What is known about doctoral employment? Reflections from a UK study and directions for future research

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Over the last two decades, international governments have positioned PhD holders as vital to prosperity – and yet, understanding of PhD holders’ economic, social and cultural contributions remains considerably undeveloped. This article shares insights from a secondary analysis study of PhD employment in the UK. This study made use of the Destination of Leavers of Higher Education Longitudinal Survey, which provides the most comprehensive record of PhD employment currently available in the UK. Nevertheless, significant limitations arose when using the dataset to explore doctoral careers, suggesting that a new empirical approach is needed. In particular, there is a pressing need for richer demographic and decision-making data on PhD holders, along with a more extensive, longitudinal view of the careers they forge. The reflections and recommendations emerging from this study will be of interest to scholars and policymakers beyond the UK, given the global investment in the expansion of doctoral education.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)520-536
JournalJournal of Higher Education Policy and Management
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

© 2021 Association for Tertiary Education Management and the LH Martin Institute for Tertiary Education Leadership and Management. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details.


  • PhD education
  • doctoral careers
  • human capital
  • knowledge economy
  • research policy
  • secondary analysis

Cite this