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Friday 7 March 2014 12:59pm

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Otago has some of the best PhD completion rates in the world and its students are submitting in an “extremely fast” median time of 3.4 years according to a new paper which sites quality PhD candidate selection, scholarship timeframes, and performance coaching as contributing factors

The paper 'Factors contributing to high PhD completion rates: a case study in a research-intensive university in New Zealand', was co-authored by Otago Graduate School Dean Professor Rachel Spronken-Smith, who says, “Our research showed that more of our students (83%) are submitting their PhD thesis for examination than most other institutions globally. There will be some comparable ones, mainly in the United Kingdom – and possibly in New Zealand, but we don't have similar data about other New Zealand universities.

Swift submission time

“Our students are also submitting in a very fast time we have a 3.4 year median for full-timers, with a very low attrition rate. If we look at the United States, its percentage of submission for examination is about 45-60% of students in 7-10 years, with very high rates of attrition; though, admittedly, the US has a different system, with course work as well as research.”

Possible reasons for Otago's high performance include having a large international cohort, mainly full-time candidates and its funding environment.
Professor Spronken-Smith says, “Otago's PhD scholarships are pinned to a three year time frame, so there is an expectation of finishing in that time period. Unique to Otago is our postgraduate publishing bursary; if a candidate submits their thesis in under four years, they will receive up to three months of scholarship funding to write up publications from their research – it's a very popular scheme. All students pay fees (though the University of Otago doctoral scholarships cover these), and international PhD students resident in New Zealand pay the domestic fee rate, which makes us very attractive globally.

High quality candidates

The paper also sites Otago's selection of high quality PhD candidates and the close monitoring, excellent supervision and support they're offered.
“Our student satisfaction with supervision is pretty high. I think we're the only university in New Zealand that has a Performance Coach helping students set up goals and time management systems. They can also see him for advice on how to progress their research when stuck in a rut.

The paper was written in response to a “paucity of research on PhD completions in New Zealand universities”.

Professor Spronken-Smith concludes, “Overall, the data we collated affirmed what we thought all along that Otago is great place to do PhD study, with a supportive environment that ensures most of our students succeed.”

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