Joining forces to strengthen Nordic doctoral education

Monday 21 August I have the pleasure of giving the welcome address at the first Nordic PhD Summit for the newly established network NorDoc: Nordic Doctoral Training in Health Sciences. This two-day conference on Health Sciences Across Borders will highlight the importance of PhD education and provide ample opportunity of sharing ideas and knowledge. Established as late as last year by seven universities including Karolinska Institutet, NorDoc now includes no less than 17 partner universities from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. The network aspires to include all Nordic higher education institutions with doctoral education in health sciences.

Striving to improve quality

With our geographic and cultural proximity and joint history, Nordic collaboration has long-standing traditions. Joint projects and exchange of students and researchers are parts of an existing vital collaboration between higher education institutions in the Nordic region. Too often we see internationalization as synonymous to collaboration with geographically distant regions, forgetting the potential of strengthening our interaction with the region we call our own. NorDoc has an important role to play, with the overarching purpose of ensuring the highest possible quality in doctoral education. In a world where competition for resources is increasingly international, this goal can only be reached through cross border collaboration. While we praise ourselves on our strengths and successes, we are each and every one of us too small to figure prominently on the international scene. David A. King reflected on the potential of a closer Nordic collaboration when he in an article in Nature stated that “The smaller northern European countries are snapping at the top seven’s heels, and would be in this premier division if combined.” (The scientific impact of nations, Nature 15 Juli 2004 pp. 311- 316).

Sharing best practice

NorDoc aims to facilitate and advocate for removal of barriers for collaboration, for instance by making doctoral courses free and available to all PhD:s in the Nordic countries. This is already the case for Karolinska Institutet’s doctoral courses, given availability of places. NorDoc also seeks to organize doctoral training courses in niche areas where not all of us can provide expertise; it aims to identify and share best practice, find international funding for joint research projects, make policy makers more aware of the need for high quality doctoral studies, and increase outreach to the society at large.

Report on Ph D education

A recent report entitled ”Links between research policy and national academic performance”, issued by CFA (The Danish Centre for Studies in Research and Research Policy, Aarhus University), the Technopolis Group, and NIFU (Nordisk institutt for studier av innovasjon, forskning og utdanning), states that PhD education is “….the primary source of renewal of any scientific community” and that it as such “….forms a central part of the foundation for high academic performance”. This statement stands as a timely and appropriate backdrop of today’s conference and an important premise for the drawing up of KI’s new strategy plan KI 2030.


Jens Hjerling Leffler

Jens Hjerling Leffler

This is great! I however think we should open up for PhD-student to our graduate courses in general and not only given availability. This would significantly raise the profile of our courses -leading to that we are offering better interactions for our own PhD students as well as give scientists a chance to interact with gifted students from other universities.

Ole Petter Ottersen

Ole Petter Ottersen

Dear Jens, Thank you for taking the time to comment - it is very important for me to get feedback and ideas. I have learnt that currently some 30 per cent of the students in our doctoral courses are not from KI, which is very good for the reasons that you mention. We must however in the first place use our resources to meet the needs of our own doctoral students so that they achieve the learning outcomes according to their study plans; it would thus be difficult to reject a qualified doctoral student from KI in favor of an external student. Ole Petter

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