Landing : Athabascau University

Quality and Equality in British Ph. D. Assessment

This paper asks whether doctoral assessment has escaped the regulation of
quality assurance
rocedures. Raising questions about the affective and
micropolitical dimensions of an oral
examination conducted in private, it
explores how current concerns about quality assurance,
tandards, benchmarks
and performance indicators in higher education apply to the assessment of
doctoral/research degrees in Br
itain, and in particular to the viva voce
examination. Successful PhD completion is a key performance indicator for
universities and an important basis for the accreditation of their staff. Despite
the rise of new managerialism, a general preoccupation wit
h calculable
standards and outcomes and an emphasis on student entitlements, transparency
of decision making and information for
, there still seems to be
considerable variation, and some mystification, in how doctoral assessment is
conducted and experienced. The massification of doctoral studies and the
doubling in number of institutions awarding their own doctorates, post
-1992 ,are both likely to increase product variety still further.
In the last decade of the twentieth century, there was a major expansion of
doctoral studies and a widening of the types of doctorate that may be undertaken
in the UK. Although attention has been given to improving supervision and
research skills training here since the late 1980s, the assessment process seems
to have escaped the scrutiny, checks and balances currently being applied to
other academic programmes.
In this paper we wish to explore if and how quality assurance, standards,
benchmarks and performance indicators should apply in particular to the viva
voce examination. We shall also consider the emotional, affective and micro-politicaldimensions of an oral examination conducted in private.