A short history of doctorates

Dr. Dorothea von Rodde-Schlözer was the first woman to obtain a PhD in Germany in the late 1780’s from the University of Gottingen. Marble Portrait bust of hers belongs to Jean-Antoine Houdon: Paris 1806. Photo by Andreas Praefcke (wiki)

The existence of the doctorate (the doctorate of philosophy dating back to the Renaissance) as a set of rituals and titles obtained at the end of a process for entry into dominant positions in guilds or professions, and also the acquisition of skills in the sciences (law, medicine, theology, and then natural philosophy) refers directly to the very long institutional history of universities (…) Universities were founded in the 12th century as networks of students or communities of teachers rather than institutions with a specific location, building and regulation (…) housing for the less fortunate students was what led to the creation of Unis as we know them today (…) interaction between a growing demand for administrators and professionals of the written word and the (re)discovery of knowledge through the translation of Arabic and Greek were the circumstances that set the stage for the Western universities to first take shape (…) medieval Unis drew their legitimacy from their monopoly to grant degrees, which stemmed from authorizations provided by religious (church) and state authorities, and gradually even by regional or urban authorities (…) criticism on usefulness, nature of knowledge and ways of learning and the establishment of the Academy of Sciences and of more specialized schools throughout Europe (second half of 18th century) called Unis into question (…) The history of university graduation is primarily the demonstration of the entanglement between knowledge acquisition processes and integration into the elite (…) Only a tiny fraction of students, who made up an infinitesimal part of the population, could afford to complete a doctorate (men, white, legitimate sons only) (…) French revolution devastated the Uni landscape. After that two models emerged: the French and the Prussian. In the first model, the universities did not disappear, but remained central only for the humanities, law and medicine. The latter, is not founded on personal development through individual research but on broad based exchange of knowledge (…) Last third of the 19th century was the time that universities developed distinct doctoral (PhD) degree programs.

The forms of contemporary research and higher education are the fruit of endogenous mutations such as the push for autonomy carried out by university administrations as well as exogenous pressures: transformation has been linked to the increasingly strong involvement of governments and private corporations in the definition of institutions and course content (…) Global consensus is that doctorates provide utilitarian knowledge, oriented towards entrepreneurship and industrial innovation but also service to individuals and society (…) national research management and development agencies support these efforts mainly through grants or contracts (…) In most countries, these models of doctoral, post-doctoral and research training have been developed especially in the STEM fields and disciplines (…) emergence of two principal forms of doctorates throughout Europe, North America, and in other countries: (1) the research doctorate, (which remains indispensable for academic careers) and (2) the professional doctorate (including multiple types, such as doctorates in business administration, doctorates in education, etc.), allowing access to careers outside academic institution

Notes from Jean-Claude Ruano-Borbalan’s: Doctoral education from its medieval foundations
to today’s globalisation and standardisation, European Journal of Education, DOI: 10.1111/ejed.12522

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