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7.6.4PhD trajectories in the arts in Flanders
PhD trajectories in the arts in Flanders are comparably longer than their academic counterparts. Where the median time-to-degree for doctoral candidates in academic disciplines is 4,7 years (cf. Vlaams Indicatorenboek - 3.2.4), the median for PhDs in the arts is 6,5 years. This reflects structural differences in funding streams on the one hand and how research is conducted on the other.
In academic disciplines, FWO, IWT and BOF mandates have been the most important funding schemes for doctoral research in the 2006-2021 period (cf. Vlaams Indicatorenboek - 3.2.2) – which ideally result in 4-year PhD trajectories. But because doctoral research in the arts is less likely to be funded by FWO, and is generally ineligible for IWT and BOF funding, artistic PhDs are mostly financed directly by Schools of Arts themselves. The so-called academiseringsmiddelen1 [academization resources] – a funding portion intended to support the Schools of Arts in their pursuit of ‘academic’ mandates allocated by fixed parameters (e.g. student numbers; delivered degrees) – form the financial backbone of artistic research. Much like the universities’ BOF resources, these funds are largely deployed at the discretion of the institutions. To this end, the Schools of Arts organize (annual) open calls prospective doctoral candidates can apply to. In these applications, they are usually expected to submit a written proposal outlining their existing portfolio, their doctoral project and the artistic and academic supervisors involved.
In the face of limited resources, however, Schools of Arts often solicit doctoral candidates in contracts with part-time research mandates – hence explaining the comparably longer time-to-degree of artistic disciplines. On the one hand, doctoral research in the arts is often conducted by assistant staff, whose contract consists of research and teaching assignments. This allows embedding research expertise into the curriculum – as BA and MA programs now include inquisitive competences too – while also combining resources spent on research and education. And on the other hand, part-time research assignments are prevalent among artistic researchers without educational responsibilities. Not requiring a full time research commitment allows established artists to potentially combine a formal inquisitive mandate with a professional arts practice, which is an attractive option for parties involved. It allows Schools of Arts to solicit artists who have already distinguished themselves in their own field, and does not pressure potential doctoral candidates to commit to a research trajectory at the expense of their non-investigative arts practice.
That the average time-to-degree of early PhD trajectories was considerably shorter than doctoral projects after the consolidation of artistic research in Flanders (see Figure 5) reflects a perceived need to professionalize School of Arts faculty in response to the academiseringsproces. Initially, there was a degree of anxiety in tertiary arts education that the PhD in the arts would become a requirement for teaching staff in higher arts education. Although this fear has now proved unwarranted, it accounts for the considerably shorter PhD trajectories in the earlier years of formal artistic research in Flanders.
Figure 5: Average time-to-degree of PhDs in the Arts in Flanders per graduation year 2006-2021 (n=104)
Looking at the average time-to-degree, only UAntwerpen displays a number below 6 years (see Figure 6). Presumably, its considerably higher incidence of four-year PhD trajectories – the norm for ‘academic’ doctoral candidacies – relates to their embeddedness in a university research group. Perhaps, the relatively prominent role played by academic actors in artistic research conducted in the UAntwerpen association has effectuated a stronger reliance on the standards and practices of university PhD trajectories. While some critical remarks could perhaps be made about projecting the formula of a ‘classical’ doctoral training on researchers in the arts, it should also be noted that only the UAntwerpen association employs artistic researchers funded by BOF-resources – the internal, competitive university research fund.
That artistic research in other university associations does not (or cannot) access ‘general’ research funding streams suggests that the approach followed in the UAntwerpen association results in lines of inquiry with both clear academic and artistic merits.
Figure 6: Average time-to-degree of PhDs in the arts in Flanders per association 2006-2021 (n=104)
In addition to the comparably longer trajectories of artistic PhD research in Flanders, doctoral candidates in the arts tend to obtain their degree later in life than their academic analogues. Only 4,7% of the dissertations defended at the time of writing were submitted by researchers younger than 30, whereas 45,2% of the doctoral candidates’ title was awarded after the age of 40 – with 27,5% of the PhDs defended after the age of 50 (see Figure 7).
That Flemish doctores in the arts obtain their degree at a later stage in life reflects the expectation that doctoral candidates have already developed an autonomous artistic practice before pursuing a PhD (cf. supra), and an uninterrupted shift from MA to PhD programs is exception rather than rule in the arts.
Figure 7: Doctoral candidates in the arts in Flanders per age group 2006-2021 (n=116)
1 Even though the term suggests that the ‘academization’ of the Schools of Arts is ongoing, this process has in fact been finalized.