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Doctoral schools : evaluation criteria

Challenges and aims

Doctoral schools are part of the range of training programmes up to year eight of the higher education cycle in a major subject area (or a significant part of this) or in a multidisciplinary field. They are based on research strengths and have a national and even international outlook.

These schools are tasked with providing students with training through research, leading to integration into the job market at doctorate level, in the academic or private sector. They are firstly positioned in the policy of the institution or institutions concerned, for example within a doctoral college.

Evaluation of doctoral schools

The evaluation of a doctoral school by the AERES must follow its self-evaluation by the institutions concerned. This self-evaluation sets out to fit each doctoral school into the strategy of these institutions and their declared objectives. It also enables each school to take part in a clear, consistent overall range of doctoral programmes, and to make use of the support schemes made available. In keeping with their independence, the procedure for this self-evaluation is the responsibility of the institutions concerned and the quality assurance system set up under the periodical review of programmes.

The "programme's policy document" (submitted once at "Institution" level) accompanies all of the applications and comprises a specific section for doctoral training.

3 criteria are applied for the evaluation:

  • Running and scientific association

All doctoral schools rely on a board whose members must conform to the French Order of 7 August 2006. This board meets periodically to set up an operating policy tailored to the objectives concerning recruitment, training and follow-up of doctoral students and integration of doctors. The school has the necessary material (premises) and human (admin staff) resources for effectively running and managing it. The assessment of how suitable these resources are takes several parameters into consideration, including the number of doctoral students, thematic scope of the school, number of laboratories and supervision potential. The setup of a functional, easy-to-use website for doctoral students and researchers/professors at the doctoral school is a decisive element for management and communication.

The doctoral school's policy as regards the recruitment of doctoral students, attribution of thesis funding, prerequisites for defence and choice of the jury is subject to general discussions within the doctoral school (or college or school department or higher education and research cluster (PRES)) together with the institutions concerned. The processes are explicit and accessible for any students with a Master's degree and for students at the doctoral school. All students benefit from sufficient funding for preparing their doctorate under the right conditions. The international policy is explicit and suitable for welcoming foreign doctoral students and organising opportunities for doctoral students to study abroad.

The doctoral students' sense of belonging to a doctoral school often reflects its efficiency. This can particularly be gauged through administrative procedures (access to recruitment competitive exams, enrolment, start-of-term day, etc.), research activities in the broad sense (integration in one of the doctoral school's laboratories, knowledge of the skills developed within other research structures with which the school is associated, etc.), or communication and discussions between doctoral students (during the school's event days, training, conference cycles, etc.).

A doctoral school relies on a set of research units which are evaluated before the doctoral school. As doctoral student hosting structures, these units play a part in their scientific and technical training. While their quality is a requirement, it is not enough to guarantee the quality of the doctoral school itself. The investment of laboratories is crucial for the doctoral school to function properly (board, scientific days, etc.) and for the future doctors to prepare for their future career (supervision and training).

  • Supervision and training

The work of each doctoral student is supervised by a thesis director who guides the student all the way through his/her training until the thesis defence. S/he guides the student's choice in the programmes taught at the school so as to prepare for his/her integration in the job market. To be effective, this supervision requires the thesis director to be available to a certain extent and responsible for a reasonable number of doctoral students. For their part, the students must invest time and effort in their projects, gradually gain a certain independence in their work and take part in group tasks in the laboratory, etc.

By following on from previous university training programmes, the doctoral school provides doctoral students with the theoretical and practical means they need to become a part of society, at the level corresponding to the qualification, whether this be in the private sector or in the academic community. Accessible for all doctoral students, the range of programmes available to doctoral students is clearly organised in terms of content (knowledge of the field, methodological, analytical and critical skills, etc.) and the number of hours required of the students.