Broad recruitment – Sweden must light up the way for more to consider doctoral education

Higher education needs to reflect society at large, the SFS doctoral committee argues in this blog post.

It has been said that “You can’t be what you can’t see”. How frustrating for society to see talented people who should be pursuing a doctoral education stand in the dark, without any idea of where the light switch might be, or that there is one at all. 

In order for higher education to do society justice, it needs to reflect society at large. This means that higher education is for everyone and, as the Bologna process states, recruitment should be broad for the student population to be representative of society itself. This especially includes recruiting those who are in the dark about their potential place here in Academia.

So where, or rather, what is the light switch? Broad recruitment that reflects society as a whole. It implies that Swedish higher education should be democratic and inclusive. Neither your background nor your parents’ level of education should be a determining factor in whether the room of possibilities is dark or lit up. This means that neither age, class, gender, ethnicity, nor ability should have an impact on whether an individual sees themself as a presumptive doctoral student. Without this light switch, higher education is missing out on potential students that are more than capable of pursuing higher education and loses their ability to give an adequate picture of society. Since higher education and the society it exists in are intimately connected, this impacts all of us.

If you still are hesitant to turn the switch on, let us be clear: There are several reasons why broad recruitment should always be on the agenda in the Swedish higher education sector. It is not acceptable that the opportunities for individuals to seek out, apply, and attend a doctoral education are dependent on their parent’s level of education. Neither is it acceptable that the geographical location of someone’s hometown affects whether they even begin to consider a doctoral education. Nor should age be a hemming factor to whether someone sees themself as a potential doctoral student or not.

Broad recruitment and increased diversity not only affect society positively but also increase the quality of Swedish research education. Doctoral students with various backgrounds and experiences enrich both the education and research environments. Everyone’s various perspectives and interpretations intertwine to form a rich and dynamic environment.

Now that we know to continuously flip the light switch on, how do we do it? Broadening recruitment implies taking a more proactive approach to acquiring and retaining students. Bachelor and Master’s students should be informed about their career opportunities, what a research education has to offer and why it would make sense to pursue one. This information is not as readily available for those who have no contact with someone with personal experience in research education, and early on could encourage students to persevere and aim for starting doctoral education. Additionally, we should reach outside of the academic bubble and highlight the roles of industries both in financing research education and employing doctoral students. To increase the accessibility of research education, the role of smaller universities, with a wide variety of geographical locations should be acknowledged and their involvement in the big picture of higher education supported.

On behalf of all presumptive doctoral students in the dark – turn the light on!

Linnéa Carlsson, Katharina Keuenhof, Daniel Fjellborg.