Nature has a special issue on the future of PhDs. It’s no secret that unlike the US MD program, PhD programs are not regulated and produce way more PhDs than there are jobs for PhDs.
The articles in the issue offer some suggestions. Many seem straightforward and pragmatic, such as studying the demand for PhDs in the workforce, and then changing PhD program sizes and training to match that demand, rather than the needs of academic laboratories.
I’d like to see this idea get some sort of momentum. We need a Flexner Report for PhDs. It won’t be the same, of course. For many reasons including the fact that medicine is arguably a more stereotyped practice than the varied work that PhDs do. However, the MD system is infinitely better regulated than the PhD system and there’s certainly a thing or two to be learned from it.
Perhaps these issues will be addressed on a field-by-field basis. For example, the prospects for economics PhDs are actually pretty good. They have a decent system in place. Why doesn’t this happen in other disciplines? Here’s one opinion.
The articles in the special issue of Nature offer some interesting statistics, such as the growth of PhDs granted across different countries.
BTW, here’s the annual population growth for some of those countries, for reference. They’re all right around 0-1% for the time period covered above. (source)