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Session Overview
Symposium 7: History, Current Situation and Future Directions of PhD Studies in Social Work in the Nordic-Baltic Region
Friday, 18/June/2021:
12:30pm - 2:00pm

Session Chair: Merike Sisask
Location: Parallel Session 1

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History, current situation and future directions of PhD studies in social work in the Nordic-Baltic region

Chair(s): Merike Sisask (Tallinn University), Lena Hübner (Stockholm University)

Discussant(s): Lars Uggerhøj (Aalborg University), Riina Kiik (Norwegian University of Science and Technology)

The symposium will be organised by the Nordic-Baltic Doctoral Network in Social Work (NBSW), a joint network of the doctoral schools, universities and other institutions in social work in seven countries from the Nordic-Baltic region – Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The aim of the symposium is to promote PhD studies in social work in general and the NBSW summer schools in particular.

The NBSW was established in 2007 by Prof Tarja Pösö (Finland) with the aim to strengthen and improve postgraduate studies in social work, to create a forum for planning a long-term Nordic-Baltic research training agenda, and to establish possibilities to develop professional network of young scholars. The rationale behind the idea was that none of the postgraduate research training forms on a national level is able to advance PhD studies as well as joint actions. These joint actions may help join together the different paradigms of social work research, enrich the theoretical and methodological training, establish links between the Nordic-Baltic research traditions regionally, and promote international dimension in social work post-graduate education. One of the most important and popular joint actions of the NBSW have been summer schools that has attracted PhD students both from the Nordic-Baltic region and also beyond (e.g., Czech Republic, Iceland, Turkey).

During the symposium the history, current situation and future directions of PhD studies in social work in the Nordic-Baltic region will be discussed. The PhD programs and their peculiarities in different countries at Nordic-Baltic region will be introduced. Former PhD students will share their experiences from the NBSW summer schools.


Presentations of the Symposium


Social work doctoral studies in Finland: the nature and impact of international cooperation

Helena Blomberg-Kroll, Christian Kroll
University of Helsinki

The aim of this paper is to give an overview of doctoral studies in Finland with special regard to the impact of Nordic, Baltic and (other) international cooperation. The paper will focus on 1) the general structural/institutional conditions for co-operation, 2) the actors, drivers, the mobilisation of necessary (material and social) resources and 3) forces obstructing the co-operation process (e.g. opposition and/or obstacles of various kinds).

The practical and institutional conditions for academic co-operation between Finland and the other Nordic countries seem to have been favourable during the late 1970s and the 1980s. During these decades, the Nordic public welfare services expanded and, as a part of this development, professionalisation of social work through academisation (and research training as a part of this process) was an important goal. In this general societal development, common to the Nordic states, a need for co-operation in order to strengthen the academic basis for social work, and for learning about and from other Nordic countries, was perceived as important for academic, political and administrative actors alike. In the following decades the aim was to engage in e.g. Nordic-Baltic researcher training and to ‘go international’ in an even broader sense.

Today international co-operation within the field of Finnish doctoral studies have become diverse and multifaceted. At the same time, universities are trying to define which international activities are valued and which are not, a development often constituting a major obstacle to new (or old) types of curiosity-driven international co-operation within the field of research and researcher training.


Social work doctoral studies in Denmark

Lars Uggerhøj
Aalborg University

Denmark does not have a doctoral school in social work. In fact, Aalborg university doesn’t allow doctoral school s for specific academic professions. But Denmark does have PhD’s in social work and PhD’s in social work have been important in the development of social work as an academic and research field.

The first doctoral student in Denmark started in 1991 as an experiment. Before that research in social work was carried out by other academics – mainly sociologists – sometimes (but seldom) including social workers as research assistants. In 1992 the first master programme in social work was established and has since then had approximately 5000 students. During this period the number of PhD students in social work grew - between 1995 and 2010 quite few and from 2010 quite many. The number of researchers in social work at Aalborg university has since 1990 been growing from a handful to now 50.

In this rapid development of social work as an academic field the doctoral programme – at Aalborg university called ‘Doctoral school of Social Sciences – has made a serious contribution. Without the doctoral programme it hasn’t been possible to develop research and academia in social work. But it goes both ways. Without a long history of undergraduate programmes and without the development of the master programme the doctoral programme wouldn’t be possible. Bachelor and master programmes, research and doctoral schools are intertwined and support each other in the development of each element and joint development.

There are PhD courses in social work, but they must be open to other students within social sciences. The Nordic Baltic Doctoral Network in Social Work has supported the development of doctoral courses in social work in Denmark as the first courses came out of the summer school courses in the network. But the summer school courses have also helped PhD students to establish international network and strengthen the social work identity.

The described history of social work on an academic level and the necessity of having context based and diverse approaches to building up doctoral programmes and research in social work will be presented and discussed.


Social work doctoral studies in Norway

Riina Kiik, Inger Sofie Dahlø Husby
Norwegian University of Science and Technology

In Norway the first doctoral program in social work was established in 1974 at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). During the last ten years the higher education structure has been dramatically changed in Norway. University colleges have been emerged with universities or with other universities’ colleges with the main aim to have robust and solid environment to develop research and education. How these changes have influenced curriculum will be touched. The Nordic Baltic Doctoral Network in Social Work has supported the development of doctoral program in social work but also helped young scholars to establish international network and strengthen the social work identity. The NBSW summer schools have also been important to develop PhD candidates’ professional career. The described history of social work on an academic level and the necessity of having own doctoral program but also some new challenges in running the PhD program in social work will be presented and discussed.


Social work doctoral studies in Sweden

Lena Hübner
Stockholm University

The aim of this paper is to give an overview of doctoral studies in Sweden with regard to research themes, methods and the format of the theses. To be able to sketch a timeline from the late 1990s and onwards, a historic perspective will be included. The first doctoral thesis in social work in Sweden were published in the midst of the 1980s and since then a lot has happened with regard to the three aspects; themes, methods and format, especially since 2005.

Currently, there are 115 doctoral students in social work in Sweden. They are distributed unevenly over 13 universities, although a majority studies in the bigger cities at universities which also has many students on bachelor and advanced level in social work. Common research themes are: social child care, substance use and misuse, elderly care, disability research and intimate relations violence. The relevance of these themes for the practice field of social work are high, these themes correspond to the areas in which a majority of social workers are employed in Sweden.

The number of doctoral students in the different departments of social work varies greatly, from 28 students at one university to 2, at another, smaller university. The possibilities of giving special courses for the doctoral students are thus very different as well, due to this uneven spread.

A national research school in social work (RSSW) was established in 2008 with the ambition of giving relevant courses in social work for all doctoral students all over the country, to enable doctoral students at the smaller universities to participate and be a part of a bigger whole. So, lastly, the paper will include a discussion on if, and in that case these ambitions have been fulfilled.


Curriculum, doctoral schools, networks and internationalisation: Social work doctoral studies in Estonia

Merike Sisask, Kersti Kriisk
Tallinn University

The aim of this paper is to provide an in-depth overview of social work doctoral studies system in Estonia by analysing and sharing personal experiences from PhD studies’ curriculum, academic networks and internationalisation.

The social work PhD study programme at Tallinn University was first registered in 1997 and this is the only PhD level study programme in social work in Estonia and in Baltic states. In 2014 the Tallinn University was granted the unconditional right in Estonia to teach in the field of social services at the PhD level.

The objectives of the study programme are: to create opportunities for acquiring the highest scientific qualification in social work; to support development of competencies for professional career as an independent expert in the field of social work; to create pre-conditions for the development of a new generation of researchers and lecturers with independent research skills for institutions of higher education and for social welfare and health institutions.

The study programme contains four modules: (1) General courses (e.g. research methodology; philosophy and methodology in social sciences; academic writing; seminars on research methods) (2) Core courses (e.g. research and development in social work; interdisciplinary doctoral seminars of social sciences; research seminar on professional terminology; research seminar on public health); (3) Individual courses (e.g. seminars, trainings, summer schools etc on specific research designs and methods); (4) Doctoral thesis.

The crucial keywords in PhD studies and writing doctoral thesis are internationalisation and academic networking. These involve (international) doctoral schools and networks as well as studying abroad opportunities. Firstly, the study programme belongs to the Nordic Baltic Doctoral Network in Social Work (NBSW). The NBSW organises annually summer schools on specific subjects relevant to social work. In 2018 the summer school was organised by Tallinn University (topic: “Multi-disciplinarity and multi-positioning in social work research – balancing closeness and distance”). Secondly, social work study programme belongs to the national network of the doctoral school of behavioural, social and health sciences. Thirdly, PhD students are encouraged among others with scholarships to broaden their individual academic networks by participating in international courses, conferences and studying abroad.

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