Making sense of doctoral training reforms in the social sciences:
Educational reforms are increasingly driven by political and economic forces beyond the university. In this paper I describe how the policy initiatives of the United Kingdom’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) have steadily reshaped the length, content and structure of doctoral education in the social sciences. This history of the Council’s willingness to respond to national and international policy concerns about the doctorate dates back to the early years of the Thatcher Government in the 1980s. As well as redefining the doctoral student experience, this interventionist policy environment potentially challenges the institutional autonomy of academics and others involved in educational development. In this article I explore the implications of this for doctoral training provision, and for the meaning of educational development itself. I end by pointing to the possibilities for policy ‘activism’ in responding to these changes.