Case study context

The University of Otago is New Zealand’s oldest university, established in 1869.The main campus is located in Dunedin, with Divisions of Commerce, Health Science, Humanities and Science. There are two other main campuses in Christchurch and Wellington, and these have a health science focus. In 2018, the institution had about

  • 21.000 students including 1,400 PhD candidates and 142 candidates studying a professional doctorate (e.g. in business, education, music or clinical dentistry). Nearly half the PhD candidates are international candidates, with students from about 100 countries. Funding for PhD candidates comes from central government through annual enrolment (up to 4 years) and completion funding. The University does provide an excellent scholarship scheme which supports about two thirds of candidates for up to 3 years, while the remaining candidates may come with funding (e.g. from the government in their home country) or may be self-funded. Importantly, international candidates only have to pay domestic fees, which are about US$4,000-
  • 7.000 annually.The Graduate Research School (GRS) provides central oversight for policy, administration and support of doctoral candidates at the University.

The case study reported here includes data gathered as part of the earlier study focusing on timely completions (Spronken-Smith et til., 2018), findings from several other studies conducted at Otago on aspects of doctoral education and data gathered through observation and reflection on factors at a range of levels that help support candidates to completion.

Macro-level factors on completions

At the macro level, the type of PhD and the funding environment are key drivers of both high completions and timely completions. It is notable that the countries with higher completion rates tend to have a funding regime that emphasises completion.This is the case for the University of Otago, where public funding includes annual enrolment, but only for up to 4 years, and then further funding on completion. Such funding regimes put pressure on institutions to ensure they have good processes in place to promote timely completions. But what can institutions do to achieve these? The following section provides some insights by exploring factors at the meso level.

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