No. 46




What Is the Point of Doctoral Studies When All We Need Are “Regular Workers”? 

14 December 2022


RiTo No. 46, 2022

  • Jaak Vilo

    Jaak Vilo

    Member of the Academy of Sciences, Professor of Bioinformatics, Head of the Institute of Computer Science, University of Tartu

When we consider the development of higher education and research in Estonia, or the social and economic development in general, we depend directly on well-educated people who develop new solutions and increase the added value produced in the country.

The work of universities is centred around creating knowledge in mutable conditions and transmitting this ability to all the graduates who will get involved with developing businesses and fulfilling other roles that serve the nation in the future. The capability of universities, the development efforts in the business and the public sector, and the ability to innovate depend on university teaching staff, researchers, and engineers who have been trained at the first stage of research work, i.e. their doctoral studies. Active teaching staff and researchers must have acquired a doctoral degree to know how to transmit the skill of creating new knowledge. Creators of more complex technical solutions in businesses, staff of research and development units, developers of key solutions in the public sector also need to be highly skilled. University itself should employ only one third, or definitely no more than one half of doctoral graduates. To ensure this, however, doctoral programmes should admit enough students to supply both universities and businesses. It goes without saying that doctoral studies must prepare the graduates to adapting better to their other expected roles in the business sector and the society; relevant reforms have already been initiated.

Sadly, only rare disciplines have managed to turn out enough doctoral graduates to fill the need. Universities are not able to fully provide even for themselves when it comes to teaching staff in fields like IT where only a small fragment of the needs of the labour market are met for employees with either a bachelor’s, a master’s, or a doctor’s degree. If more than half of graduates with a doctoral degree make the completely rational decision to choose a job in business and if the universities keep the bachelor’s, master’s, or doctor’s studies at the current volumes, they could be lucky to recruit maybe just one graduate into their teaching staff for every fifty students. And yet we should ensure that there is a lecturer or a researcher with a doctoral degree for every 10–12 students. The business sector could easily employ two or three doctoral graduates in developmental positions for every one hundred employees. This massive gap has been partially filled by recruiting teaching and development staff from abroad. Big public developmental centres, defence and other vital services could also use more people with relevant competences, and this is where we cannot rely on foreign recruits.

One clear conclusion to be drawn from the current volumes of doctoral programmes and the needs of the state and businesses as presented in the article is that the volumes of doctoral programmes should be increased decisively in Estonia. We can start with the disciplines and fields where the gap between the volume of doctoral programmes and the expectations of the business and public sector is the widest. In order to increase the volumes of teaching staff, research, development, and innovation, we need to review each discipline individually and give their evolution the desired direction by developing doctoral programmes.