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Basic principles of PhD education at Aarhus University

The Basic principles below have been decided at AU level following discussions among the Heads of the graduate schools at AU and involvement from for instance the PhD committees. The aim has been to create basic principles at AU level for the PhD education to ensure as it says ‘the PhD students’ academic development by addressing the appropriate level of independence at different stages of the PhD education’.


Aarhus, February 2019

Aarhus University insists on academic excellence in PhD education. Academic development, scholarly integrity, societal engagement, and the ability to collaborate are key in PhD education. Meeting societal challenges requires groundbreaking research and collaboration across academic fields and geography. Aarhus University is committed to help preparing PhD graduates for these challenges.

To help reach these overall goals, the four graduate school at Aarhus University wish to encourage, simplify and support collaboration between graduate schools and disciplines. Thus, the principles below were developed in mutual agreement by the four graduate schools. They represent a common understanding of the purpose of the PhD education, from enrolment to assessment of the thesis. The central focus of the principles is to safeguard the PhD students’ academic development by addressing the appropriate level of independence at different stages of the PhD education.

The principles derive from the objectives expressed in the European debate on doctoral education over the last decade, exemplified by “The Salzburg Principles II” (2010), “The Principles on Innovative Doctoral Training” developed by the EU Commission (2011), and “Maintaining a Quality Culture in Doctoral Education at Research Intensive Universities” by LERU (2016). Furthermore, the Danish PhD Order, the Danish Qualifications Framework for Higher Education, the Third Cycle Qualifications, and the Framework of Qualifications for the European Higher Education Area have provided an important basis for addressing independence and academic development in the principles.

  • Project description: The ability to conceive and design a research process is a PhD level qualification. In order to start the learning process toward this qualification, the project description, as developed during the early project phase, must demonstrate the PhD student’s contribution to the development of research ideas and show originality in applying them within a research context. The project description must also show the PhD student’s ability to account for methods and key characteristics of the research field.
  • Supervision: Independence grows through the PhD process. The main supervisor has the overall responsibility for the progression of the PhD project, but the supervisor should promote and recognize the PhD student in taking ownership of the research project and encourage the PhD student to explore new research paths within the framework of the PhD project.
  • PhD study: The PhD project is driven by the PhD student. Under supervision, the PhD student develops into an independent researcher in regard to academic growth and originality. During the PhD study, the PhD student should become familiar with all aspects of research and must develop the ability to conduct and position research with critical scholarly integrity. By graduation, the PhD candidate must be able to communicate, collaborate, and position himself or herself as an independent researcher nationally as well as internationally.
  • PhD project: Independence is key in PhD education. In research projects embedding a PhD student, the supervisor must ensure that the PhD student’s main occupation is research tasks allowing academic growth and emancipation. The growth of academic independence is crucial during the PhD study, and the research project must allow the PhD student to influence the research design, the implementation phase and to follow new research paths within the subject area. Therefore, not all research projects and programmes are suitable for hosting PhD education.
  • Thesis: The PhD thesis must document the academic independence of the PhD student and that the PhD student has contributed to the development of new knowledge that meets the international standards of the field. Therefore, the thesis must demonstrate the PhD student’s ability to independently plan, initiate and carry out research as well as participate in international discussions within the chosen research field. The PhD student is the author of the thesis, and in cases where the thesis contains publications co-authored by the PhD student, the PhD student’s contribution must be significant and clearly stated.
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