Commentary

The initiatives documented in this case study reflect a response to the changing nature of doctoral education since the 1990s; in particular the need to support a different and broader student cohort, meet agendas to increase student enrolments, ensure greater student engagement in research leading to better student experiences and better completion rates, and produce students with improved employability opportunities.

The recognition amongst academic staff that doctoral students needed a new pedagogical model in order to flourish was innovative. The activities and processes to build this new pedagogical model were not driven by a single ideology but were a considered reaction to student demand or identified need. Multiple initiatives were implemented to address different issues. Ideas were tried out, reviewed and adapted over time. Consideration was given to the contexts of students and environments. Most activities became formalised and embedded into normal practice.

The leadership to make these changes was spread across several layers within the faculty: at the Dean level, at the Research Degrees Coordinator level and at the doctoral program level. Rather than relying on a single point of leadership, the notion of distributed leadership, with multiple nodes of activity and multiple contributions from different people with different skills and levels of involvement, proved to be a particularly successful way of developing initiatives that were compatible with each other, contributed to enhancing the overall process and helped sustain the energy. The advantage of having a bigger entity to share responsibility is that otherwise the success of initiatives becomes too dependent on one person. Embedding new activities and processes into a framework that has been ratified by the academic community also means that changes do not rely on individuals. Engaging new staff in the activities means that the processes evolve and adapt to new influences and environments.

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