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Project Rationale

The rationale behind Graduate SPIRIT is the strong need for European graduate schools in the social sciences and the humanities to have more adequate instruments for stimulating, organising and managing interdisciplinarity and diversity in doctoral training. Currently, best practices are very fragmented and hard to find for individual national graduate schools. In addition, national graduate schools increasingly draw an international PhD community and need to understand the cultural challenges that come with such diversity.

The outcomes of the project will enable the participating universities to better comply with the so-called third cycle of the Bologna process, by defining key elements that benefit the success of PhD trajectories. Bologna III asks for universities in the European education area to assess their doctoral education programme based on the same descriptors as the BA and MA programmes. In addition, the project will test a number of innovations regarding International, Interdisciplinary and Intersectoral training.

Project objectives

Our project is currently divided into four goals:

  1. Provide a systematic inventory of current policies, procedures and practices to promote interdisciplinarity and diversity at graduate schools in the social sciences and the humanities.
  2. Identify, on the basis of this inventory, a full range of best practices for more detailed description and analysis, and combine them into a ‘Blueprint’ for successful interdisciplinary and diverse graduate schools in the social sciences and the humanities.
  3. Develop and test innovative instruments for interdisciplinarity and diverse pedagogy, course and curriculum design, leading to an ‘Innovation menu’ from which individual graduate schools in the social sciences and the humanities can pick and combine according to their needs.
  4. Engagement of a wide range of graduate schools, both within the EU and at other continents, by opening and sharing results, using dedicated instruments for data- and knowledge sharing.

Project facts

  • Programme Erasmus+
  • Key Action KA2 – Cooperation for innovation and the exchange of good practices
  • Action Type KA203 – Strategic Partnerships for higher education
  • Grant Agreement No. 2017-1-NL01-KA203-035190
  • Project Title Graduate School Program for International Researchers and Interdisciplinary Training
  • Project Acronym Graduate SPIRIT
  • Project Status Processing
  • Project Main Objective Innovation
  • Call Year 2017
  • Start of Project 01/09/2017
  • End of Project 31/08/2020
  • Project Duration (months) 36
  • Project Funding EUR 397.121,00


There is a strong European need for European graduate schools to have more adequate instruments for stimulating, organising and managing interdisciplinarity and diversity in doctoral training, thus contributing to the Modernisation Agenda of Higher Education and a stronger position of European higher education in the world.

Unfortunately, there are sharp contradictions between ideal and practice of the new generation of graduate schools promoted by the Bologna Process and the EU Modernisation Agenda. The EU recommendations about academic innovation and collaboration prioritise interdisciplinarity and internationalisation:

Doctoral training must be embedded in an open research environment and culture to ensure that appropriate opportunities for cross-fertilisation between disciplines can foster the necessary breadth and interdisciplinary approach (EU Principles for Innovative Doctoral Training, 2011)

The Salzburg principles for doctoral education (2005) (PDF) also stress the need for PhD researchers to have access to interdisciplinary training. The reality is that graduate schools have serious difficulties and mixed results in promoting interdisciplinarity and diversity. The explanation for this situation has to do, at least in part, with the diversity of graduate schools modes of organisation and operation in EU.

Acknowledging this situation, members of the prestigious League of European Research Universities (LERU) have recently attempted to define quality criteria in doctoral education (LERU Advice Paper 19, March 2016) (PDF).

Work packages and timeline

The project is expected to deliver modes of teaching, organising, supervising and researching that prepare and enable Graduate Schools for the Social Sciences and the Humanities to fulfil a leading role in the requirements of the emerging European knowledge economy.

For the overall coordination and organisation of the project, Prof. Liesbet van Zoonen, drs. Jan Nagtzaam and Vanessa Abel, MA from Erasmus University Rotterdam will function as the project management team.

The projects consists of four intellectual outputs (IO):

Coordinators: Prof. Jacques Pothier (Université Paris Saclay) and Dr. Martina Keilbach (Leipzig University)

A description and analysis of policies, procedures and practices in Graduate Schools for Social Sciences and Humanities, with respect to PhD researchers, staff, curriculum and organisations.

Coordinators: Prof. John Downey (Loughborough University) and Prof. Liviu Matei (Central European University)

A description and analysis of the conditions leading to best practices regarding PhD researchers, staff, curriculum and organisations of interdisciplinary schools for social sciences and humanities, which can serve as a Blueprint for existing or new graduate schools.

Coordinators: Dr. Astrid Wind (Heidelberg University) and Dr. John Fells (Polish Academy for the Sciences)

Online menu for interdisciplinary graduate schools to pick, choose and combine innovations regarding PhD researchers, staff, curriculum and organisation that fits their needs.

Coordinators: Prof. Ortwin de Graeff (KU Leuven) and and Dr. Kirsi Korpiaho (University of Helsinki)

Report identifying the landscape of national, European and other international networks of interdisciplinary graduate schools, and assessing project results in this context. Also engagement of targeted groups through multiplier events.

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