Results of the overview of the PhD evaluations 2014-2016

The Ombudsperson for Academic Ethics and Procedures of the Republic of Lithuania, in the performance of the tasks assigned to him, shall submit proposals to the Parliament, the Government and other authorities on measures to ensure compliance with academic ethics and procedures. To this end, the Office has initiated a review of doctoral evaluations from the perspective of academic ethics in 2014-2016. It aims to discuss the aspects of academic ethics that have been identified by experts in the evaluation of doctoral studies and to make recommendations for improving the evaluation criteria for doctoral studies in terms of academic ethics. The review examines the evaluation of science doctoral studies organised by the Lithuanian Research Council in 2014-2016. The report also analyses the legal framework for doctoral studies in the field of academic ethics and how it has evolved between 2010 and 2020.

Based on the ethical aspects defined in the Law on Research and Higher Education of the Republic of Lithuania, the following aspects of academic ethics have been identified in the legislation regulating the implementation of doctoral studies: ensuring academic integrity, revocation of doctoral degrees in science (art), ensuring transparency, avoiding conflicts of interest, and ensuring the possibility of appeals. It was noted that most of the provisions related to academic ethics were introduced in the legislation governing doctoral studies in science and arts in 2010. In subsequent years, these provisions have been revised, supplemented, and some of them have become recommendations or have been dropped. A qualitatively new development is the recommendation in 2020 to include a module on general skills development in the doctoral studies program, which could cover ethics and procedures and copyright issues.

It should be noted that the Doctoral Research Degree Evaluation Procedures (2013), which was the basis for the Doctoral Research Degree Evaluation in 2014-2016, only one set of evaluation criteria related to academic ethics is explicitly defined, namely the assessment of appeals against non-award and revocation of degrees, “taking into account the way in which the institution(s) holding the doctoral studies deal with appeals related to the doctoral program, breaches of academic ethics, and the implementation of the decisions (if any) taken by the Ombudsperson for Academic Integrity and Procedures” (point 18). The 2020 version of these Procedures no longer includes this set of criteria but introduces new aspects of assessment: 1) the regulation and administration of the doctoral program is assessed in terms of “compliance with academic ethics” (point 14), 2) the evaluation of the effectiveness of the doctoral program “takes into account whether there have been revocations of degree award decisions” (point 17). Other aspects of academic ethics are not explicitly defined in the evaluation procedure, but most of them can be assessed both by the institution(s) conducting the self-assessment and by the experts conducting the doctoral evaluation.

According to the 2014-2016 doctoral program evaluations, 89% of the evaluations concluded that there were no cases of appeals in the institutions. In the cases where appeals were received by the institutions (11%), they were all related to admission to doctoral studies and none of the appeals received was related to the denial or revocation of a degree. Only 17% of the evaluations mentioned (non-)enforcement of decisions of the Ombudsperson for Academic Ethics and Procedures. The majority (69%) of the cases referring to the assessment of the implementation of the Ombudsperson’s decision note that there is a lack of information on the implementation/non-implementation of the Ombudsperson’s decisions, or that there were no relevant cases in practice.

In the light of the results of the evaluations, it is recommended that the information related to ensuring academic ethics be assessed in the evaluation of doctoral studies in relation to the other aspects to be evaluated (e.g., reasons for discontinuation of doctoral studies, reasons for not defending dissertations). It is also recommended to take into account other guidelines on academic ethics related to the conduct of research and studies, such as the Guidelines for the Ethical Review (2020), when assessing doctoral students. Expert reviews should clarify the aspects of academic ethics and ethics assurance related to the implementation of the doctoral studies.