Hold the speed, else it’s disastrous!
Although there has been a remarkable progress in the realm of higher education in Pakistan with an increasing number of students enrolling for MPhil and PhD degrees, overall research culture in the country presents a dismal picture of the state of affairs. Research culture in our country is still far from being inspiring as it is adversely influenced by a lack of third-party supervision and an acute paucity of quality academic professionals. This has continually affected the caliber of Pakistani students.
Research training usually begins when a student pursues his MPhil or MS degree. Apart from course work, Pakistani institutions offer no help to enhance a student’s understanding of research and dissertation writing. Attainment of a PhD degree is not as easy as it may sound. It requires a lot of toils and hard work. But, unfortunately, in our country, sometimes students hire professional services to write dissertations for them, paying huge sums of money. They do not hesitate from spending this amount for the enticing long-term benefit i.e. a degree and a certain promotion. But, it must be understood that those with no understanding of research are like rolling stones. Competent students also struggle, although in a different way. Currently, there are also no formal checks on the link between the supervisor and the supervised. This gives immense authority to the supervisor who is not answerable to anyone.
Completing a PhD degree within the time frame is another major concern because the system does not enforce a proper timetable. In fact, it takes double time in Pakistan compared to other countries that follow a timetable. The final submission takes place only when the supervisor is satisfied with the candidate; otherwise, the student has to keep waiting.
Nevertheless, there are some universities in Pakistan that can be quoted as a bright example as they strictly implement and follow the rules and regulations laid down by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) e.g. National University of Modern Language (NUML), Islamabad. In a discussion with this scribe, Prof. Dr Safeer Awan (Dean, Faculty of Languages, NUML Islamabad), explained the criteria and rules proposed by HEC for MPhil and PhD scholars. He said, “NUML strictly follows the given criteria. This has brought the whole academic and research system in a specific format and it has also given a rapid pace to the successful completion of PhD programmes. Maximum time limit of 8 years is now given for completion of a doctoral degree.”
These certain criteria should be applied on those PhD researchers who have engaged and occupied the PhD seats for 10 to 15 years and they have failed their attempts. Their candidature must be cancelled so that fresh, capable and inspiring youth may come forward because seats in PhD programmes are still very limited in Pakistani universities.
Although there are many public-sector universities that lag behind in following HEC-devised rules and regulations, yet nothing can be more disastrous than the private-sector universities and degree-awarding institutions (DAIs) offering MPhil programmes as barring some exceptions, almost all of them are just selling MPhil degrees. Bundles of articles and columns have been written on this issue but still the “Loot Sale” of these higher education degrees goes on unchecked. These money-minting institutions award admissions blindly, offering unlimited seats. They conduct so-called standard tests and interviews for admissions in MPhil but it is no more than a formality.
In such private-sector institutions, one would find numerous instances of white-collar corruption. In addition, most private-sector universities and DAIs “exchange” their dissertations with each other after conducting MPhil defence/viva. These “used” dissertations have become a source of earning for them; they just change the title and sell the dissertation to the desiring MPhil scholars of any other university against a hefty amount of money. A principal reason behind this is leniency and no concept of punishment for this “intellectual theft” in the country. There should be a very strict check and balance on the allotment of a topic for research. It is observed that more than 80 percent of research topics in MPhil programmes are outdated.
There is another type of part-time researchers i.e. those enrolled in evening PhD programmes. They are more practical in handling their research tasks. Instead of conducting research, they manage research. They know how to tackle this important yet ‘easy’ degree without putting too much time and effort into the process. Using their socialization and interpersonal skills, they make friends with key faculty members in their respective departments. The faster and better they facilitate their supervisors, the sooner and easier they earn their degrees.
Another common practice in the academia is to make students publish papers for supervisors. Teachers are required to publish a certain number of research papers in order to get promoted, and that number is often met with the ‘unconsented’ help of students. This is the biggest moral corruption in our education system and owing to this, our students lack competence on library research skills, referencing, finding resources and drafting a dissertation. Such students often go on to become part of the academia and tend to reproduce what they have suffered.
The current situation requires a thorough assessment and implementation of improved rules. A strong governing body must be there to monitor the award of research degrees in Pakistan. The HEC should be in direct contact with PhD scholars and should form a thesis advisory committee that should meet the supervisor and the supervised at least twice a year to check their progress and resolve their issues.
It is now time to forge ahead and introduce research-based projects in our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. We cannot conjure a whole new culture overnight, but let us at least start with introducing the basics of research at undergraduate level. The HEC must follow a policy of accepting only those publications for promotion/selection, which have been published in high-impact publications. To keep the senior-most academics involved in research, universities should make it mandatory for every member of faculty to publish at least one quality paper as a lead author every year. Same criteria must be applied on the staff of government sector colleges; they just secure a job on the basis of their master’s degree and then they don’t enhance their research and educational ability.
In addition, there should be a specified time frame for college teachers to enhance their education e.g. MPhil and PhD, otherwise they should be replaced with young, highly-educated teachers. The HEC must arrange a test for them after every five years so as to judge the proficiency of college teachers and if they fail that, they should be replaced with the new talent.
Last but not least, research students should also empower themselves with language and research skills. It is the duty of the government to facilitate MPhil and PhD degree-holders and provide them jobs on priority basis. New planning is needed for unemployed PhDs and they must be given jobs so that the country gets benefitted of their incredible talent.