On December 1st UKÄ released their second report about the consequences of the pandemic on the higher education sector in Sweden. This report also looks at the consequences of the pandemic on doctoral education. For us in SFS-DK it was an early Christmas present. However, we were surprised on how strangely it captures the essence of Christmas spirit and make it sound like the pandemic has been yet another day at the (home) office for doctoral students
Doktorandernas upplevelser av omställningen under pandemin är liksom studenternas i hög utsträckning positiva – flertalet tycker att det har fungerat bra att arbeta och bedriva forskarutbildning på distans.
UKÄ’s reference is their own survey Doktorandspegeln 2021 and the discrepancy between the results presented in their second report about the consequences of the pandemic and the overly positive summary above is worrisome.
Let’s talk about stress and let’s talk about you and me!
We recommend that you read all of Doktorand Spegeln – but be warned – you might find your Christmas spirit disturbed – some of the results present a grim picture of the current status of doctoral education. If you are are not convinced or are thinking how bad can it really be – let us give you a taste on what you will find there:
- 70% of all doctoral students have worked more than 50% from home, and that more than 50% of all doctoral students have worked more than 75% from home. (fig 1)
- 91% of all doctoral students have lacked the intellectually stimulans – in a post pandemic world this stimulans came from an active research environment (fig 8)
- 60% of all doctoral students report increased stress levels. (fig 10)
These results emphasize what we in SFS-DK have said, that the doctoral students lack a research environment and that this has consequences on the quality of the research education.
When it comes to the question “the increase of stress among doctoral students” – we do not know if we should laugh or cry – it is well known that doctoral students are a particular vulnerable group within academia when it comes to stress and similar – so the fact that 60% has experienced an increase in their stress level is something that requires attention.
But within academia it is not just doctoral students who are stressed – it is also other students, postdocs, research assistance, administrative employees, and professors as well. We have to have a serious conversation about how academia is made sustainable for all of its students and employees – and we could rightfully start now!
The question of prolongation –
In SFS-DK we have argued that many doctoral students would be in need of prolongation due to the pandemic. We would wish that we based on Doktorandspegeln could make a neat conclusion about this – however it is not as easy. In the survey, the question about prolongation “Have you applied for prolongation due to the pandemic” with the five answers formulated as:
- I am not employed in a doctoral studentship (6%)
- Yes (10%)
- No, but I plan to do so (15%)
- No, it is not relevant (52%)
- No, I did not know that it was possible (10%)
Based on these answers UKÄ concludes that only 25% of doctoral students feel the need to apply for prolongation due to the pandemic – but is it really that clear? That 10% are not employed in a doctoral studentship is not the same as they do not need prolongation, and that 10 % does not know that it is possible to apply for prolongation also does not mean that they do not need prolongation.
The problem digs deeper. Say you had been told by your department head or someone else that you are not eligible for prolongation. How, then, would you answer if you have applied for prolongation due to the pandemic? You would likely answer “that it is not relevant for you” – as if you would not get it if you applied.
This leaves us not knowing more than we did before the survey. As 44% of the doctoral students have answered that they are behind their ISP timewise ( fig 12, Doktorandspegeln ) and that 77% (page 45, Doktorandspegeln) have answered that they fear they will not finish on time – it does raise concern. If you do not progress as planned in your ISP and do not get prolonged – does UKÄ see any other viable solution than that doctoral students work overtime or without financing to catch up?
So what now?
Let us all wish for Christmas that UKÄ’s picture magically becomes true – but let us also agree that the consequences of the pandemic deserves attention – doctoral education shapes academia – so let us shape doctoral education in a way where we build a sustainable academia for the future.
Let us address questions such as the unsustainable work-life balance in academia and the (dire) consequences it has had on doctoral education that the research environment mostly taken place on distance since March 2021
Merry Christmas – on behalf of SFS-DK: Alex, Linnéa and Pil