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General syllabus, individual study plan and qualitative targets for licentiate and doctoral degrees

The general syllabus and the individual study plan are the two most important documents for doctoral students. Both documents are legislated under the Higher Education Ordinance, and govern and regulate how you should achieve the intended learning outcomes of your third-cycle education.

The general syllabus - a fundamental document for your studies

Every subject that offers doctoral-level education must have a general syllabus that describes the main contents of education in the subject, the intended learning outcomes and other instructions.

The steering committees for the research areas for doctoral studies make proposals for the general syllabuses. The decision to validate a syllabus is then made in the Committee for Research and Doctoral Education (FFU).

Your general syllabus states which courses you must study in order to apply for the award of a doctorate or licentiate degree when you have finished studying. Note these courses in your individual study plan as you pass them and always write the names of the courses as they are written in your general syllabus – do not use abbreviations.

Links to the university’s general syllabuses

Aesthetics, Art History, Comparative Literature, Gender Studies, Media and Communication Studies, Philosophy and The Theory of Practical Knowledge

Education and Swedish

Archaeology, Ethnology, History, History of Ideas and The Study of Religions

Environmental Science

Business Studies, Journalism, Social Work, Sociology and Political Science

Individual study plan

Doctoral-level education is largely adapted to the individual, so the general syllabus is supplemented by an individual study plan (ISP). This is drawn up by you and your principal supervisor at the start of your employment and is then revised annually.

The ISP is an important tool for planning, clarifying responsibilities and following up targets. Work on updating it is a good opportunity for you and your supervisors to sit down together, evaluate the previous year and plan your continued studies.

Below an example of time planning for doctoral studies, including departmental duties.

What does an individual study plan include?

An individual study plan (ISP) contains your personal study format, e.g. supervision, a short project description, long-term timetable for of your studies, completed courses and fulfilled goals. Any departmental duties are also noted here.

The ISP consists of outline planning and the documentation of the research process and study modules. When used well, it provides an overview of what should be done when during your period of study. It is a good aid for planning your time and using your expense funding. Your individual study plan must describe how you fulfilled the intended learning outcomes stated in the general syllabus; these must all be fulfilled before you can be awarded your degree.

The university is responsible for validating individual study plans and the steering committee for your research area for doctoral studies decides whether your proposal can be approved. The ISP is registered and receives a registration number that is used throughout your period of study. When a decision has been made, it is archived by the secretary of the steering committee or the equivalent administrator.

ISP form and an example

The first time you fill in an ISP form, you can find it here:

An example of an ISP, along with comments and instructions for filling it in, can be found here:

You and your principal supervisor agree on who fills in which field, but it is important that you both plan and consult each other about the content before submitting your joint proposal to the director of studies and the steering committee for the research area. The principal supervisor is responsible for the description in the supervision section and how targets are fulfilled.

Annual updates

The ISP must be revised every year. This is usually done in September if your employment started 1 September in the year you were admitted. If you started in any other month, your ISP can either be revised that month for a year ahead, or you write your first ISP for a shorter period that runs until 31 August, which means you will be in phase with revisions by the other doctoral students in your area. The research area’s steering committee and director of studies decide what the routine will be. It is a good idea to update your ISP with your results throughout the year, as this makes the formal annual updates easier.

The ISP must also be updated if you are granted leave or part-time work. If you are on sick leave or parental leave at the time of the annual update, you and your supervisor update the ISP retroactively when you are back at work.

For example, if employment starts on 1 September 2021:
ISP version 1 is valid 1 Sep 2021 - 31 Aug 2022
ISP version 2 is valid 1 Sep 2022 - 31 Aug 2023, etc.

Please check with your director of studies about whether your research area for doctoral studies has specific routines for revising ISPs.

Individual study plan in the Higher Education Ordinance

From Chapter 6, Section 29 of the Higher Education Ordinance:

  • An individual study plan must be drawn up for each doctoral student.
  • This plan shall contain the undertakings made by the doctoral student and the higher education institution and a timetable for the doctoral student's study programme.
  • The plan shall be adopted after consultation with the doctoral student and his or her supervisors.
  • The individual study plan shall be reviewed regularly and amended by the higher education institution to the extent required after consultation with the doctoral student and his or her supervisors.

A legal and educational document

An individual study plan is both a legal and an educational document.

As a legal document, it establishes the rights and obligations of the university, supervisor and doctoral student, and is therefore very important for the doctoral student’s legal certainty. It is the most important document if supervision and other resources are to be withdrawn. Fundamental legal practice is that the university always bears the most responsibility for validating the doctoral student’s ISP even if the student does not participate in drawing up the plan. Oral agreements cannot replace an ISP and the lack of an ISP is a serious failing that can result in criticism in an inspection.

As an educational document it provides support and is a tool in the supervisor and doctoral student’s joint planning and evaluation of studies. It is thus a very important instrument for planning time and conducting your studies efficiently.

Suggested reading

Bli klar i tid och må bra på vägen. Handbok för doktorander by Åsa Burman, Natur och Kultur, ISBN: 9789127817548, 2017.

Qualitative targets for licentiate and doctoral degrees

The qualitative targets for the Degree of Doctor and Degree of Licentiate are defined in Annex 2 of the Higher Education Ordinance and apply to all third cycle education in Sweden. Outcomes are stated in the general syllabus and you describe how you fulfil them in your individual study plan.

Qualitative targets – Degree of Doctor

Knowledge and understanding

For the Degree of Doctor the third-cycle student shall

  • demonstrate broad knowledge and systematic understanding of the research field as well as advanced and up-to-date specialised knowledge in a limited area of this field, and
  • demonstrate familiarity with research methodology in general and the methods of the specific field of research in particular.

Competence and skills

For the Degree of Doctor the third-cycle student shall

  • demonstrate the capacity for scholarly analysis and synthesis, as well for reviewing and assessing new and complex phenomena, issues and situations autonomously and critically,
  • demonstrate the ability to identify and formulate issues with scholarly precision critically, autonomously, and creatively, and to plan and use appropriate methods to undertake research and other qualified tasks within predetermined timeframes and to review and evaluate such work,
  • demonstrate through a documented research project the ability to make a significant contribution to the development of knowledge through their own research,
  • demonstrate the ability in both national and international contexts to present and discuss research and research findings authoritatively in speech and writing and in dialogue with the academic community and society in general,
    demonstrate the ability to identify the need for further knowledge, and
  • demonstrate the capacity to contribute to social development and support the learning of others both through research and education and through other qualified professional capacities.

Judgement and approach

For the Degree of Doctor the third-cycle student shall

  • demonstrate intellectual autonomy, integrity and disciplinary rectitude as well as the ability to make assessments of research ethics, and
  • demonstrate deep insight into the possibilities and limitations of knowledge, its role in society and the responsibility of the individual for how it is used.

Research thesis (doctoral thesis)

For a doctoral degree, the doctoral student must have been awarded a pass grade for a documented research project (doctoral thesis) of at least 120 credits.

Qualitative targets – Degree of Licentiate

Knowledge and understanding

For a Degree of Licentiate the third-cycle student shall

  • demonstrate knowledge and understanding in the field of research including current specialist knowledge in his or her field as well as specialised knowledge of research methodology in general and the methods of the specific field of research in particular.

Competence and skills

For a Degree of Licentiate the third-cycle student shall

  • demonstrate the ability to identify and formulate issues with scholarly precision critically, autonomously and creatively, and to plan and use appropriate methods to undertake a limited research project and other qualified tasks within predetermined time frames in order to contribute to the formation of knowledge and to evaluate this work,
  • demonstrate the ability in both national and international contexts to present and discuss research and research findings in speech and writing and in dialogue with the academic community and society in general, and
  • demonstrate the skills required to participate autonomously in research and development work and to work autonomously in some other qualified capacity.

Judgement and approach

For a Degree of Licentiate the third-cycle student shall

  • demonstrate the ability to make assessments of ethical aspects of their own research,
  • demonstrate insight into the possibilities and limitations of science, its role in society and the responsibility of the individual for how it is used, and
  • demonstrate the ability to identify their personal need for further knowledge and take responsibility for their academic development.

Academic paper

For a Degree of Licentiate the third-cycle student shall have been awarded a pass grade for a research thesis of at least 60 credits.

Subject-specific intended learning outcomes in the general syllabus

If there are subject-specific intended learning outcomes, they are described in the general syllabus (ASP) for your third-cycle subject area. The ASP also states the scope of your thesis in credits and how many course credits you must take. Links to all the ASPs at the university can be found at: General syllabuses.

Your individual study plan must describe how you fulfilled the intended learning outcomes stated in the general syllabus. Read more about this at: Individual study plan.

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Last updated: 2021-09-20 by Kristina Hanson

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