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Enhancing skills intelligence and integration into existing PhD programmes by providing transferable skills training through an open online platform

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Transferable skills training improves doctoral programmes

Fewer positions in academia and more jobs in other sectors means new training for PhDs. Open-source, online modules improve employment readiness for graduates.

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Times are changing, and graduates of today’s doctoral programmes have different employment options than in generations past. Employees with PhDs have increased opportunity for mobility, and transferable skills such as critical thinking and time management are essential. The EU-funded DocEnhance project developed a range of materials to help higher educational institutions (HEIs) address the needs of students with advanced degrees to succeed in non-academic careers.

Modular course design

According to Hanne Johnsen, project coordinator: “The DocEnhance concept for transferable skills training is a flexible and innovative module-based organisational framework for the design and implementation of courses.” Courses designed by DocEnhance have three modules, each targeting an important educational component. The first module, a MOOC – for massive open online course – targets open education and comprises online lectures. The second module focuses on interdisciplinarity and consists of local group work. Intended to enhance the employment mobility of PhD candidates, the third module contains regional assignments in non-academic sectors. DocEnhance has developed three courses, all with the same modular structure. The courses are flexible and allow students to select modules that address their needs and interests. The courses cover data stewardship, supervision, and career management and entrepreneurship. The modules are designed to foster open education, interdisciplinarity and mobility, key features of career preparedness in academia. Both the design and the content of the courses are integral to delivering quality learning with respect to transferable skills. Project work helps to ensure PhD candidates are well positioned for successful careers beyond academia.

Industry and academic collaboration

The project consortium consisted of 19 partners in 15 countries. Major stakeholders and end users made up an external advisory board and an industry reference group composed of universities and businesses. Both academic and non-academic consortium members provided significant input into course content. Non-academic partners included key players in recruitment and career transition. They played an important role in putting forward the views of future employers as courses were developed. Four of the partner universities hosted online and face-to-face workshops to better assess the needs of PhD employers. An online questionnaire complemented this work, further exploring the needs of non-academic PhD employers.

Career tracking survey

The online questionnaire distributed to non-academic potential employers complemented the career tracking survey the project developed for PhD candidates. This survey, along with the courses designed for dissemination on the DocEnhance platform, is a major outcome of the project. Launched in 2021, the survey collected 2 217 valid responses, 23 % of the target population. The survey allows universities to assess and adjust their programmes with respect to student needs as they prepare for their careers. Open-source, the survey can be taken up by European and non-European universities alike. Next steps for DocEnhance include building on achievements through a related project, DocTalent4EU, which will design an additional three courses to be hosted on the DocEnhance platform. The career tracking survey will be repeated in 2024, thereby providing a critical comparison to the results of the first survey. DocEnhance has effectively changed the landscape for higher education in Europe. The courses developed by the project and their easy accessibility meet the changing needs of doctoral candidates. Further, regular implementation of the career tracking survey will ensure that doctoral programmes can continue to evolve in the future.


DocEnhance, career, academic, transferable skills, career tracking, doctoral programmes, open-source, modular course, employment mobility, collaboration, higher education

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