enterprises. Nevertheless, more systematic initiatives also play a significant role in shaping the profile of doctoral candidates.

Third cycle taught courses are crucial for the individual professional development of doctoral candidates. According to the TREE 2008 survey, their content is usually specialisation-focused or research-oriented, but may as well be general. Lesser importance is given to modules on career development and ethical issues. Although a credit system is not always used, and assessment procedures are not often the case, these curricula ensure transparency and enhance mobility.Taught courses are best systematised in doctoral schools. It appears, however, that in European universities organised curricula constitute a priority solely in social sciences, economics or humanities, the policy for natural sciences and engineering restraining the imparted component to a support for research tasks.

As acknowledged in the Salzburg II Recommendations, the importance of the approach relies in the fact that actual outcome of a doctoral study isnot simply the thesis, but rather the doctorate holder, as a person having developed a research mind-set, along with the proficiency to combine pertinent knowledge, abilities and skills for confronting any particular situation. Acquired during the period spend in the third cycle, these competences deal with scientific and technical expertise in a well-defined area, with transferable core research skills,and with transferable personal and professional abilities.

Although actual implementation might so far not always keep on with official legislation, the categorisation clearly reveals that most Bologna Process signatory countries are moving towards the introduction of the Credit Transfer and Accumulation System in the third cycle.With the number of systematised third cycle studies steadily increasing, it is urgent that both the research component and the additional taught elements are understood, compared and visualised within mobility schemes, and towards the labour market. The ‘Bologna tools’ necessary to this goal have to be carefully adapted,so that while ‘measuring’ doctoral studies, the notion of workload and learning outcomes obtains more complex implications, taking into account the twofold nature of this predominantly research-oriented degree.


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