Tuesday July 16, 2024

The problem with PhDs

By Irshad Ahmad
February 05, 2018

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s education minister made some alarming revelations last month about his department receiving more than 700,000 applications for 17,000 vacant teaching posts in primary and secondary schools. It is unfortunate that many of these applicants are highly educated and some of them have even hold PhD degrees.

The data shared by the Public Service Commission of the four provinces is equally fascinating. It shows that the commission has received a vast number of applications for a few posts that it announced during 2017. In addition, around 76 universities have been established in the country since 2008 that are offering various programmes, including PhDs. Meanwhile, the government has also sent thousands of students abroad to pursue PhD programmes and is also offering countless other scholarships at the national level.

Academics believe that there are no mechanisms at Pakistani universities where they can produce researchers to meet the market demand. These universities are offering taught programmes to cater to the demands from students. No roadmap has been outlined by academics or the provincial and federal governments about what the purpose of these programmes is and what fields should be prioritised. Moreover, there is little debate on whether with PhD-oriented research in Pakistan has brought benefits or contributed to economic growth.

Where will these PhD graduates be accommodated in the next 10 years? In developed countries, most students who are enrolled in PhD programmes continue to do their jobs and run their businesses. More often than not, they are supported by the industry through various scholarships. Their research benefits their respective industries and a majority of PhD candidates complete their studies in the evening or on a part-time basis.

However, some students are clueless about their research topic for their PhD thesis. They usually ask their supervisors and are often dismissed. Interestingly, these supervisors are the first to benefit when PhD students write a paper or an article.

The recent case of a student of Islamia University Peshawar who accused his supervisor of ‘stealing’ his research thesis reflects this problem. After registering his complaint with the HEC, the student urged the relevant authorities to take action against two senior professors who were involved in the incident. This is a sad but realistic portrayal of how some professors conduct themselves within educational institutions.

Most PhD students are of the view that they need to publish their articles in the name of a professor, a coordinator or even the editor of a journal or supervisor. It has now become the norm in our higher education sector that a student’s research article or paper is published in the name of his/her supervisor as the principal author while the former is identified as the co-author. If this is the approach to research in Pakistan, how will the country achieve economic and civic growth? Will the race to write books and churn out paper after paper help Pakistan?

The environment in our universities has never been research-friendly. A large number of MS and PhD students often have to wait for more than a year for the advanced studies and research board meetings to have their synopses approved. After they submit their theses, the evaluation process takes years and students are often forced to resubmit copies of their dissertations because they are lost by the evaluators. Throughout this whole debacle, the HEC or the university administrations tend to take no action. Why are university administrations pushing the student to the wall?

Students are also forced to pay the full tuition fee for the time that is wasted due to delays on the part of teachers and the administration. Students are expected to seek approval from teachers, clerks and the administration for every application, synopsis and research thesis. Why are they not doing this by themselves?

Now let’s shift our focus to foreign PhDs. In the recent past, many students were sent abroad to pursue PhD programmes and there is a pressing need to assess their contribution to the country’s development. Do we have the research centres that are at par with developed countries to accommodate our PhD graduates and researchers? Do the federal and provincial governments have any plan or practical roadmap to accommodate these PhD graduates and utilise them for the development of the country?

Today, thousands of young people are obtaining PhDs from the US, China and other European countries. But where does our research stand at this point and what direction will it go in 2030? Where will we accommodate our PhD graduates in 2030? Our youth constitutes 60 percent of our population. We should use their skills in order to enhance our country’s economic growth. Unfortunately, Pakistan has not developed its higher education in accordance with the needs of the economy. This is a serious problem that needs to be addressed with immediate effect. There is also a need to create employment opportunities and make suitable efforts to strengthen the higher education sector.

Since we are months away from the general election, it is the time for political parties to develop a practical plan to reform the higher education sector and create opportunities for employment and business. The higher education sector should cater to the standards and needs of the country. The youth must vote for a political party that possesses a practical solution for their problems and has a convincing plan to implement these solutions over the next five years.

The writer is a Peshawar-based lawyer.


Twitter: s_irshadahmad