There is a national drive to increase PhD production, yet we know little about how this imperative takes shape within different disciplines. We therefore set out to explore recent developments and the current status of the PhD in economics at four South African research-intensive universities. A data set of all economics PhDs produced in these commerce faculties during the period 2008–2014 was analysed to determine whether the departments of economics responded to the call for increased doctoral production, and the role the PhD by publication might have played in the process. How an increase in quantity might influence doctoral education in the respective academic departments was also considered by supplementing the quantitative data with perspectives from heads of department at the four institutions. The notable increase in doctoral production over the time period studied shows that national and international trends have influenced doctoral education in economics departments within South African research-intensive universities. Increased usage of the PhD by publication has implications for policy and pedagogical practice within these departments, especially as there seems to be limited available supervisory capacity. Other changes in departmental practices, such as the entrenchment of a research culture and the promotion of collaborative research amongst students and staff, also contributed to maintain quality in doctoral education.
- A substantial increase in the quantity of economics PhDs produced was accompanied by an unexpected increase in quality.
- The increase in quality related to management changes, including a move to the PhD by publication, increased attention to ensuring the quality of students allowed entry to PhD programmes, facilitation of full-time doctoral studies through funding arrangements, and the appointment of international faculty with a research orientation.