I had the privilege this week of being an examiner for a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, Spain. The candidate, Albert Sangra Morer, is a well-known academic in Europe, who has published extensively on e-learning. His thesis was: ‘The Integration of ICTs in the University: Models, Problems and Challenges’. It was a study of 26 institutions worldwide, including five in depth case-studies of European universities. The candidate received a unanimous award of excellent from all five external examiners.
I have asked Albert to write a guest blog for me on the fascinating – and somewhat disturbing – results of his research, but in the meantime, I wanted to discuss the process, as this was an excellent example of the new international degrees being awarded under the European Union’s Bologna process, and it is a process that we should be paying close attention to in North America.
The aim of a European Union international degree is that it is a qualification that will automatically be recognised in each of the 27 member countries of the Union. The regulations and examination process for a Ph.D. vary from university to university in Europe, just as they do in the USA or Canada, but there are minimum requirements for the degree to be recognised as international in Europe.
In this case, Dr. Sangra had case studies in two European countries (four in Spain and one in Italy), making the content of his study international. Second, the thesis must have a substantial summary in a second European language. Albert’s thesis was written in Catalan, and he provided summaries in Spanish, English and Italian.
The thesis first of all went through two internal stages of assessment, through the academic department and through the Faculty of Graduate Studies. At this stage, recommendations for any changes were made. The thesis was then published, in full, in Catalan, with a summary in one other language. Thus my copy was in Catalan, with a summary in English (fortunately, I can read Catalan quite well so was able to confirm that the English summary was a fair representation of the original).
Then, for this study, a panel of five external examiners were chosen. Three came from Spanish universities (Seville, a Coruña, and the Autonomous University of Barcelona), one from Italy (the University of Trento), and myself (an emeritus of UBC, Canada). The defence of the thesis was similar to that in most countries in process, with one notable exception. The candidate made a 50 minute presentation of his thesis, the examiners (and ‘doctors’ from the audience) individually made comments and put questions to the candidate, the candidate responded to the questions, then the candidate and the audience withdrew, while the examiners discussed and made their recommendation, using four categories provided by the university (fail, pass, good, excellent).
The one exception in the process is that this candidate defended his thesis in four languages: Spanish (castellano), Catalan, Italian, and English. (The minimum requirement for Bologna is a defence in two official European languages.) Moreover, he seemed equally comfortable in each language.
I think this process is important as well as interesting. I would like to see international Ph.D.s being awarded in Canada, where students may study in more than one country and language, and where the degree will be recognised in both countries. We did develop such a degree at the masters level at UBC and Tec de Monterrey in Mexico, although few students attempted the international degree, and those that did were almost entirely from Mexico.
I came away very impressed both with the quality of the candidate, and with the rigour of the process. I’d be interested in hearing comments from other people with experience of the European international degree process, and its potential for North America.