Synopsis

It is indeed a matter of concern that many more PhDs are awarded than are needed in academia

Glut of PhDs
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KARACHI: The Higher Education Commission (HEC) has revealed in a very disturbing report that more than 4,000 PhD scholars are unemployed, and out of which only 642 have registered themselves on the portal set up by the HEC to provide jobs to the unemployed PhD scholars. Of these, 358 fresh PhD holders were given jobs, that too only for one year by the HEC.

The report shows that only a small minority of those with a doctorate manage to find a university post, yet the numbers enrolling for PhDs have been increasing. It is indeed a matter of concern that many more PhDs are awarded than are needed in academia. Those running private universities argue that the time has come that the market should self-regulate the requirement for PhDs. The HEC must therefore discontinue to enrol more PhDs when the prospects are so uncertain.

As we know PhD scholars cannot be accommodated anywhere except in universities. On the other hand, the industries continue to complain that PhD graduates who approach them for jobs lack appropriate knowledge and skills. As such, many universities exploit their PhD students as cheap labour for teaching and research activities. The PhD students have unfortunately become part of the flexible workforce to meet the universities’ temporary needs on a part-time and casual basis. As a result, the universities tend to take on an excessive number of PhD students.

It may be mentioned here that in 2017, the then chairman of the HEC had informed the public with a heavy heart that the country was facing a shortage of 36,000 PhDs in various subjects, and, as such, had asked the government to increase the budget for higher education to meet such critical challenges in the education sector.

Only after a year, a large number of PhDs come out onto the streets of Islamabad, asking the government to provide them employment! Can you beat that?

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On the other hand, the HEC has had to abandon 228 out of the 869 programmes in 119 universities across the country due to the unavailability of qualified teachers who could supervise students aspiring for PhD. As per the HEC rules, in order to start a PhD programme in any private or public university in Pakistan, there must be three full-time PhD teachers in the department in the relevant subject who could supervise the PhD aspirants. A teacher can supervise not more than five students at a time.

The HEC formed special monitoring teams in 2021 to review the implementation of this rule. The teams reviewed 869 PhD programmes in 119 universities across the country, including 68 government and 51 private universities. The teams found that 641 out of the 869 programmes met the rules laid down by the HEC, while 228 programmes did not meet the teacher-student ratio and the rest did not meet the required standards.

The traditional career path for a PhD is of course to secure a position in academia. Such a position entails research, teaching, and the mentoring of students who will one day become faculty members in their own right. Unfortunately, the likelihood of successfully completing this traditional career path for most PhDs has been drastically diminished. Now what is being done to remedy the PhD glut? It seems that the HEC has so far failed in planning and scheduling of the PhD aspirants.

It is clear that the quarters concerned have absolutely no clue about managing the PhD programme. This is enough to prove that for our leaders, education has never been a priority which is one big factor that is hindering our growth as a nation. If we look at the state of education in Pakistan, it becomes absolutely clear why we are lagging behind other nations and why so many of our people are frustrated and alienated.

Many academics believe that the HEC has further worsened the situation by, overenthusiastically, declaring the benefits to the supervising professors. To get the benefits, the supervising professors started enrolling more and more PhD aspirants ignoring the outcome of the glut. The benefits include a monthly honorarium and bonuses for synopsis, publications, thesis defence, etc. This has resulted in enrolment of every Tom, Dick and Harry just for the sake of this huge sum of money. In quest of earning more and more, they keep on enrolling more and more for PhD plan, resulting in deterioration in the standards.

They argue that the only solution to curb the glut is to allow only those who aim to join universities at the higher level, and not those who join the programme for the sake of adding another degree to one’s resume. There is definitely a need to restrict such a large number of people if the objective is to provide employment to the PhDs in the public or private universities. Moreover, the supervising professors should also be allowed to enrol two students instead of five to cut down the number of PhD aspirants.

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