Annual report 2015: Doctoral education

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Doctoral education is an important aspect of activities at Karolinska Institutet (KI) and its doctoral students play a significant role in the research that is carried out.

Responsibility for doctoral programmes has been delegated to the KI departments. It is above all the individual supervisors who ensure that the almost 400 doctoral students who graduate each year have developed into competent and independent researchers. For this to be possible, the university provides a framework that includes supervisor training, directors of studies at the departments, research schools, faculty resources for doctoral students as well as rules and guidelines.

"A major focus for the Board of Doctoral Education in 2015 has been to increase internationalisation. The board has endeavoured to see more of our doctoral students spending a part of their education outside Sweden. We also want to increase our international collaboration on doctoral education, both with important foreign universities and within the framework of various Marie Skłodowska Curie programmes."

Anders Gustafsson, Dean of Doctoral Education


This year’s results show no major changes in terms of the number of doctoral students, although a weak trend towards fewer new doctoral students is discernible. This is an expected development due to increased costs for doctoral students, which partly stem from doctoral grants having been restricted from two years to one year. In 2016 the opportunity for doctoral grants is being removed entirely, which will further increase the cost for funding doctoral students. The decrease in the number of doctoral students with doctoral grants, from 17 per cent in the autumn semester of 2014 to 9 per cent in the autumn semester of 2015, is matched by an increase in the number of doctoral students with a doctoral studentship, from 45 per cent to 52 per cent. The increased cost has thus not meant that a higher proportion of doctoral students at KI have been recruited among those with external stipends or those with employment outside the university, but the departments have in most cases been able to offer a studentship instead. At the end of 2015, 2,069 active doctoral students were registered at KI. Of these, 935 reported that they carried on studies on a part-time basis during the autumn semester (10–99 per cent of full-time).

In 2015, the proportion of newly admitted doctoral students who were eligible through education from a country other than Sweden was 37 per cent. The most well-represented countries are China (four per cent of all those newly admitted) and Western European countries such as Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany. It is important to note that the country where students became eligible for doctoral studies is not the same thing as the country of nationality or citizenship.

Doctoral education: admissions, registered students and degrees awarded 2012–2015
Examen 2012 2013 2014 2015
Doctoral admissions 438 373 408 395
Postgraduate students (acticve > 10%) 2,111 2,090 2,071 2,069
Licentiate degrees 14 12 9 8

Doctoral degrees

- of which earlier licentiate degree










Third-cycle programmes of high quality means that theses of high scientific quality are produced, but also that KI awards degrees to employable, competent and independent researchers. Besides prominent research, this requires a learning environment characterized by good leadership, focused on doctoral students’ learning and development.

Third-cycle programmes – networks for doctoral students

Third-cycle programmes are thematic networks for doctoral students with the task of coordinating the range of courses and other learning activities in the relevant research domain. The overall aim of these programmes is to contribute to a good learning environment beyond what is offered by the KI departments and research teams.

During the year, the range of third-cycle programmes has been reviewed and requirements have been specified in order to clarify areas of responsibility and financial frameworks. Ahead of 2016, some programmes have been merged with other programmes, and a new third-cycle programme for cardiovascular research has been created.

Doctoral programmes

Fulfillment of objectives

Specified intended learning outcomes are used as a basis for planning an individualised programme for each doctoral student, and this makes it possible to focus on the student’s learning. Progress and fulfillment of objectives can then be monitored throughout the programme. This makes it easier to assess the learning progress and to introduce measures at an early stage if necessary.

In 2015 a pilot study was carried out concerning an electronic system for following up the individual study plans. The system provides an overview of all doctoral students, which means that their studies can be followed up with greater quality assurance.


Since eight years, all doctoral students have been invited to participate in an anonymous survey in connection with their thesis defence, an exit poll on their completed studies. The response rate in recent years has been stable at just over 80 per cent.

The exit poll shows, for example, that 94 per cent of respondents in 2014 would probably recommend KI to prospective doctoral students (combined number of responses affirming the options “agree” and “somewhat agree”). This is a positive development as previous years’ responses were 91 per cent (2013), 86 per cent (2012) and 89 per cent (2011).

In addition, a further survey was carried out in autumn 2015 concerning the learning and environment of doctoral students. This survey will also be addressed to doctoral students at several other universities in Europe, which will enable international comparisons. The results will be presented during 2016.

Exit poll 2015


Among other things, KI’s Strategy 2018 states that a limited number of in-depth collaborations are to be further developed within doctoral education and that doctoral students are to be given opportunity to participate in international exchanges. Projects in the partnership with Stellenbosch University in South Africa and Makerere University in Uganda have been allocated additional money for doctoral education. During the year, 40 doctoral students have also received travel grants from KI of up to SEK 25,000 in order to carry out part of their doctoral education abroad.

China Scholarship Council, CSC

During the year, a collaboration agreement with CSC has been developed. The agreement covers stipends for five Master’s students, 30 doctoral students, 20 postdocs and five visiting researchers to KI. KI’s research teams have shown great interest in this initiative.


During the year, the collaboration agreements on joint doctoral student programmes were renewed with both the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University.

National Institutes of Health, NIH (USA)

Since 2001, KI has had an established doctoral student collaboration with NIH in the field of neuroscience. This is the largest international, institutionalised collaboration involving doctoral education at KI. The doctoral students in this programme share their time between laboratories at KI and at NIH and have supervisors from both organisations. In 2014, KI and NIH agreed to develop their collaboration and in 2015 planning for a new agreement began.

Equal opportunities

Supervisor training, which is compulsory for new principal supervisors, includes a half-day session about equal opportunities, with topics as gender equality, discrimination and harassment. Supervisor training is offered several times a year adressing both current and soon-to-be supervisors. A complement to this training is KI’s online course on equal conditions, which is available to all students and employees.

Since 2010, a section on equal opportunities has been included in the introduction day, which is mandatory for all newly admitted third-cycle students. KI also finances the Doctoral Ombudsman, who assists third-cycle students and is able to represent them. The exit poll also poses questions about harassment and discrimination in cases of dispute.

Annual report