Conscious of the need to promote closer links between the EHEA and the ERA in a Europe of Knowledge, and of the importance of research as an integral part of higher education across Europe, Ministers consider it necessary to go beyond the present focus on two main cycles of higher education to include the doctoral level as the third cycle in the Bologna Process. (The Berlin Communiqué, 2003)
As the first and second cycle, the third cycle is described with the Dublin Descriptors. However, no credits or range of credits have been assigned to it. Generally, in the framework of the Bologna process doctoral studies are referred to as the third cycle.
The European Higher Education Area is structured around three cycles, where each level has the function of preparing the student for the labour market, for further competence building and for active citizenship. (The Bergen Communiqué, 2005)
The third cycle includes a broad variety of doctoral phases from pure (doctoral) study programmes to fully independent research. These models have various implications for
- the structure of doctoral studies (free, partially or fully structured)
- the responsibility taken and the resources invested (e.g. staff and facilities for taught parts of the programme) by the home institution
- possible links with enterprises and/or professional bodies
- the relation of mandatory and optional elements for the doctoral student
- the status of the doctoral candidate (student, employee, researcher).
Especially in countries and/or disciplines where traditionally free individual research dominates the doctoral phase, the individuals carrying out these projects are not regarded as students but as early stage researchers/young professionals. At the same time, occasionally it is doubted that in fully taught doctoral programmes original research remains the essence of the doctorate.
In Europe, the core element of doctoral studies in almost all disciplines for centuries had to be self-contained research including a scientific dissertation. However, with influences from overseas, a range of innovative doctoral programmes have been emerging in response to the changes in society and to challenges of a global labour market.
The core component of doctoral training is the advancement of knowledge through original research. At the same time it is recognised that doctoral training must increasingly meet the needs of an employment market that is wider than academia. (Salzburg Principles, 2005)