Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The "Professional Doctorate"


Last summer, a festive kick-off was organised to formally introduce the new Dutch initiative of the “Professional Doctorate pilot Arts + Creative” (PD), which aims to cater to artists who want a third cycle degree but not a PhD.

The Dutch landscape has seen quite a few doctoral trajectories already: docARTES, PhDarts, MERIAN, GRASP, Creator Doctus, and RASL. Grosso modo, those can be categorised into the two types that determine much of the wider (ongoing) third cycle degree debate. When the Bologna Declaration, and the nuances in the subsequent Bergen Meeting, initiated the European doctorate for artists, it left the decision on how to flesh out the degree content to the individual actors. Most have gone for a research degree, which has led to collaborations between arts institutions and universities; others have chosen the option of a performance degree, which compares to the well-known D.M.A. in the US. Both (most often) include a written and artistic component, but the primacy and relation of one vs. the other varies: for the research-degree, the candidate has to show how the findings constitute new knowledge and how that changes their practice, while the performance-degree is less dependent on the verbalisation. As much as there are nuances to be found within each of the degree types as offered by institutions, there are also different visions on how they compare, and what exactly (ought to) constitute research. (More on this here.)


The new PD is organised by 15 Dutch arts and design schools, including those who had their own non-PhD program, in the list above, as well as some – e.g. the Amsterdam Hogeschool der Kunsten – who already participate in one of the PhD programs. So the PD is a matter of consolidation as much as a new initiative, countering a hitherto confusingly splintered and unevenly successful landscape.

Of the Dutch programmes listed above, the first four lead to a PhD. Creator Doctus doesn’t (not even a written dissertation is required), and I assume RASL didn’t either – the latter’s webpage has disappeared, probably because it is now part of the PD consortium. As the Creator Doctus program does not accept any applications anymore, I gather that is for the same reason. In any case, Creator Doctus resulted in one artist obtaining a “degree”, and another project was started in 2020. GRASP has not seemed to provide information on participants; MERIAN has two candidates in the running, both visual artists. Interestingly, MERIAN stresses that their PhD is “in Maastricht-style artistic research”, reminding us of how the “Brussels model” (cf. here) was thought out and given its own name to seek distinction at the level of understanding AR.

Since the kick-off, a “pre-PD program” was set up, but that is now finished. This first month of 2023, the pilot is to have started with “a first cohort of candidates in five domains, including the creative domain”, enabling the schools to appoint 34 candidates in total. At the moment of writing this, no music student has entered the pilot. The matter of who will pay for it is not clearly settled, yet. The Dutch government was asked for some 56 million euros for the entire pilot, but I have been told that the organising schools would have to pay for that out of their existing budget.

The only FAQ on the PD site is about the legal question of the title. Elsewhere, it is stated that the PD is the equivalent” of the PhD, demonstrating that it is not the same. (See here for some more on this matter.) The PhD degree is protected to the point that the PD will have to introduce a new name for it, and have that certified by the Dutch government. This will take two years, so the organisers expect to legally secure it before the pilot is concluded. Nevertheless, the wording in the FAQ is carefully chosen so as not to jump the gun: the most optimistic phrase is that “the Minister is positive about the development of the PD phase”, meaning the pilot, not necessarily the acceptance by parliament of the new degree. Oddly, it is stated that [my highlighting]: “following and completing a PD trajectory in the pilot phase (and afterwards) can lead to a broader career perspective and career opportunities.”

The hesitant phrasings are understandable from a legal perspective, but my feeling on this whole initiative is more positive. As a PhD holder myself, this might be surprising, especially given my responsibilities as a co-coordinator of an artistic research PhD program. But I have seen how and understand why many musicians decide not to get a PhD. Most of those who enter a PhD program submit a solo project. Some are involved in ensemble work, but their research is steering the group and its workings. So what about orchestra musicians, who may develop innovations for their instrument and/or their repertoire, but who will have to negotiate with the conductor how much of it they may be permitted to apply on stage? Given the inevitable inflation in degrees, in the next decades, all types of musicians may want a third cycle degree to be able to obtain a faculty position at some conservatoire, not necessarily with any interest in reorienting their careers towards doing research as well as performing. Until now, the only route for a musician towards a third cycle degree in The Netherlands was through the docArtes PhD programme. The PD would give musicians a choice. (In the UK, not having a PhD doesn’t seem to deter musicians from entering academia, although a total absence of an academic degree seems to result in issues of clashing cultures - cf. here.) Personally, I don’t think the PhD programmes will loose applicants to the PD, for I have no doubt the research trajectory will continue to inspire and attract musicians. The only downside I imagine at this point, is that we may continue to see confusion between different degrees and programmes that are called PhD or something seemingly close to it, at least for a while yet, until things settle.

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