We have to convince people that innovation is a good thing
How can innovations be introduced in doctoral programs and what are the biggest obstacles?
Before talking about innovation, it is important to note that the quality control processes in doctoral training in Canada do not establish that programs must have a set number of courses. So we have a lot of freedom to design new programs, since quality control is not in the structure but in the quality of the final results. The expression that we use more and more in our system is that of “learning objectives”. The question we ask ourselves is what these objectives are and how do we make a student meet them, and then establish how to verify that they were actually met. If I can design a program with defined objectives and a path to achieve them and I can convince the experts in the field that it corresponds to the level of magister or doctorate, then it is a master or a doctorate, we do not get bogged down in structure or regulations.
To put it another way, if there is an obstacle to innovation, it is not in regulation but in people. We have to convince people that innovation is a good thing, that things can change, that we cannot continue as we were fifty years ago, because times have changed, the job market has changed, students are not what we were us when young, then the obstacles are in convincing more than in anything else.
What lessons can we draw from this experience for a country like Chile in PhD innovation?
I think the greatest difficulty in achieving it is the people who live in the past. Those that say "when I did my doctorate 30 years ago that was the way it was and that is why it is the way it should be". Then one says no, because things have changed. Convincing people is step one. The other is to create a structure, to set milestones in doctoral training, since in some disciplines doctorates have very little structure. In some areas, basically the doctorate is a research project, and for many professors, you do research for four years and if you did enough you have a doctorate, and if you don't. Another important thing is that the student needs feedback, you have to be proactive.
For a country like Chile, the main recommendation is to work on the quality of what you have and not on the regulations. If things are done well, a good program should be followed. For this reason, it is important to be able to define objectives and ensure that students meet them, regardless of regulations.
What are the external regulations for Canadian universities?
We have accreditation processes, but it is not to compare the magister with each other or with a model. When accreditation reviews the quality of a master's or doctorate, it seeks to know what the objectives of the program are; it is reviewed if they are good objectives for a master's or doctoral program; Then it is sought if the conditions exist for the students to meet the objectives. Also that they are consistent with what is expected of a program. For example, if you say your students are going to graduate and be good at communications but your program has nothing to do with communications, there is a missing element.
Is it a good starting point to start collaborating between countries with doctoral programs?
I think so. In my opinion, in this case we want much more to know what are the expectations of Chilean universities regarding this exchange, since what we are looking for are partners. Of course, we have these collaborations with large universities like Oxford and Cambridge, but we want to diversify these interactions, and the PhD is a good place because the only way to build a very good university is to have good researchers and professors with PhDs and for the same reason in any country it is important to start with those universities and at this level.
To exemplify the importance of the doctorate, I can say that where I come from (Québec), the vast majority of my professors were from abroad, because we didn't have many people with doctorates and what we did was hire people with doctorates from other countries. My generation is the first generation of Canadian-trained university professors. If we can help build this infrastructure for PhDs in Latin America, we can play a positive role, not by taking people away, but by training them together. For the same reason, we have talked about co-supervision, so that students are in both universities.
Why could Chile be a good strategic partner?
Because Chile is a good business ally for Canada and we have a historical link with Chile, Canadians feel sorry, especially those on the French side, given the events of the past and the number of Chileans who were in the resistance from Canada. Chile is one of the key countries for Canada in South America, it is a highly educated country with a good standard of living. Also, Canadians love Chilean wine (laughs).
What Canadian universities are looking for is diversity. We are overwhelmed with the number of applications from Asia, in some programs the 50% of the class comes from China. We need people from India, Chile, Mexico, Germany, and so on. Latin America is interesting because there are fewer language barriers than with Asia, we have a similar European-American culture. That is another reason why we want to work with you.