A note about doctorates in Europe

Posted by STEPHEN ZEFF - Feb 09, 2018

I have read the posts about the propensity to take accounting doctorates. For one thing, the statistics for the number of accounting doctorates taken in Germany, Austria and German-speaking Switzerland are not comparable to those in other countries, because it is commonplace for graduating students in economics or business in the German-speaking region to take a doctorate even if they are not interested in becoming academics. My guess is that fewer than 10% of the recipients of accounting doctorates in that region enter academe. A PhD for those in consulting and finance is an important credential in that region. 

But this debate misses the point. It’s not whether to take a doctorate or not, but what kind of research – namely, research methodology – the doctoral programs prepare students to pursue. Because of the great pressure cascading across Europe to publish in “international” journals, which is code for the leading US journals, they preponderantly prepare them to do empirical or analytical research, and usually not much else. As a result, our professoriate has become incredibly narrow in terms of the research methodology used in research, led by that in the United States. I am a historical researcher, and virtually none of the 50 or so leading US business schools would consider recruiting a junior person with my interests.

I think that those who are reading the debate would be very interested in a plea for a broader approach to research in accounting, whether or not one has the doctorate, which was contained in an “open letter” written by a number of leading US academic researchers in April 1991, almost 27 years ago. This letter was sent by mail to a large segment of the American accounting research community. Nicholas Dopuch (who died at age 88 on February 4) was then the Director of Research of the American Accounting Association, and Shyam Sunder was his immediate predecessor in that position. The panel session at the AAA annual meeting in Nashville in August 1991 was standing-room only, and an active and spirited discussion was indeed held. But nothing further ever came of this initiative.


Stephen A. Zeff, Keith Anderson Professor of Accounting at Rice University