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Professional Doctorate student Fearghal Tucker (centre, kneeling) from the University of Portsmouth working in Sierra Leone in the fight against ebola.

The report provides an overview of the current landscape of professional doctorates across higher education institutions in England [Note 1]. Over the last five years, the number of institutions providing professional doctorates has grown, as has the number of professional doctorate programmes. Provision is in four main subject areas: education, business, psychology, and health and social care. 

A highlight of the report is the positive impact of professional doctorates reported by successful candidates, coupled with strong development of more reflective practice and evidence-based professionalism, which is valued by some employers.

The report also finds that:

  • Although traditionally perceived as an employer-driven qualification, employer demand for professional doctorate qualified staff seems relatively weak in many areas and results in high proportions of candidates being self-funded.
  • Professional doctorate programme structures vary in detail, although a two-stage approach with a taught stage followed by formal transition to a research stage is common.
  • The taught aspects of professional doctorate programmes contain doctoral and research focused content, including research-specific skills and professional development.
  • Perceptions of the quality of the professional doctorate remain an issue, yet candidates’ research is expected to have an impact on professional practice as well as make a contribution to academic knowledge.
  • While cohorts tend to be small for most programmes, candidates report that the cohort-based nature of professional doctorate study is a highlight of their experience and valuable in both enhancing learning and sustaining commitment to their programme alongside a pressured professional life.

The report recommends that sector bodies and institutions develop a more strategic basis for provision of professional doctorates. Furthermore, it reaffirms equivalence between professional doctorate and PhD qualifications, highlighting the importance of the research context and the impact requirements on professional practice.


  1. The UK Council for Graduate Education defines a professional doctorate as a programme of study and research which, whilst satisfying university criteria for the award of a doctorate, is designed to meet the specific needs of a professional group external to the university and which develops the capability of individuals to work within a professional context. The term ‘candidate’ is used in the report because it is common for PD candidates to study on a part-time basis with the expectation that they will also be working in industry or a professional organisation.
  2. Read the report
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