Time to end the Vagaries of PhD examining?

Paul Gill, Philip Burnard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Doctoral education has proliferated significantly in recent years, particularly in nursing, as building research capacity has been a priority. There has also been an increase in the range of doctorates available, including traditional PhD by research, professional doctorates and PhD by publication and/or portfolio. Consequently, PhD examination is now a relatively common feature of higher education in the UK (Tinkler and Jackson, 2004). Whilst there are international variations, PhD examination in the UK is in two stages; submission and assessment of a thesis followed by oral examination (viva). Doctoral examination is normally conducted by at least two suitably qualified examiners; one internal and one external, although this may vary for PhD students who are also members of staff in the host institution. In many Universities the viva is also facilitated by an 'independent chair' (normally an experienced academic with examining experience), who does not take part in the examination as such; but is there to ensure fairness and consistency and to provide academic and/or institutional advice and support, where appropriate. However, whilst British PhDs have undergone considerable changes over the last decade, (much of which has been informed by the UK Research Councils) particularly in relation to research and supervision training and support, the examination of the PhD has escaped comparable critical scrutiny (Tinkler and Jackson, 2004). Unlike taught undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, the PhD itself lacks any agreed, formalised assessment criteria and the entire process is largely based on the [subjective] academic judgement of the respective examiners. This anachronistic approach is questionable at best and would probably not hold up to public scrutiny.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)477 - 478
Number of pages1
JournalNurse Education Today
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2012


  • PhD
  • doctoral
  • examining


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