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Number of PhDs vs quality Teaching and research at universities

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By Wasif Altaf

The purpose of this article is to briefly discuss and spark discussion on impact of fresh PhD scholars’ generation targets set by HEC and how to improve quality of teaching and research in universities by utilising them efficiently.

The Government of Pakistan wants to generate tens of thousands of fresh PhD scholars over the next decade, as Pakistan requires over 25 thousand PhD faculty members currently. It was proclaimed by Ahsan Iqbal that 10,000 PhDs could be produced over the next decade in cooperation with US, and 5000 fresh PhD scholars will be produced under other programmes, which will give Pakistan a boost as a knowledge-based-economy. However as it has been seen that the situation is a bit unclear for local and foreign PhD holders, because not all of them experience a smooth placement. A lot of them have reported that they have to go through various difficulties in being placed to a university after interim placement as an assistant professor because universities are reluctant in hiring more faculty members in situations where they already have the required number of faculty members or cannot afford to employ them due to budgetary constraints. Which brings up the question that, how will the universities and HEC be able to place so many PhDs? If they are unable to manage relatively very small numbers at current.

A good number of factors are involved for universities in hiring and effectively utilizing PhD scholars, such as:

1) are there any vacancies at all where the fresh PhDs can be placed?

2) What are the SOPs under which fresh PhDs scholars can replace a master’s degree holder university lecturers or assistant professors?

3) Can universities provide long-term employment to fresh PhDs within the designated budget

4) How will HEC’s interim placement for fresh PhDs be discontinued and the process be smoothed out once for all? 5) Do universities have teaching, equipment and research resources required by the potential PhD faculty members in order for them to be able to continue the knowledge generation and communication tasks effectively?

Apparently the 5 digit target is an HR allocation problem (if not nightmare) in its own.

As higher education is an evolving business in Pakistan, and due to huge number of students still trying to get into universities, the demand for PhD faculty will keep on growing steadily. However, universities cannot directly replace their master’s degree holding faculty members with PhD faculty members directly due to long term employment contracts and budgetary constraints. The standard approach for handling this situation should be a universal rule for university level teaching requirement of a PhD at minimum. While the master’s degree holding faculty could be used as teaching and research assistants, as is the case in universities in developed countries, which not only will significantly improve research and teaching quality but will consolidate local research and development market.

While HEC’s Interim Placement of Fresh PhDs (IPFP) program provides temporary placement solution for fresh PhDs, its inherent disconnect from long-term placement requires to be smoothed out. In order to achieve seamless placement, pre-planning steps (or policies) are required to be introduced, so that universities can make recommendations to HEC so that decisions on selection of suitable PhD candidates can be made considering the potential placement options Apriori. This pre-planning could not only manage placement issues but also be used to control and sustain the demand and supply in long-term.

As we know that Pakistani universities have limited research and equipment resources and when fresh foreign PhDs join local universities they face huge problems in continuing their research with limited or non-existent resources. When more PhDs are employed more resources and equipment is required for them to carry forward their research activities successfully, so universities should be able to cope with these requirements too. As we see that local PhDs actually suffer shortage of equipment and research resources, so this has been specifically seen as a demotivating factor for the fresh foreign PhD holders. The newly introduced technology development fund (TDF) to address this problem is still going to be controlled by HEC centrally, and would have a tedious access process as required by normal research and development projects. A more lucrative approach would be to provide basic resources to universities directly.

Another important factor related to improving teaching at university level is that, as PhD is an essentially advanced research work carried out in a very specific domain, and normally a PhD does not relate to pedagogy, so it is not necessary that PhD researchers are good instructors or teachers too.

And because a PhD offers depth of specific knowledge of a domain, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the researcher has essential core knowledge of extended domain necessary and required to teach a breadth of topics required essentially at undergraduate and masters level. This factor may also be compounded by the studies carried out in masters degrees, if the PhD holder has a strong master’s degree in which he or she acquired a good depth and breadth of knowledge required to teach at undergraduate level and they continued their research in one of the advanced domains of that subject, they are highly likely to lecture the undergraduate level students in a better way. So it is important that not only PhDs should be made focus of the policy but also masters level degree programmes should be strengthened locally and/or masters scholarships maybe be increased (which have seen significant cuts in recent years) so that the process can lead to not only potentially stronger PhD candidates but to stronger undergraduate programmes too.

Further, in order to utilise PhDs in teaching domain more effectively, it should be made mandatory for all potential teachers in to take pedagogy courses. As well as they should be pre-qualified to teach undergraduate or masters level courses, so that their knowledge can be assessed to meet at least the minimum level required to teach a course well. The teaching pre-qualification assessment and pedagogy courses may be may be carried out by the HEC so that there is no bias involved.

The writer is a Graduate Student at Department of Computer Science, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn, Germany. He can be reached at: [email protected]


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