On Thursday, 17 March 2016, the University of Johannesburg (UJ) Faculty of Education hosted a seminar, presented by Michael Samuel, a Professor in the School of Education, at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, titled: What’s the PhD for? Postgraduate supervision, social justice and research methods. Held at the Auckland Park Kingsway Campus, the aim of the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning (SOTL@UJ) is to support a community of practice at UJ with regard to the scholarship of teaching and learning and to generate scholarly debate about social justice in relation to teaching and learning.
This presentation explored the competing expectations of doctoral education from a national, institutional, programmatic and personal perspective. According to Professor Samuel, “The rhetoric of PhDs contributing to the knowledge economy, and wider socio-economic development is questioned as adequate explanation for the rise in interest in doctoral studies.” He further explained, “an examination of the motivation behind choice of topics of a sampled group of PhD in Higher Education students forms the basis for this analysis.”
This was explored against the backdrop of recent websites: Universities South Africa, Daily Higher Education News Education news and University World New Global Edition.
“How do the competing agendas of the managerial, policy and international terrains influence/not the choices of doctoral topics in the sphere of educational research locally, institutionally and personally? Should these agendas drive doctoral topic selection? How is the worthwhileness of a doctoral study topic decided; by whom and why? Who frames the agenda for doctoral education?” added Prof Samuel.
Secondly, the presentation examined why the range of alternative forms of representation of doctoral studies are more restricted/dominant in certain fields/ disciplines compared to others. The following types of doctorates and their possible curriculum implications include the PhD, the PhD by publications & creative works, the professional doctorate and the integrated doctorate. Cruciaal questions like how could/should doctoral education be broadened to encompass a greater diversity of types and curriculum offerings? were further explored.
Professor Samuel probed whether innovative disruption of present doctoral education traditions could potentially be challenged through the choice of methodological approach. “The shifting of discourses away from macro-policy-practice implementation fetishes towards deeply understanding the lived personal experiences and effects of everyday practices and practitioners, including auto-ethnographic critical reflexion, is offered as potentially a reclaiming of space, a re-definition of the small. “Individuals, communities, and institutions who bear the responsibility of shouldering macro-systemic interventions and their lived worlds are foregrounded in such research methodologies, potentially offering new vocabulary for theorising, a kind of “methodological agency”. Can the small issues become big? Is this retreat into the small, evidence of a form of marginalisation, another form of self peripherilisation? Is the “small-is-big agenda” adequate for a social re-constructivist activism? Does methodology of doctoral studies provide the leverage for a social justice turn? Is methodological innovation adequate?” he concluded.
Michael Samuel is a Professor in the School of Education, University of KwaZulu-Natal. He has served as a curriculum designer of innovative masters and collaborative doctoral cohort programmes locally and internationally. He has supervised to successful completion over 20 PhD studies. He was a member of the Ministerial Committee on Teacher Education assisting the development of national teacher education policy in South Africa. He has served as former Deputy Dean: Initial Teacher Education and Dean (Faculty of Education, UKZN). His research interest focuses on teacher professional development, higher education, life history and narrative inquiry. He serves on several national and international editorial boards of educational journals. He is the recipient of the Turquoise Harmony Institute’s National Ubuntu Award for Contribution to Education