22 SES 02 A, Academic Careers: PhD's and Doctorates
Doctoral education has a long history and tradition in the UK but it has undergone major changes since the 1970s. One change is the establishment of Doctoral Training Centres (DTCs) that serve a national research agenda for building up a wealth of diverse research skills. It also aligns with the Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area (QF-EHEA) to meet the expectations of the European academic partnership (QAA, 2014). Internationalisation of doctoral programmes is another significant change in UK research degrees, there has been an influx in the numbers of international doctoral students in recent years. The increase has been mainly from Asian countries but a considerable interest in British doctoral education has come from Arab countries (HESA, 2015). The interest of the Arabs in British education is well documented in the political history of the UK and the Near East. However, it is not clear how British universities have responded to this sustained interest and what investment has been put into the inclusion of those students into the British academic and intellectual culture, given the national ‘skill push’ doctorate agenda in the UK (Mowbray & Halse, 2010). This raises the question of whether those students needs have been carefully considered, planned for and implemented in relation to providing fair and equal access to education and skills training that best suits their needs. Little to no research has addressed this social justice perspective in relation to internationalising doctoral education in the UK.
This paper addresses this question and explores the tensions regarding acculturation and inclusion processes which Arab doctoral students on British doctoral programmes experience. It also investigates the relationship between the students’ cultural identity and their understanding of the PhD experience in the UK.
This is an inductive qualitative study in which a narrative inquiry (Clandinin & Rosiek, 2007) has been used to resonate with the temporality and continuity of the notion of the human experience of the participants (Dewey, 1981). Data was collected via exploratory in-depth semi-structured one-to-one interviews with students and graduates through which participants had ample opportunities to narrate extensively how they perceive their experiences of UK doctoral programmes and reflect on them. Interviews were conducted with 14 PhD students and 8 graduates from 12 Arab countries who study or have studied in UK universities. The sample covered participants from 11 research-intensive British universities. The data was audio-taped, transcribed and analysed. All transcriptions were coded through Nvivo software and the data was analysed thematically.
Three major findings have been identified and the project has produced new perspectives in understanding the experiences of Arab international students in the UK. One finding relates to the way that the cultural identity of the students influences their understanding of the purpose of doing a PhD in the UK. Their reasoning and relationship with studying in the UK resonates with imperialism history of the UK in the Middle East and suggests a continual cultural imperialism. Another finding pertains to an existing level of tension between Arab students and western academia which is represented in the dynamics of the supervisory relationship and the power and control of the doctoral system through the practised formal and informal pedagogies. The third is closely connected to a lack of productive dialogue that is sufficiently critical and liberating to both students and supervisors. There is evidence of a lack of mutual understanding and intercultural communication and spaces that allow opportunities for reflection on this academic experience in which two cultures interconnect. These findings shed light on the significance of dialogue in doctoral education between students and supervisors from different cultures which has the potential to lead to a liberating transformation of students during their PhD experience in the UK but in many cases fails.
Bernstein, B. (1996) Pedagogy, Symbolic Control, and Identity: Theory, Research, Critique. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. Braun, V. and Clarke, V. (2006) Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3 (2). pp. 77-101 Clandinin, J. & Rosiek, J. (2007) Mapping a Landscape of Narrative Inquiry: Borderland Spaces and Tensions. In J. Clandinin, ed. Handbook of Narrative Inquiry: Mapping a methodology. Thousand Oaks (CA): Sage Dewey, J. (1981). The later works, 1925-1953. In J. Boydston, ed. The quest for certainty: A study of the relation of knowledge and action. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press Freire, P. (2000) Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, Inc. Mowbray, S. & Halse, C. (2010 ) The purpose of the PhD: Theorising the skills acquired by students. Higher Education Research and Development, 29(6), pp.653-664 QAA (2014) UK Quality Code for Higher Education. Gloucester: QAA Sen, A. (1999) Development as Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press
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