Organisation of doctoral studies
Doctoral programmes are mainly offered at universities since only higher education institutions are able (and entitled) to provide doctoral programmes and awarding a doctoral degree may fall into the category of “university”. Doctoral programmes are provided in doctoral schools operating within higher education institutions in disciplinary fields defined by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. (In most fields, doctoral programmes ending in a “Doctor of Philosophy” degree [PhD], while in the field of art, there are doctoral programmes ending in a “Doctor of Liberal Arts” [DLA] degree.) The operation of doctoral schools and the awarding of doctoral degrees are supervised by the doctoral councils of institutions.
Doctoral schools can operate and doctoral programmes can be offered only if accredited during an accreditation procedure. In line with a government decree, doctoral studies basically include two phases: the first phase is a doctoral course of 120 ECTS credits (usually 2 years in full-time; however, it may take longer in part-time forms), ending with a comprehensive examination. Successful students may move on to the second phase, a doctoral degree award procedure consisting of an individual research work and the elaboration and public defence of a doctoral thesis. There are three years available in this second phase, which, in justified cases, can be extended by one year.
The same regulations apply to doctoral schools/programmes in all branches of study. Doctoral schools operate in different number at each university.
Regulations have different provisions for the two phases. In the first phase, during the doctoral course, the same rules apply as in other programmes, while in the second phase (in the degree award procedure), special rules apply (primarily concerning submission deadlines and procedures). According to the law, the first phase “encompasses education, research and assessment related activities conducted either individually or in groups, tailored to the particularities of the field of science concerned and meeting the needs of PhD students”, during which several programmes require teaching practice in a higher education institution or work experience outside the university. Furthermore, emphasis is put on individual research and on direct professional consultation. For the time being, no distinction is made according to profiles (research and professional doctorate).
Participants of the second phase, the doctoral degree award procedure, are called PhD/DLA candidates. PhD/DLA candidates have not necessarily undertaken the first phase in a formal learning way, it is also possible to prepare for a doctoral degree individually and informally. The prerequisites are a Master degree and fulfilling the admission requirements to the doctoral degree programme. Higher education institutions cannot reject the application of candidates who have successfully accomplished the first phase at their institution. Doctoral students have the legal status of students and are entitled to state-funded grants. However, state-funded places are limited; the majority of doctoral students pays a fee and undertakes work in addition to pursuing studies in order to cover the cost of studies. This is one of the reasons why there is a low number of PhD students.
Selection of doctoral students is within the competence of the doctoral schools of higher education institutions. The institutions are entitled to define their own rules on procedures and the criteria for applications. There is only one legal prerequisite for admission: holding a Master degree. Typically, there are oral entrance examinations for doctoral courses.
The number of doctoral students is not limited, the government only limits the number of state-funded places (approx. 2000). The National Doctoral Council, consisting of the chairs of the doctoral councils of higher education institutions, defines the principles of distributing the state-funded places among higher education institutions. Due to the limited number of state-funded full-time places, there is a much higher percentage of doctoral students who attend part-time and pay a tuition fee.
Status of doctoral students/candidates
Doctoral students have the legal status of students with the same rights and responsibilities as Bachelor and Master students, e.g. entitlement to health and social insurance, performance-based and need-based grants and other welfare benefits.
However, a large number of doctoral students are admitted as fee-paying students. Similarly to students at state-funded places, they have a student card entitling them to discounted rates when travelling or discounted admission tickets to cultural and other facilities. However, they are not entitled to state-funded grants. Therefore, most students work while studying. The schedule of doctoral courses is scheduled in such a way that it enables them to attend classes.
The law does not regulate supervision and thus there are different internal regulations and different practices in doctoral schools. Typically, if there is no professor/researcher available for supporting a doctoral student in the doctoral programme, the doctoral school will hire one from another programme or outside the doctoral school for this specific task. However, no formal agreements are concluded between students and the supervisor and the doctoral programme. Multiple supervision arrangements are rare: independent experts are usually involved in the final comprehensive examination thesis (at least one external expert) and in the defence of the doctoral thesis (at least two external experts).
The academic advancement of university staff members (lecturers, researchers) does not take place in the framework of doctoral programmes but within the requirement framework defined by the human resource regulations of universities. These regulate the criteria for each academic position as well as the regular evaluation of lecturers and researchers. This evaluation procedure is also considered during the accreditation review process (every 5 years). Also, international tutoring/co-tutoring by supervisors is uncommon; it is mainly dependent on the financial capacity of doctoral schools.
There are no systematically collected statistics on the ability of doctoral schools to improve employability. Some reports show that, in several fields of science, there are significant links to the local economy. Industrial staff may act as lecturers, tutors and external examiners at the defence of doctoral theses. In some fields (e.g. engineering, science, agriculture), it is typical that doctoral students and PhD candidates take a job at companies operating in that field during their doctoral studies or people working in these fields often enrol in a doctoral programme which can promote the improvement of employability.
There is no policy on student assessment at either national or institutional level. Although some institutions have started developing such a policy, it is generally the competence of academic staff, especially at smaller institutions.
In the first phase, the doctoral course, typically oral examinations are held at the end of the terms in the exam periods but there may also be written examinations/tasks. In case of small-group classes (seminars, laboratory practices), there is usually continuous assessment of students. The performance assessment of students is identical to the assessment in other programmes: either on a 3-point scale (excellent, satisfactory, fail) or on a 5-point scale (5 – excellent, 4 – good, 3 – satisfactory, 2 – pass, 1 – fail). There are no monitoring or research activities focusing on these practices at national or institutional level.
Doctoral schools regulate the way of assessment of the research activity and the doctoral thesis of doctoral students but these primarily focus on the evaluation method and criteria of the individual research work of the student and the PhD thesis. Scientometric methods are often used for evaluating the research activities of doctoral students since they are required to publish the findings of their research. Very often, one of the requirements for enrolling to the degree award procedure is to achieve a certain publication index and impact factor. In disciplines where there are not enough accessible publication opportunities for doctoral students or there are no internationally standardised scientometric methods, doctoral schools themselves develop assessment tools to evaluate the performance of doctoral students. These are also similar to a publication index but they include presentations at conferences, articles in journals and technical translation etc.
Doctoral councils also set criteria for the evaluation of doctoral theses (according to the traditions of the discipline) and especially for the procedure of evaluation in order to ensure the presence of external evaluators and examination board members. However, there is no information on a comprehensive review of the relevant provisions of the Doctoral Councils.
Higher education institutions are entitled to granting degrees if they are recognised by the parliament and are entitled to awarding doctoral degrees (PhD, DLA) after a university status accreditation procedure. The doctoral degree is defined in the Higher Education Act and is awarded by the doctoral councils of universities. The doctoral council of a university decides on granting the degree upon recommendation by the committee of the doctoral schools. It is also the doctoral council that determines the requirements to be met for the different grades of doctoral degrees usually in proportion to the approval votes of the doctoral dissertation committee (rite, cum laude, summa cum laude). Following the decision, the higher education institution concerned hands over the degree (and the certificate certifying it) to the candidate at a ceremony.
Pursuant to the Higher Education Act, PhD degree holders may use the titles “PhD” or “Dr.” before their names and DLA degree holders may use the titles “DLA” or “Dr.”. The doctoral degree is officially recognised by the state.
According to the Act on Higher Education, holders of the Candidate of Sciences degree, who received their degree before 1993, are entitled to use the designation ”doctoral degree”. Besides, where a law stipulates a scientific degree as a precondition of employment or qualification, this can be construed as a doctoral degree.
In Hungary, there are no unusual or less common organisational variations of doctoral programmes or any programmes in the third cycle that do not lead to a doctoral degree.