Novo Nordisk, the Danish based pharmaceutical producer of insulin, is in Denmark the biggest employers of newly hatched PhD (natural) science students. Now Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen, the research director of Novo, blows the whistle: The quality of the Danish PhD education is falling, and in the medium to long run it has the potential to stall the innovation and development at Novo - as well as nation wide. 

Facts are that the uptake of PhD’s has risen from 1.100 in 2002 to 2.600 in 2014, with limited data suggesting what the effect of such an increase in PhD’s may have or whether it turns out to be an investment with a positive outcome for society.  

Seeing this potential problem Novo has conducted a survey together with Damvad, a consultant company, in which they set out to expose some tendencies and possible effects of doubling the PhD uptake. 

Some of the findings are:

The most important finding: PhDs in Denmark has at least a year less allocated to research then the UK and Swedish students. This is important because it appear we are educating researcher with more stamina for  education than conducting deep, innovative research.  

PhDs in Denmark spend more time as educators. A finding from the Danish Drug Association (lægemiddelindustriforeningen) shows that pharma companies’ finds that Danish PhDs are overqualified in terms of teaching experience and communication – compared to other competencies gained during their studies. Drawing a parallel to the UK and Sweden, the teaching is typically voluntary. 

It would appear also that the high uptake of PhD does not correlate to more qualified students; it appears it is no longer the top candidates who makes it in, but a relatively larger fraction. Findings indicate that the lack of completion in order to enter a PhD, is making it harder to attract and find the best students – also internationally.  

A Danish PHD takes 3 years, while in both Sweden and the UK it is completed in 4 years. The shorter duration of time for research means the PhD’s are exempt from using a number of systematic scientific methods – and consequently as a supervisor comments it decreases level of innovation.

While Novo Nordisk needs more PHD in the future. The research director concludes that he would rather wish for a more qualified PhD pool, in stead of a larger pool with subsequently lower quality and innovative content.      

Read the full article and finding on politiken.dk. The article is in Danish. 

For some statistical data on PhD uptake in denmark see dst.dk (The Danish Statistical Institute)