European and Chinese doctoral education from the perspectives of objectives, methods, and structures and characteristics

Doctoral education is a major priority of higher education in China and European countries. Due to the different educational systems and their specific political, economic and educational background, doctoral education in China and European countries has its own characteristics. This article aims to provide a short overview of doctoral education of the two areas from 4 perspectives: objectives, methods, structures and characteristics.


The objectives of PhD programs in both China and European countries are similar. This mainly includes:

  • To enable students to engage in advanced study and research with scholars in a variety of knowledge domains
  • To foster original and academic research that contributes to knowledge and sciences in all of these fields
  • To enable graduates to integrate their academic education and professional experience with the larger problems of their fields


In China, most PhD programs last for 3 and more years. At most European universities, PhD programs last typically 4 to 5 years. Most PhD programs in European countries are held by the combination of individual education and structured programs. In some countries, organizations of doctoral education are mixed by individual education structured program and doctoral and graduate research schools. While in China the programs of doctoral education are held by HEIs or Academies of Sciences individually or collaboratively.


For Chinese professors they can only recruit PhD students according to approved ‘quotas’. The organization that can decide the amount of recruitment is the Ministry of Education. There is also a standard exam to select PhD students. English, Marxism and the expertise knowledge will be examined in this examination. While in Europe, each professor can recruit by themselves without any standard exams.

The doctor training models are similar in China and Europe. They all largely rely on supervisors’ guidance rather than courses. However, doctoral students in China traditional need to follow compulsory courses, such as Marxism, English and a certain number of subject courses before they undertake doctoral research. While European doctor researchers mostly don’t have compulsory courses, while they may have opportunities to select optional courses. In China, 77.1% PhD students have only one supervisor, and 12% of them have 2 supervisors, 10.3% of PhD students they are guided by a group of professors. While in Europe, most PhD students have two and more supervisors in the Supervising Committee or Guidance Committee.


European universities are encouraged to enhance their efforts to support mobility at doctoral level within the framework of inter-institutional collaboration as an element of their broader international strategy. International mobility, including transsectoral and transdisciplinary mobility should be recognized as having an added value for the career development of early stage researchers. Chinese doctoral education is still left behind on this aspect.