Differing opinions

February 14, 2021

HEC’s new PhD policy has received a mixed response

In a historic move, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) has made changes in the admission policy for PhD after 20 years of its inception. The policy has stirred controversy regarding the quality and standard of postgraduate education in the country. Many academics and some of the former chairpersons of the commission have criticised its various aspects.

As per the new policy, applicants having a bachelor’s of science or an equivalent degree will be allowed to get admission in a PhD programme of their choosing. The requirement for sending PhD dissertations to foreign experts for review has been removed.

The maximum duration of a PhD degree will be eight years, the minimum three. The students will be required to spending at least two years in their home country during their PhD studies. An MS or MPhil degree leading to a PhD programme will be defunct henceforth. Candidates would still be allowed to get an MPhil or MS degree if they meet the required standards during their doctoral studies.

The policy mentions that a student pursuing a PhD would have to take up a course load of 48 credit hours. “If a student has completed an MS/MPhil degree in the same discipline, the university can waive up to 50 per cent of their required credit hours for the PhD programme. At present, PhD programs at universities vary between 12 and 18 credit hours’ course load.”

Former HEC and PHEC chairpersons and a former HEC executive director disagree.

Former HEC executive director Dr Sohail Naqvi ha said in a statement, “the new HEC policy for PhD programmes is neither new makes any sense. By removing the requirement for a master’s degree for a PhD, Pakistan’s higher education system has become incompatible with the world without achieves anything in return”.

Says Naqvi, “the post-bachelor’s 48 credit hour requirement is the same as in the past. However, now a person is not going to get full credit for having a master’s degree when entering a PhD programme. Whereas in the past, after a master’s degree from a well-recognised university, you had to do 18 additional Credit Hours of course work at the university you wished to do a PhD in, now, you can only get a maximum of 24 credits for your master’s. What would this accomplish? Are we saying to the world that we will not recognise their programmes as equivalent to a Pakistani master’s degree?”

He adds, “The Bologna Protocol and North America have a 3-cycle bachelor’s/master’s/PhD system, the same as it used to be in Pakistan. Now the HEC has decided to shift to a 2-cycle bachelor’s/PhD system, going back in time to a system discarded by the world decades ago. This confusion will only damage Pakistan”.

Former HEC chairman Dr Mukhtar Ahmad believes that the move will compromise the quality of higher education. “I am not with the HEC any longer. However, as a teacher, I’m afraid I have to disagree with the new policy. On paper, it looks exciting, but in reality, it gives way to many problems. It is not feasible, as there are many technicalities to consider.”

Dr Nizam ud Din, a former chairman of the Punjab Higher Education Commission (PHEC) says that the HEC has decided to discourage part-time MPhil degrees, which several private universities were offering. However, this move can relegate Pakistan’s post-graduate education to a sub-par level in relation to international standards.

This move can relegate Pakistan’s postgraduate education to a sub-par level

He says the new policy doesn’t say that there will be no admissions in MPhil but states that one can get access to PhD right after completing their bachelor’s degree. “You are now eligible for getting admission in PhD after completing a BS degree as per the new policy. People are criticising this change because a step has been removed. I feel it is too early to induct this in our education system. Our BS programme has not matured.”

He adds, “I agree that this practice is followed in some European countries but only based on prior research experience and published articles in reputed research journals. There are some fields of science including chemistry, physics, technology and others where one can directly get admitted in PhD after a bachelor’s degree. Still, it all depends on the quality of the BS programme“.

Dr Nizam ud din wonders if the HEC officials have a model in mind, which discourages admissions into ineffective, poorly structured MPhil programmes. “The HEC is against the provision of substandard MPhil programmes. Everyone knows that the quality of the existing programmes has gone down in recent times.”

Higher Education Commission Chairman Dr Tariq Banuri says that the changes aim to protect students’ right to acquire quality education and increase the value of higher education degrees nationally and internationally.

Elaborating, he says that the policy has been upgraded in line with the international practices and is applicable from January 1. He says the BS graduates can now directly take admission in PhD programmes if universities find them ‘prepared’ and ‘committed’.

The chairman explains that preparedness means that the students have enough knowledge, competence and previous academic training to succeed in a PhD programme. “The universities will also assess the applicants’ commitment to the discipline,” he adds.

Apart from the admission criteria, the PhD students will have to go through a thorough evaluation before completing their studies. The teaching and mentoring system has been reorganised on the pattern of ancient Sufi episteme, so that students may benefit better from their teachers and mentors.

He says that the universities might choose to have BS or MS/MPhil as the minimum admission criteria. However, the minimum requirement for admission in the PhD programme is a bachelor’s degree. If the PhD students come directly from a BS programme, they may be required to complete more credit hours than those with MS/MPhil degrees.

The policy requires the scholars to study 50 per cent of courses in the university covered over two years in residence and close interaction with their supervisors. The chairman says the two policies were formulated after thorough deliberations and consultation with the stakeholders, including vice-chancellors, professors and educationists.

The writer is a   journalist based in Lahore and can be reached at arsal428@gmail.com

Differing opinions: HEC’s new PhD policy has received a mixed response