Quality development and assurance of doctoral education

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A PhD from Karolinska Institutet (KI) is, and must remain a nationally and internationally recognised hallmark of quality.

High quality doctoral education

A high quality doctoral education is expected to turn out theses of an excellent scientific standard as well as employable, competent and independent graduates. Achieving these aims requires not only a quality research environment but also a well-supervised educational environment focused on producing independent researchers.

Principles of quality-assurance in doctoral education

Since every doctoral programme is unique, KI’s quality assurance focuses on the frameworks and conditions of its third-cycle education. We operate on the conviction that if the defined conditions (see below) are in place, the process will be more effective, fruitful and successful. Quality assurance for the individual doctoral student’s education therefore means making sure that all conditions are in place.

In addition to the framework activities, KI also has processes and tools to aid quality assurance at an individual level (see below).

KI has identified the following conditions of quality doctoral education:
1. Successful student recruitment
2. Quality research projects
3. Competent supervision
4. A creative environment
5. Quality courses
6. Decent conditions and equal treatment

1. Student recruitment

Goal: For all doctoral students to be recruited on the basis of their competence, motivation and ability to follow and contribute to an education programme of high quality.

Quality assurance in KI’s doctoral recruitment and admission procedures:          

Rules for doctoral education, chapter 2

Recruiting doctoral students

The admissions process

2. Research projects

Goal: For research projects to be of high quality and suitable for doctoral education.

The students’ scientific projects are described in their individual study plans. Each project is unique to each student and is limited to an education programme lasting four (or two) years.

A research project is judged in connection with the creation of the doctoral position and the establishment of the individual study plan. When faculty funds are used to finance a doctoral project, its quality and suitability is thoroughly assessed.

A student’s progress on his/her research project is assessed annually, including at the half-time review and at the preliminary review ahead of his/her final defence.

Quality assurance of research projects at KI: 

Rules for doctoral education, chapter 2, 5, 7 and 8.4

Internal KI funding for doctoral education

Half-time review

Individual study plan

3. Supervision

Goal: For supervision at KI to maintain a high standard – i.e. that there is a supervisor constellation possessing strong, complementary competence and the time, resources and ability to provide decent supervision. 

The quality of the supervision available is judged in connection with the creation of the doctoral position. To be a doctoral supervisor, the individual in question must first obtain a “green light” from the department once his or her ability to provide a decent level of supervision has been assessed, and take both the foundation course in doctoral supervision and the online course on KI’s rules for doctoral education.  

Quality assurance of supervision at KI:

Rules for doctoral education, chapter 6

Doctoral supervisor training

“Green light” approval

4. Creative environment

Goal: For there to be a creative environment for doctoral students offering ample opportunities for learning, reflection and networking with other researchers in a way that facilitates local and international exchange.

It takes more than high quality research and supervision to give students a first-rate education that enables them to achieve their degree objectives; it also takes an environment that is generally stimulating and conducive to learning and development.

Quality assurance of the doctoral environment at KI:

Rules for doctoral education, chapter 2.2 and 2.6 (especially 2.6.3: Questions to consider in the assessment of the study and work environment)

Activities for exchange and creativity in doctoral education

The admissions process

5. Courses

Goal: For there to be relevant high-quality courses that help students achieve their degree objectives and give them the tools and knowledge they need to run a research project.

Quality assurance of courses at KI:

Rules for doctoral education, chapter 3

Arranging doctoral courses and activities

Evaluation and analysis of doctoral courses

Quality in doctoral courses

6. Decent conditions and equal opportunities

Goal: For all doctoral students to enjoy decent study and living conditions and equal treatment regardless of background, gender identity, ethnicity, etc.

Ensuring decent conditions and equal treatment at KI:

Rules for doctoral education, chapter 8

Study funding for doctoral students

Equal opportunities

Support to doctoral students

Managing and evaluating KI’s quality assurance

The Board of Doctoral Education has overriding responsibility for evaluating and quality assuring doctoral education.

The board achieves this end with the help of guidelines and rules, and through organisation, delegation and the channelling of resources. The board bases its decisions on the results of previous evaluations.

(NB: A new management organisation will be introduced in January 2019).

Information on the management and evaluation of doctoral education at KI:

Evaluation of doctoral education

The Board of Doctoral Education


Description of tasks för Directors of doctoral studies (in Swedish)

The progress and evaluation of individual students

KI’s general quality assurance for doctoral education focuses on frameworks and conditions with the objective of providing a first-rate academic service. Since personal development from admission to graduation is by nature dynamic and highly individual, it is important that students are evaluated regularly, both as a means of helping them and supporting their supervision, and as a way of giving the university insight into their progress and a chance to intervene should it prove necessary.

Each doctoral student’s progress and outcome fulfilment is evaluated as follows:   

  • After 1 year: Student and supervisor follow up and revise the individual study plan, which is then to be approved by the departmental director of doctoral studies. All students are offered a meeting at this point with the director of studies in order to establish contact and to anticipate potential problems.
  • After 2 years: A half-time review is conducted in which an impartial board assesses the student’s progress and the project’s viability. Alternatively, a licentiate seminar is conducted.
  • After 3 years: Student and supervisor follow up and revise the individual study plan, which is then to be approved by the departmental director of doctoral studies.
  • After 4 years: Examination by means of public defence of the student’s thesis. Apart from assessment by the Examination Board, outcome fulfilment is also established through the student’s own reflections on the learning process and his/her supervisor’s testimony.

Information on personal quality assurance at KI:

Rules for doctoral education, chapters 5 and 7

Half-time review

Quality assurance of examination and thesis

Individual study plan

Ensuring outcome fulfilment

Practical information on thesis defence and the licentiate degree


KI’s general quality system

Doctoral education