Too many doctors? Or too few?
Should you ever choose to live in Germany, you will sooner or later come across a person on whose business card you will see that they are ‘Dr Dr’ something or other. It is not even that rare a phenomenon. In this part of the world it is most unusual (but not absolutely unheard of) for anyone to have done two PhDs. In fact, the proliferation of doctorates can be seen in many different settings in Germany. About one third of German parliamentarians are reported to possess a doctoral qualification, for example. More generally, Portugal and Switzerland are the countries in which there are the most doctorates relative to the population. In Portugal nearly 4 per cent of the age cohort now have a doctorate. In comparison, in Britain it is about half that figure.
As countries in the developed world chase companies that might make high value investments, higher qualifications have become a live issue. Not long ago I was asked to talk to representatives of a large company contemplating an investment in Ireland, and I was taken aback when they said they believed that 30 per cent of their Irish workforce would need to have PhDs. The reality is that if this became more than an occasional demand, we would not be able to fulfill it.
Therefore, if a supply of graduates with doctoral qualifications is necessary for economic growth, we had better get moving. And so that such a step would be seen as attractive by a wider selection of people, we had better ensure that the alumni of such programmes will be able to secure appropriate jobs when they graduate, and that we don’t end up with a whole new cohort of over-qualified and under-motivated people.