Course syllabi for doctoral courses

All doctoral courses at Karolinska Institutet must have a syllabus, approved by the Committee for Doctoral Education. The syllabus covers the content, purpose, intended learning outcomes (ILOs), learning activities and assessment of the course. What to keep in mind when writing the syllabus and its components is described on this page.

Creating a course syllabus

In order to give a doctoral course at Karolinska Institutet, the course provider must write a syllabus according to the instructions below and have it approved before the course is announced. You are welcome to use the guide for designing a course for meaningful learning. The decision to approve a syllabus is taken by the chairperson of the Course and Programme Committee, by delegation from the Committee for Doctoral Education.

The syllabus must be entered into the course database Fubas in the language in which the course is to be taught. For the course to be included in the course catalogue, a so-called course information and a course occasion need to be created in the system before the deadline.

Current deadlines for doctoral courses.

Before entering a syllabus proposal in Fubas, the course director needs a preliminary approval from the doctoral programme that intends to finance the course, alternatively from the coordinator of the Course and Programme Committee ( if the course doesn’t fit within a doctoral programme (see Applying for funding of freestanding doctoral courses). Research school directors usually enter syllabi themselves in Fubas.

Would you like to improve your skills in course design?

We recommend signing up for the course Designing doctoral courses, if it is the first time you are planning a doctoral course or if you already have some experience as a course director of doctoral courses.

A syllabus proposal that has been submitted via Fubas will be reviewed and any feedback communicated via via the system. When completed, the syllabus will be approved in Fubas. All approved syllabi for doctoral courses can be listed in the system.The syllabus is in Fubas linked to a course information and a course occasion (unless the course only should be available for participants in a research school) which means that the course will be published in the next course catalogue.

Each course syllabus is assigned a course code that is transferred to the study documentation system Ladok.

All courses have a course occasion in Ladok to which the admitted students can register before course start, as well as receiving their results after completed course.

Below follows important information about some of the syllabus components. More information can be found in the user guide for creating a syllabus in Fubas, as well as in the help texts in the system.

Prerequisite courses, or equivalent

This is where you state if there are any courses, or equivalent, that need to be taken prior to the course, for the applicant to be considered for admission.

This should not be confused with selection criteria (which are defined in the course occasion).

Purpose of the course

The purpose should give a short overarching description of why the course is offered. The box below presents in more detail how the purpose of the course should be designed, in relation to the course's intended learning outcomes.

Purpose vs Intended Learning Outcomes

Purpose of the course describes the overall aims of the course and should answer questions such as, “Why is this course given”, or “How is this course useful for the participant”. A well formulated purpose will help the potential participant to quickly understand what kind of competence can be obtained by way of the course. Ideally, purpose of the course would be formulated in a way that would help awaken the motivation of the potential participant.

The purpose of the course should be at a general level, thus covering even competences like knowledge, skills and attitudes to be gained/developed that may not be explicitly assessed during course, nor fully achieved. Typical examples of such learning outcomes might be generic skills, such as ability to think critically, write academically and act in an ethical and/or sustainable way, even when these aspects are not included in the more specific intended learning outcomes.

Intended learning outcomes, on the other hand, describe competences the course participant need to be able demonstrate in an examination. Intended learning outcomes should express what the student is expected to be able to do by the end of the course and should thus also be examined. 

Purpose of the course should be fairly succinct in order for a potential course participant to quickly grasp what he or she can get out of the course. More detailed descriptions of intended learning outcomes, contents of the course and teaching and learning activities can be given in other fields of the syllabus.

A purpose of the course should be formulated fairly brief and inspiringly! Here are a couple of examples of how this can be written (slightly modified from actual syllabi and are intended as examples only):

Some examples

  • “The purpose of the course is to enable doctoral students to obtain a basic understanding of statistical methods and the fundamental principles of statistical inference and to develop their skills of using statistical software for data analysis.”
  • “The course aims to provide you as a participant the possibility to acquire a fresh perspective on the cell cycle and advanced approaches that researchers are taking to study this fascinating topic, to stimulate your curiosity and to inspire your own research. The purpose is also to help you practice key academic skills that you will need throughout your career, such as learning from scientific presentations, proposing experiments, and providing constructive criticism.”
  • “This course is given to show students how to get inspiration from several different disciplines and techniques and apply it to their own infection biology research. Through examples of cutting-edge technologies and their applications across a broad range of infection biology fields, students are encouraged to think about how such techniques can be translated into new applications. The course will also teach participants to critically appraise presentations, to ask and answer questions orally.”

Intended learning outcomes

Intended learning outcomes (ILOs) are to be written from a doctoral student’s point of view. A useful method is to introduce the intended learning outcomes with: “At the end of the course, the student is expected to be able to...”, followed by bullet points with active verbs that can be assessed in the examination stating what the course participants are expected to be able to demonstrate they have achieved.

Avoid terms such as know, understand, learn, appreciate as they are generally not specific enough to be measurable, but use terms like eg. explain, discuss, describe, design, give constructive criticism.

ILOs, learning activities and assessment (examination) must be related and coherent. This is called "constructive alignment" (Biggs, 2003). Constructive alignment involves: 

  • Intentionally determining objectives for what students should learn and how they will demonstrate their achievement of these ILOs, and clearly communicating these to students,
  • Designing teaching and learning activities so that students get feedback and practice in achieving these learning outcomes,
  • Creating assessments that will allow students to demonstrate their attainment of the learning outcomes and allow instructors to discern how well these outcomes have been achieved. 

See also Biggs, J. (2003). Teaching for Quality Learning at University. (2nd Ed.) Buckingham: Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press.

Guide: Formulating Learning Outcomes

Forms of teaching and learning

It is recommended that the course's forms of teaching and learning are described in such a way that campus teaching is not specified and thus binding but allows room for some flexibility in the event of special circumstances (see below under Deviation from syllabus).

Compulsory components

If there are requirements for attendance during certain parts of the course (eg seminars, laboratory work) in order to be able to fulfil the outcomes, this must be stated under compulsory components. It should also be clear if, and in that case how, absence can be compensated for. Avoid stating compulsory attendance simply as a percentage. 

Forms of assessment

The final examination must be a summative assessment and be coherent with the intended learning outcomes and the learning activities (this is called constructive alignment). You are invited to consult the KI resource Designing Assessments that provides guidance, suggestions and inspiration for teachers on how to design assessments.

Learn more about examination and course examiners.

Course literature 

The literature and other teaching materials that are relevant for the course are indicated at the end of the syllabus. Consider the following when writing this section:

  • Please indicate what is recommended and what is mandatory course literature. The most common is that all course literature is recommended reading.
  • The number of pages should be relative to time available for reading. When it is not required to read an entire book, either the relevant book chapters should be specified, or it should be written that the book can be used as reference literature.
  • Please write literature references according to a uniform reference style, e.g. according to APA or Vancouver, see Writing references.
  • For recurring courses, it may be useful to write "latest version" for books and other text that is continuously revised. This to avoid the administrative process having to revise the syllabus each time the course is to be given.
  • It is relatively common that students may select several publications from a list for a course assignment. Additional specification is distributed through the course's learning platform. A reference to web pages can be useful for students, but web pages quite often get inaccessible. To avoid constant revision of the syllabus, it is better to refer to web pages in the course's learning platform that the course provider self can update before the next course occasion.
  • All course literature should be available well in advance of the start of the course.
  • It is not allowed to buy books from the KI course budget, but many course books are available as e-books through the KI library. Read more about the availability of e-books and how you can create links to library resources in the course platform.

Revising a syllabus

A syllabus should not be revised every time the course is to be given, but only if content-related changes need to be made.

Please note: If you want to change the title, the number of credits or the responsible KI department for the course, you must create a new syllabus. A new course code is then allocated.

See the Fubas user guide for revising a syllabus.

Deviation from syllabus in special circumstances

The design of the course, including the form of examination, is determined in the syllabus. All changes to the course syllabus require a decision by the approver (chairperson of the Course and Programme Committee, on delegation from the Committee for Doctoral Education). Normally, these changes are made in the form of syllabus revisions before a decided deadline each semester. In special circumstances, an urgent decision to deviate from the course syllabus can be made. However, this should only be seen as a temporary measure until the syllabus can be revised according to regular procedures and time schedule.

Special circumstances may be:

An unforeseen event, eg spread of infection, natural disaster or that a planned and irreplaceable lecturer is urgently prevented from traveling, which means that the course must be rescheduled to distance learning at short notice to avoid having to cancel it.

An obvious risk that the planned setup for written tasks and/or examination can be misused for cheating (eg with the use of AI tools) and therefore needs to be changed or supplemented.

If the syllabus is designed in such a way that teaching and learning activities and examination form need to be changed, a decision on deviation from the syllabus can be made, provided:

  • that it applies to special and unforeseen events (as above)
  • that there is no time for a regular revision of the syllabus, according to the current deadlines
  • that changes only apply to form for teaching and learning, and/or to examination form.

A decision to deviate from the syllabus must be seen as a temporary and urgent measure. If the change is not only to apply to the course occasion in the near future, the course syllabus must be revised according to regular routines and deadlines, before the course is announced next time.

A decision on deviation shall not be used as a result of missing the regular deadline for revising the syllabus.

The course director is responsible for a decision document being prepared, containing a description of changes made in relation to the approved syllabus, and sent to the administrative officer of the Course and Programme Committee (via for approval by the chairperson. As far as possible, such a decision should be made before the course is given.

The decision on deviation is registered by the administrative officer for the Course and Programme Committee and archived together with the syllabus. The course provider keeps a copy in the course file.


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Anna Gustafsson

Administrative Officer
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Anna-Karin Welmer

Chair of the Course and Programme Committee
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Vladana Vukojevic

Vice chair of the Course and Programme Committee
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Ingeborg van der Ploeg

Central director of studies