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Study plan - PhD Programme in Health, Function and Participation

Autumn 2022

The PhD programme in Health, function and participation at the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences (HVL) is a research programme for graduates who want both an in-depth and a broad knowledge to contribute to the development of future health and social services in respons to new local and global challenges. Through its profile and course portfolio, the PhD programme shows that interdisciplinary and interprofessional approaches are needed to further our understanding and management of contemporary challenges, locally and globally. The aim of the programme is to contrtibute with new knowledge for practice in work life sector and the society at large.

The programme is rooted in health science and the title ‘Health, functioning and participation’ refers to a broad, interdisciplinary research field. The core concept of health refers to a physical, psychological and socially rooted resource that is influenced by disease, coping, life-course and living conditions. The degree of health is important for everyday life and social participation. The concept of functioning sheds light on factors that inhibit or promote the realisation of the health potential of humans and specific communities, and refers to the activity and interaction between physical and psychological conditions and the environment. The concept of participation refers to the ways in which individuals or groups can get involved in everyday life, work and leisure and to exercise their citizenship.

The Faculty of Health and Social Studies from which the programme stems has research centres at all of HVL’s five campuses, where there are various practical, theoretical and methodological approaches to health and disease-related phenomena. Health can be understood and explored at the individual, group or community level, with a focus on theory development, empirical data, methodology, structure, research collaboration with working life and society etc. The programme's focus on the connection between health, functioning and participation will contribute new knowledge to academia, patients, professional practice and society. The courses offered are based on the research environments' core competencies and cover a need for breadth of knowledge (compulsory courses) and in-depth knowledge (optional courses). The professional environment represents a multidisciplinary landscape where there is great variation in research focus, research design and theoretical grounding.

Learning outcomes

The overall goal of the PhD programme is to develop knowledge of factors that promote or inhibit health, function and participation, either individually, or at a group or community level. PhD graduates should be able to handle complex academic issues that require knowledge of health as a physical, psychological and social resource, as well as knowledge about the connection between health and social framework conditions.

Following the completion of the PhD programme, the student will have achieved the following learning outcomes:


The student:

  • is at the forefront of knowledge within their field of study and can relate it to education traditions and related didactic theories
  • is at the forefront of knowledge within their field of study and can relate this to theoretical scientific issues and ethical research issues that are relevant to health science
  • can place their research area at an individual, group and community level, and in relation to contextual conditions for health, functioning and participation
  • has extensive expertise in research methodology, can assess research questions and related design in health science research
  • can contribute to the development of new knowledge, and can further develop theories, methods and forms of documentation within their research area
  • has knowledge of interdisciplinary research and conditions for interdisciplinary collaboration



The student:

  • can problematise existing theory and existing practice and identify needs for new knowledge within their research area
  • can define research problems and design, plan and conduct ethical research projects according to the knowledge status in the research area
  • is able to critically evaluate their own research results in relation to existing knowledge and research within the same area
  • can handle complex academic issues and challenge established knowledge and practice in their research area
  • can initiate and facilitate interdisciplinary research and interdisciplinary collaboration


General competence:

The student: 

  • has the competence to identify and analyse important and relevant ethical research issues and follow ethical research guidelines within scientific health research 
  • can exercise their research with academic integrity and high ethical standards 
  • can justify practical and theoretical application and contribution of their own knowledge 
  • can disseminate research and developmental work to different target groups in relevant and recognised national and international channels 
  • can participate in debates within the subject area in national and international forums 
  • can assess the need for, initiate and run health research and work that is developmental and innovative  
  • has the competence to analyse specific challenges related to health, functioning and participation by using interdisciplinary perspectives


All the courses offered are 5 credits with an estimated workload of 140 hours per course. This includes preparation, self-study, student and teacher-led learning activities, work requirements and exams. All exams and assignments are conducted individually. Table 1 gives an overview of courses, forms of assessment, terms of the assessment and teaching semesters.

The forms of teaching, work and assessment make up complementary processes and learning situations. The program is organised in a manner that ensures the students’ access to a good learning and study environment, access to different fields of learning and research environments, and a smooth progression of study. Students should play an active role in the learning processes through their choice of courses, learning situations and places of study. Students are expected to contribute to their own and fellow students' professional development and learning, not least through interdisciplinary collaboration and co-production in the individual courses. The research groups at the faculty constitute a central learning arena for PhD students. In addition, the faculty runs a fellowship forum, which is held 1 to 2 times per semester, where work is presented and discussed with other students. Initially, and preferably within three months of the start of the programme, the project should be presented at an internal faculty seminar (fellowship forum) and/or at a research group seminar.

The educational platform is built on dialogue-based seminars, literature presentations, process-oriented writing with individual and group-based supervision, project work, and individual study. Current and historical issues relevant to the topics will be considered, and will be discussed in light of scientific, methodological or ethical challenges. The students' own experience of working life will be systematically used to promote reflection, and the sharing and development of knowledge. These learning situations take place in one of the Scandinavian language or in English. Both the literature and the work requirements will be delivered in English or the Scandinavian languages. Training in the use of scientific English helps qualify the candidate for international cooperation and exchange. The courses are organised differently and offer different types of learning situations.

Mid-term evaluation is compulsory for all students. The mid-term evaluation is a professional evaluation in which the student and the panel discuss the progress and the quality of the PhD study. The student, supervisors, the external researcher and the head the PhD programme will discuss whether there is a need for special follow-up and how such a follow-up can be given. The mid-term evaluation will initially be conducted in English so that the student receives training in oral research dissemination to a wider international audience.

All students must present their own research in at least one international conference during the fellowship period. The student shall give a speech or lecture, and actively participate in seminars, and will thus gain experience in various forms of academic dissemination and scientific argumentation. In addition, it is expected that the student contributes to popular scientific dissemination through: writing chronicles or academic articles; presenting media presentations; and completing a foreign stay of at least 1 month at an education and research institution with which HVL has agreements with.

A yearly progress report shall be presented by both the student and the supervisor. Lack of, or unsatisfactory, reporting can serve as grounds for terminating the scholarship agreement before the end of the employment period.


During the work on the dissertation, the student is offered up to 200 hours of supervision during the normal study period. These tutoring hours include preparation, discussions between the supervisor(s) and the student, and post-work sessions. Guidance duties and rights are regulated by Section 7 of the Regulations for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree at HVL. The principal supervisor will normally be from the university itself, and have the formal responsibility in matters relating to the student's educational conditions. Studentss must also have (at least) one co-supervisor and can apply for a co-supervisor from other institutions. Through co-operation with research groups abroad and student exchange, foreign co-supervisors will be facilitated. If the main supervisor is external, the co-supervisor must be affiliated with HVL. The internal supervisor follows up on the student and his/her progression and ensures that he or she is integrated into the research environment at HVL.

Requirements for supervisors, supervisory duties and rights are regulated in Section 7 of the Regulations for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree at HVL. Supervision shall ensure that the project complies with ethical research frameworks. It will also contribute to the formulation of research questions and the quality of the methods used. Supervision on the thesis should also ensure progression in the project, as well as ensure that learning outcomes are achieved at an overall level.


Assessment is important to the work and learning situation of the PhD. Some courses have compulsory work requirements that are evaluated as approved or not approved. All courses conclude with an individual written assignment/exam that can be completed at home, which is assessed as either pass or fail.

The work on the dissertation is assessed in terms of the overall process and end results, both during the course of the dissertation and during the defence.



The PhD Degree is awarded on the basis of the:

  • approved completion of the training component, and any other approved academic training or expertise
  • approved academic thesis
  • approved trial lecture of the given topic
  • approved public defence of the thesis (disputation)


The assessment is regulated by Regulation §§12-22. The academic transcript will state the title of the thesis and information about the academic training programme in which the doctoral student has participated.


The research environment at HVL has an extensive international network with collaboration on the guidance and follow-up of students and research. In order to reach a high international academic level, it is crucial that the students become part of the international discourse. The research environments included in the programme have formal research collaborations in the form of bilateral exchange agreements at a number of foreign universities. HVL aims to ensure that all PhD students should have a research stay abroad for at least one month during their fellowship period. The stay may take place at any time during the fellowship period and is agreed upon between the candidate, supervisor and foreign host institution.

The PhD students have the opportunity to present their project at seminars where representatives from international partners participate and provide professional input. This is already an incorporated practice at HVL. Foreign researchers who have been invited as guest lecturers, or are on research stays at HVL, will contribute to academic dialogue with the PhD students.


The programme is a full-time course to be completed within the normal time frame of 3 years, with up to a total of 1,800 working hours annually. For PhD students assigned compulsory work totalling 25%, the study period is adjusted to a four-year period.

The programme consists of: a compulsory and optional training component of a total of 30 ECTS credits; a research component of 150 ECTS credits; a mid-term evaluation; and a public defence of the dissertation (disputation). The training component must be completed and approved before the dissertation is submitted for assessment. The training component consists of three mandatory courses totalling 15 ECTS credits, and requires a minimum of 15 ECTS credits in optional courses. The programme offers five optional courses. Courses are facilitated as shorter, intensive classes with lectures, student-active seminars and/or as ICT-based work requirements.


At the start of the PhD program, there must be a minimum of five participants on each course in order for the course to be offered. The maximum number of participants on each course is 20. All courses are offered annually and are conducted in English upon demand. Courses and other training elements which, at the time of application for admission were taken longer than 2 years ago, cannot be included in the training component or replace any of the courses.


Mandatory Training Component - 15 ECTS credits

The mandatory part of the training component consists of the programme’s main course of Health, Functioning and Participation (PHDH901), Philosophy of science and research ethics in health sciences (PHDH902), and Research Design and Methods (PHDH903). The purpose of the mandatory courses is to provide each candidate with the skills and knowledge to place their dissertation into the wider theoretical and methodological context. The training component shall ensure a high degree of scientific insight and knowledge related to health, functioning and participation, as well as to ensure training and practice in academic argumentation and to the dissemination of academic work to peers, students and the general public, in both Norwegian and English.


PhD candidates admitted to the programme should preferably follow the entire mandatory training section. The profile course PHDH901 cannot under any circumstances be replaced by courses given by other institutions. The programme committee can approve other activities as part of the training component, up to 5 ECTS credits. This applies to activities such as: popular science dissemination; presentations at scientific conferences; or longer stays at other research institutions. Approval of credits-awarding activities and the number of ECTS credits allocated for the individual activity is determined by the programme committee.


Optional Training Component - 15 ECTS credits

In the optional part of the training component, the students can choose between specialised courses related to the programme’s profile, or method-based courses. The students may also choose from the course list of the other PhD studies offered at the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences. Courses taken at other national or international institutions, or at relevant national research schools, may be approved upon application to the program committee.


Research Component - 150 ECTS credits
The dissertation must be an independent scientific work according to international standards. The dissertation is usually composed of a summary, as well as three to four scientific articles published or submitted to peer-reviewed scientific journals, preferably written in English or a Scandinavian language. Alternatively, monographs can be written instead of articles.

In the summary, the candidate must place their research work into a broader scientific theoretical and methodological framework, as well as demonstrating how the work contributes to the research field of health, functioning and participation. The summary usually consists of: an introduction; a theoretical framework for the study and the work that is included; the presentation of the issues for each of the publications/articles; the presentation and discussion of design and research methods; the presentation of main results; and a discussion of the most important knowledge contributions of the work. The exact number of articles depends on the quality and scope and must be clarified with the supervisor. It is expected that at least half of the articles are published or assumed for publication in reputable peer-reviewed journals when submitting the thesis. The candidate must be the first author of at least two articles.

The provision of the dissertation is regulated by Section 10 of the Regulations for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree at HVL.