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Basic principles of PhD education at Aarhus University

The principles are applicable to all graduate degrees at Aarhus University. They are meant to safeguard the PhD students' academic development. The principles address PhD students, PhD supervisor and PhD management and set a standard for all PhD projects accepted and developed at Aarhus University.

About the principles

Aarhus University insists on academic excellence in doctoral education. Academic development, research integrity, societal engagement and the ability to collaborate are key in doctoral education. Meeting societal challenges requires groundbreaking research and collaboration across academic fields and geography. Aarhus University is committed to helping PhD graduates prepare for these challenges. 

To help reach these overall goals, the four graduate school at Aarhus University wish to encourage, simplify and support collaboration between graduate schools and disciplines. The basic principles of PhD education were developed in mutual agreement by the four graduate schools to support these aims. They represent a common understanding of the purpose of doctoral education, from admission to assessment of the dissertation. The central focus of the principles is to safeguard the PhD students’ academic development by addressing the appropriate level of independence at different stages of doctoral education.

The 5 basic principles

Project description

The ability to conceive and design a research process is a PhD-level qualification. In order to start the learning process toward this qualification, the project description, as developed during the early project phase, must demonstrate the PhD student’s contribution to the development of research ideas and demonstrate originality in applying them within a research context. The project description must also demonstrate the PhD student’s ability to account for methods and key characteristics of the research field.


Independence grows through the PhD process. The main supervisor has the overall responsibility for the progression of the PhD project, but the supervisor should support the PhD student in taking ownership of the research project and encourage the PhD student to explore new research paths within the framework of the PhD project. 

PhD studies

The PhD project is driven by the PhD student. Under supervision, the PhD student develops into an independent researcher in regard to academic growth and originality. During his or her PhD studies, the PhD student should become familiar with all aspects of research and must develop the ability to conduct and position research with critical academic integrity. By graduation, the PhD candidate must be able to communicate, collaborate, and position himself or herself as an independent researcher nationally as well as internationally. 

PhD project

Independence is key in doctoral education. In research projects in which a PhD student is involved, the supervisor must ensure that the PhD student’s main occupation is research tasks that make room for academic growth and increasing independence. The growth of academic independence is crucial during PhD studies, and the research project must allow the PhD student to influence the research design, the implementation phase and to follow new research paths within the subject area. This means that not all research projects and programmes are suitable as a context for doctoral education. 


The PhD dissertation must demonstrate the academic independence of the PhD student and that he or she has contributed to the development of new knowledge that meets the international standards of the field. Therefore, the dissertation must demonstrate the PhD student’s ability to independently plan, initiate and carry out research as well as participate in international academic debate within the chosen research field. The PhD student is the author of the disseration, and in cases in which the dissertation contains publications co-authored by the PhD student, the PhD student’s contribution must be significant and clearly indicated.


These principles derive from the objectives expressed in the European debate on doctoral education over the last decade as exemplified by: 

  • “The Salzburg Principles II” (2010)
  • “The Principles on Innovative Doctoral Training” developed by the EU Commission (2011)
  • “Maintaining a Quality Culture in Doctoral Education at Research Intensive Universities” by LERU (2016)

Furthermore, the Danish PhD Order, the Danish Qualifications Framework for Higher Education, the Third Cycle Qualifications, and the Framework of Qualifications for the European Higher Education Area have provided an important basis for addressing independence and academic development in the principles.