Trends in postgraduate and doctoral training. Impact on sustainable development

Mendive. Journal on Educación, october-december, 2022; 20(4):1369-1386

Translated from the original in Spanish

Review article

Trends in postgraduate and doctoral training. Impact on sustainable development


Tendencias de la formación postgraduada y doctoral. Incidencia en el desarrollo sostenible


Tendências na formação pós-graduada e doutoral. Impacto no desenvolvimento sustentável


Vilma María Pérez Viñas1
Arturo Pulido Díaz1
Mayra Ordaz Hernández1

1 University of Pinar del Río "Hermanos Saíz Montes de Oca". Cuba.;;


Received: February 3rd, 2022.
Accepted: April 1st, 2022.



The vision on the relevance of higher education materialized in the projection towards sustainable development and the ability to respond to the demands and needs of the country is of particular importance. International experience indicates that the creation of capacities and, particularly, the training of human talent, is a key element for promoting sustainable development. So, the objective of this article is to determine the trends that characterize postgraduate training, in particular, doctoral training and its impact on sustainable development, until the beginning of 2020. Methods such as documentary analysis, content analysis and analysis were used. complementary methods such as analysis, synthesis, deduction, induction, and comparative education. Among the most notable results were the essential changes in postgraduate and doctoral education, the challenges of postgraduate studies at the international level, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean, the generic competencies of postgraduate and doctoral training, the types of training programs doctoral studies and the characterization of doctoral training and its impact on sustainable development.

Keywords: sustainable development; doctoral training; postgraduate training.


La visión sobre la pertinencia de la educación superior concretada en la proyección hacia el desarrollo sostenible y la capacidad de responder a las demandas y necesidades del país es de particular importancia. La experiencia internacional indica que la creación de capacidades y, particularmente, la formación de talento humano, es un elemento clave para el impulso al desarrollo sostenible. De modo que el objetivo de este artículo es determinar las tendencias que caracterizan la formación postgraduada, en particular, la formación doctoral y su incidencia en el desarrollo sostenible, hasta principios de 2020. Se emplearon métodos como el análisis documental, el análisis de contenido y métodos complementarios como análisis, la síntesis, deducción inducción y la educación comparada. Entre los resultados más notables se encontraron los cambios esenciales en la educación postgraduada y de doctorado, los retos del postgrado a nivel internacional, especialmente en América Latina y el Caribe, las competencias genéricas de la formación postgraduada y doctoral, las tipologías de programa de formación doctoral y la caracterización de la formación doctoral y su incidencia en el desarrollo sostenible.

Palabras clave: desarrollo sostenible; formación doctoral; formación postgraduada.


A visão sobre a relevância do ensino superior materializada na projeção para o desenvolvimento sustentável e a capacidade de resposta às exigências e necessidades do país assume particular importância. A experiência internacional indica que a criação de capacidades e, em particular, a formação do talento humano, é um elemento chave para a promoção do desenvolvimento sustentável. Assim, o objetivo deste artigo é determinar as tendências que caracterizam a formação pós-graduada, em particular, a formação doutoral e o seu impacto no desenvolvimento sustentável, até ao início de 2020. Foram utilizados métodos como análise documental, análise de conteúdo e análise. como análise, síntese, dedução, indução e educação comparada. Entre os resultados mais notáveis ​​estão as mudanças essenciais na educação de pós-graduação e doutorado, os desafios da pós-graduação em nível internacional, especialmente na América Latina e no Caribe, as competências genéricas da formação de pós-graduação e doutorado, os tipos de programas de formação de doutorado e a caracterização da formação doutoral e o seu impacto no desenvolvimento sustentável.

Palavras-chave: desenvolvimento sustentável; formação doutoral; formação de pós-graduação.



The university-society relationship has been transformed as a result of social development that has conditioned the existence of various university models. Currently, those distinguished by social demands in favor of sustainable development predominate.

In this regard, Díaz-Canel and Fernández (2020) point out:

   Higher education has been positioning itself as a relevant actor in the processes of production, dissemination and use of knowledge that local development demands and has increasingly become a key ally of governments in the strategic management of local development. (p.27)

This vision is especially important as it strengthens the relevance of higher education and its ability to respond to the needs and demands of the country (Díaz-Canel and Fernández, 2020). In this regard, international experience indicates that the creation of capacities, and particularly, the training of human talent, is a key element for promoting local development (Díaz-Canel and Fernández, 2020).

Saborido (2018), when addressing the characteristics of the contemporary university, points out:

In the current century, the paradigm is projected towards the union of teaching, research, practice and networking. So that research and doctoral training form a main part of the core of this paradigm. (p.6)

Thus, the influence of research and doctoral training in university paradigms have led to the establishment of a type of classification of university models referring to research, scientific and technological and professional universities, say colleges and institutes (Saborido, 2018).

Europe is positioned at the forefront of leadership in addressing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in relation to education and research. This is how Hasgall (2019) puts it:

   As a place where education and research meet, doctoral education is key to advancing the challenging agenda of completing the goals by 2030. Doctoral education, organized through doctoral schools or doctoral programs in the vast majority of universities, contributes to the formation of highly qualified academics, knowledge workers for many different areas of society. They provide scientific and transversal skills, as well as a unique system of participation and exchange.

However, such advances are not homogeneous. In Latin America and, particularly, in Cuba, situating higher education and, especially, doctoral training in terms of achieving the SDGs, continues to be a challenge. In this article we intend to determine the trends that characterize postgraduate training, particularly doctoral training, and its impact on development until the beginning of 2020, as it is at this time that the COVID-19 pandemic begins its devastating impact, which has caused important changes in the behavior of such trends whose significance remains to be seen.

To determine the trends, documentary analysis was used, mainly content analysis, in order to establish the internal structure of the information from the inference, that is, the deduction of data that, in this investigation, are not quantifiable. Content analysis involves the use of complementary methods such as analysis, synthesis, deduction, induction, and comparative education.

The descriptive approach used assumed as investigative tasks:

- Identify as data, texts related to postgraduate training, doctoral training, the SDGs and sustainable development.

- Determine how unit of analysis: written texts related to postgraduate training, doctoral training, the SDGs and sustainable development.

- Determine how context unit: texts of authors and national and international legal provisions referring to postgraduate training, doctoral training, the SDGs and sustainable development.



Postgraduate training. Characteristics, transformations and trends

- Contextual features

- Changes in postgraduate training

Cruz (2014) synthesizes the changes that take place in postgraduate training:

- The challenges of postgraduate studies worldwide

According to the Association of American Universities (Nyquist & Woodford, 2000) the main challenges of postgraduate studies at a global level are the decrease in duration and increase in variety, the increase in the skills of graduates to achieve high performance in diverse environments and with a global vision supported by in ICT and capacity building to work interdisciplinary.

- The generic skills of postgraduate training

In the opinion of Cruz (2014), a new paradigm of postgraduate training must ensure that students develop skills or sustainable, lasting, irreplaceable or difficult to imitate advantages that, in conditions of scarcity and external demand, can effectively contribute to the construction of a society of knowledge, an issue that becomes a high priority in the context of the pandemic caused by the SarsCov2 virus at a global level. At this point, advanced postgraduate training, particularly doctoral, is key in the processes of generating and transferring new knowledge (Carvajal, et al., 2020).

Regarding the contents of postgraduate training, Walker et al. (2009) suggests that in all disciplines, graduates must exhibit unmistakable and lasting generic competencies, manifested in their ability to think critically and creatively, broaden, deepen and generate new knowledge, interact with people from other disciplines, teach and act responsibly. ethical and social.

- Internationally recognized advanced higher education trends

Worldwide, several trends in advanced higher education are recognized (Aguirre et al., 2019; Assbring and Nuur, 2017; Cruz, 2014; Teichler, 2017; Walker et al., 2009) that reflect the implementation of transition processes:

- Postgraduate trends _ in Latin America

Cruz (2014) identifies some of the most relevant postgraduate trends in Ibero-America:

Aguirre et al. (2019) offer a group of trends in terms of accreditation and quality of the best universities in Latin America, identified based on criteria of relevance, context and implementation possibilities:

- Emerging trends oriented to impact and relevance

- Emerging trends oriented to accompaniment and support

On the other hand, the trend associated with the social responsibility of the university has been emphasized in the III Regional Conference on Higher Education for Latin America and the Caribbean (Gazzola and Didriksson, 2008) and referred to by various authors, including Navarro et al., (2017); Valleys and Carrizo (2018) and Cruz (2018) in relation to continuous training and the promotion of sustainable development.

Doctoral training. Characterization and trends

Doctoral training is evolving towards a combined set of geoeconomic conditions (interculturality, internationalization, among others) and pertinent contextualization with the social and productive environment (Abreu et al., 2014; Dávila, 2012).

In Latin America, although the postgraduate course has experienced an accelerated development, as far as doctoral training is concerned, it has been uneven (Cruz, 2018). Very few countries have the capacity to train doctors and researchers. At a first level are Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba and Mexico, followed by Colombia and Venezuela.

Below are some findings at the international level and in the Latin American context, especially.

- Global issues around doctoral training

It was found that American higher education institutions, more than 20 years ago, summarized the global concerns about postgraduate education (Nyquist & Woodford, 2000) that are still valid today: determine the true essence of postgraduate training and, in reference to doctoral training, the urgency of shortening the duration of the programs; ensure a greater variety of doctoral students; guarantee that the new doctors are more competent in handling information and communication technologies; train new doctors so that they can work in different and varied environments; ensure that new doctors appropriate a better and greater understanding of the global economic and productive environment and ensure that interdisciplinary work is an integral part of doctoral training.

- Purposes of doctoral training models

The European and Anglo-Saxon models of doctoral training establish five purposes (Cruz, 2014): (1) The advancement and displacement of the frontiers of knowledge; (2) Intensive research training; (3) Highly specialized training and education in a professional field, although master's degrees are supposed to serve that purpose; (4) The general, personal and intellectual training so that the doctoral student adopts a more open and flexible attitude towards an object of knowledge, communicates better, beyond the borders of his own discipline and demonstrates being intellectually autonomous; (5) The response to the needs of the labor market. This purpose, relatively new in the European environment, tends to modify the traditional point of view that postgraduate studies should preferably respond to the needs of doctoral students.

- Typologies of doctoral training programs

(a) The New Route PhD., which has been developed in ten universities in the United Kingdom for more than a decade, characterized by an intense schooling process for doctoral students (Cruz, 2009); (b) The doctorate based on professional or artistic practice and (c) The doctorate for publications, in which the doctoral student presents publications refereed by the international scientific community in a field of knowledge.

As for access to the doctorate, in the European Union a master's degree or similar studies are required. In the United States, a master's degree is required, although there are exceptions, and in Latin America there are differences between countries, given that in some a previous master's degree is required and in others access to the doctorate is direct.

Regarding the doctoral curriculum, in the European Union it is flexible and focused on doctoral students; in the United States it is educated and flexible and in Latin America it is generally educated.

- Change of paradigm in doctoral training

For Cruz (2014) doctoral training, essentially inter, multi and transdisciplinary, must assume a paradigm shift. Manathunga et al. (2006) propose a "pedagogy" for interdisciplinary doctoral training in four dimensions. The first deals with the teaching and learning processes through which it is possible to create spaces for dialogue, so that people from different disciplines can interact using different methods and tools and can create and exchange new knowledge. The second is as an intercultural experience through which people from different disciplines can re-evaluate their own concepts and practices in the light of other disciplines. The third is the possibility of encouraging people from different disciplines to use their capacity for analytical and creative thinking to reorganize knowledge in such a way that not only innovative solutions to a problem can be generated, but it is also possible for them to evaluate the effectiveness of those solutions. The fourth is the possibility that students can understand how new knowledge is naturally generated in their own discipline (epistemology) and how this new knowledge can be related or conflict with that generated in other disciplines.

This new paradigm is also based on the development of social skills, as opposed to traditional independent work, which allow them to learn to work and interact with others, in a friendly environment of cooperation and camaraderie (Cruz, 2014).

- The basic skills to be trained in doctoral students

In 2014, Cruz pointed out the following: Think analytically (ability to analyze, synthesize and make reasoned value judgments about an object of knowledge); action (ability to integrate knowledge, address complex problems and ability to adapt to different environments), learn alone (without the help of a teacher or tutor), self-control and motivation, approach an object of knowledge with academic and scientific rigor and assume ethical and social responsibility for academic and scientific actions (Cruz, 2014), all of them transversal skills that typify doctoral training (Carvajal et al., 2020).

In 2018, Cruz proposes the competencies of a new strategic paradigm for doctoral training: solve problems, deal with complexity and uncertainty, conceive and manage knowledge production processes, generate tangible results, understand the social, economic and productive environment, interact with other disciplines and use ICTs (Cruz, 2018).

- Tutorials

Transformations can be seen in terms of the context and the relationships between the participants in the process. De la Cruz and Abreu (2008) state that they must be restructured to operate beyond the school environment, in an open way, in practice environments and knowledge located and articulated with innovation processes. The need to implement tutor training programs is recognized (Carvajal, et al., 2020).

Tutoring Challenges:

· Avoid the tendency to focus exclusively on the acquisition of explicit knowledge in order to assess the relevance of tacit knowledge in the same way.

- Trends in doctoral training

At the beginning of the 21st century, Nyquist & Woodford (2000) identify the following:

Others trends relevant are:

Doctoral training and its impact on development

- Characterization

Various studies allow us to characterize the state of doctoral training and its impact on development in Ibero-America:

- Implications

Among the main ones are the training of doctors and researchers as a state priority; ensuring the social relevance of doctoral training as a strategic decision of universities and linking doctoral training to the solution of sustainable development problems.

- Challenges of doctoral training and its impact on the achievement of the SDGs in Ibero-America (Cruz, 2018):

- Changes in the doctoral training curricula for sustainable development

Ends and purposes : (a) Articulate science, knowledge transfer and innovation with the requirements of the social and economic environment; (b) Develop skills related to a new strategic training paradigm: solve problems, conceive and manage knowledge production processes, generate tangible results, understand the social, economic and productive environment, interact with other disciplines, use ICTs and address the complexity and uncertainty, according to Rizzo (2017) from various communication platforms.

Approaches: (a) Reinforcement of observable behaviors, say, social, ethical and environmental responsibility; (b) Higher education and advanced higher education curricula that promote socio- humanistic training, ethical values, a complex and holistic view of reality, environmental education, an understanding of the social nature of science, technology and innovation (Nunez, 2017).

Impact :

Implications for doctoral training programs

These changes imply that doctoral training programs need to: Define strategic priorities in lines of research; aim to solve more urgent local development problems; provide preparation for original research that generates significant contributions to knowledge to move or increase the frontiers of knowledge in one or several disciplines (Cruz, 2018); ensure the appropriation of the skills of a researcher; ensure that the new doctor accepts the ability to assume ethical, social and environmental responsibility.



The results obtained ratify the importance of postgraduate courses given that the substantive functions of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are not limited only to professional training and scientific research, they also include the transfer of the results of these processes in a pertinent and contextualized with its environment, according to Bueno and Casani (2007). This is interpreted as the influence of trends associated with the social responsibility of the university and training for sustainable development, hence the need to reinforce the generic skills that the postgraduate student can exhibit as a tangible result of the training process.

Europe and the United States set postgraduate trends in the world, Latin America shows progress, but it is still insufficient. The recommendation of Aguirre et al. (2019) that Latin American universities should consolidate a postgraduate portfolio based on the two emerging trends of articulation and new degree modalities to achieve greater quantity, diversity and quality of students and, therefore, more favorable repercussions for scientific production, technological development and visibility.

Postgraduate training trends have an impact on doctoral training. The opinion of Altbach (2010) is shared when recognizing the need for a strategic paradigm of doctoral training that ensures that new doctors can perform and easily integrate into academic, scientific or work environments and groups; solve problems creatively and innovatively; generate tangible results; conceive and manage knowledge production processes; address complexity and uncertainty; use information and communication technologies; ensure that interdisciplinary work becomes an integral part of their doctoral training and appropriate a better and greater understanding of their social, economic and productive environment.

In general, more flexibility is observed in admission, greater incidence of teamwork, semi-school curricula and more open approaches in tutorials, that is, a more personalized training process. Among the most used strategies are the processing and transfer of information, critical analysis, the formation of concepts, the interpretation of data and the application of tutorial principles. The importance of interdisciplinary training is recognized, although a conflicting vision reflects the emphasis on disciplinarity (López, 2017). In our opinion, it can only be trained interdisciplinary, from the base of a situated disciplinary approach.

Internalization processes and doctoral training linked to the solution of sustainable development problems seem to be the most relevant trends. The results found in this article coincide with Hasgall (2019) in stating that Doctoral Schools are the places where the necessary skills are obtained to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, to operate inside and outside the academy. The responsibility of universities in research and innovation requires creating and sustaining spaces within doctoral training in which awareness is exercised and new generations of researchers have what they need to face and create a sustainable future (Hasgall, 2019).

Determining the trends in postgraduate training and, particularly, doctoral training and its impact on development until the beginning of 2020 makes it possible to establish a theoretical-methodological framework for the orientation of this training. The changes that take place show a context characterized by the need for a projection towards a future with guarantees of transformation of higher education. Training must be seen as a response to the demands of the global context and social relevance, based on sustainable development.



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Conflict of interests:

The authors declare not to have any interest conflicts.


Authors contribution:

The authors have participated in the design and writing of the work, and analysis of the documents.


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