Niels Ole Pors, Library Link

I have just finished a piece of desktop research about possible cooperation among the Nordic LIS departments concerning PhD education. There has been a long tradition of a rather intensive co-operation among the Nordic schools of library and information science. There have been frequent staff meetings and student exchanges. Conferences have been conducted jointly, and sharing of courseware has been rather common. Research projects have been conducted jointly.

Through the last 20 years the schools have undergone tremendous development - 20 years ago only the Finnish schools had university status, and they were ordinary university departments. In a long process the schools in other Nordic countries obtained university status. In Sweden it was a consequence of reforms in higher education that meant that several new departments in library and information science were established. In Norway new departments were established, and the former school in Oslo was integrated into the college system in Norway. It is not a university, but it co-operates closely with the university system. This development implies that the subject matter has been acknowledged as a scientific discipline, and this is demonstrated by the fact that all the Nordic countries now have full professors in the discipline and that PhD programmes have been established or are in the process of establishment.

On the surface the educational situation looks diversified, influenced by rather different national educational traditions. There is at the same time a remarkable movement in the same direction. All the courses and curricula have moved from being vocational and professional educations into being full-blown academic subjects with a heavy orientation towards theory and method in the curriculum. The core of library and information science is ingrated in all the schools, and differences are in many ways due to organisation of the course structure.

There are 11 Nordic schools at the moment that produce librarians or library and information specialists. Three of the schools can be described as large in terms of staff and student numbers, and the other eight are rather small. In total approximately 2000 students are enrolled in library and information science programmes in the Nordic countries. The total number of academic and permanent staff members is around 160-170. The total number of PhD students is around 60-70, including academic staff who are upgrading former qualifications. The total number of normal PhD students is at the moment under 40.

The structure of the PhD programmes are of course different in the various countries due to their unique entrance requirements. In Sweden and Finland the programmes are of four years duration. It must be remembered that the entrance requirements are four years of university study. In Norway and Denmark the entrance requirements are a master’s degree or equivalent, and the PhD programme is three years in duration.

An important question is: how much time there is for the dissertation? In Norway and Denmark at least two full years have to be used for the thesis. One year is dedicated to teaching, participating in courses and the like. In Sweden and Finland at least 2.5 years are dedicated the dissertation. In these two countries it is possible first to take a two-year licentiate degree as a part of the more comprehensive PhD degree. It is similar to the UK model, with the MPhil as a stepping stone to the PhD.

In the Nordic countries there are many similarities in the organisation of the programmes. There is a rather strict selection of students and their participation in courses, seminars and conferences. In all cases an individual agreement is made between the student and the institution, and academic performance is constantly evaluated.

There has, since the middle of the 1990s, been rather extensive co-operation among the Nordic schools concerning PhD education. It started with grants from NorFa (the Nordic Research Academy) to run courses and seminars, and it extended to a formal network of three years duration called the NordIS - NET (the Nordic Information Studies Education Network). The network has organised student and staff exchanges, seminars, summer schools and workshops and overall been able to provide PhD students with academic possibilities that would have been hard to obtain otherwise. The network has without doubt given an impetus to research education in the Nordic countries, and it has strengthened the co-operation amongst staff at the different institutions.

A small questionnaire has been sent to a sample of PhD students concerning their wishes, expectations and perception of supervision quality. The results are not surprising. It is evident that the new researchers would like a broader range of courses and supervision competencies than their own institutions are able to provide. It is also indicated that the different courses are not always best placed in relation to student needs and progress. The broad range of topics that constitute LIS make it difficult to plan a comprehensive and joint educational programme. The students point especially to theoretical and methodological topics in which they like to participate. Overall the students express the need for a broader network and for more diversified supervision. It is also noteworthy that no single student has complained about their own supervision or situation.

The overall conclusion in the report is that different developments in undergraduate and graduate courses do not create a formal hindrance for more formalised co-operation concerning PhD students. It is further emphasised that a formal co-operation mechanism ought to be set up to cope with supervision, courses and interaction among staff and PhD students.

I wonder if similar schemes exist elsewhere in the world?