The PhD ‘business’

Published: August 26, 2010

A cursory glance at the benefits this project gives to a Ph. D. advisor will reveal that there are loopholes.

Anyone even remotely related to the field will confess to the silent revolution in the landscape of higher education in the country since the establishment of the Higher Education Commission (HEC). Pakistan has a high number of scholarships for M.S and PhD candidates, much higher than countries like India, Iran, Australia or New Zealand.

Unfortunately, there are loopholes. Even a cursory look at the Fellowship program will reveal the benefits the project awards to PhD advisors. These include a monthly honorarium and bonuses for synopsis, publications, thesis defense etc. This has resulted in many advisors becoming greedy enough to enroll every Tom, Dick and Harry with them for the sake of this huge sum of money.

As a PhD is the highest research degree in many countries including Pakistan, there are stringent requirements in place before the degree is conferred. In the USA a candidate has to pass Graduate Record Examination (a general test) before being considered for enrolment. In addition, most universities require candidates to have a decent score at another Graduate Record Examination (in a particular subject). A decent score usually means anything above 80 percentile in the subject category.

If you are wondering, the GRE is not some form of advanced level studies. It is a test of graduate level basic understanding of the subject in which one wishes to do their PhD So it is quite understandable that there were protests by those candidates and advisors unworthy of the knowledge and respect that a PhD degree confers when it was propsed that GREs be introduced in Pakistan.

It is ironic that one of the country’s top research universities, Quaid-e-Azam University has taken a negative stance against GREs. On the other hand it is little surpise that the FAPUASA is against the move and is protesting the idea by observing black days and boycotting classes.

If stringent standards are enforced for a PhD, there will be less candidates who make the cut, which means a lower income for advisors, which explains the activities of FAPUASA.

I asked about 100 PhD candidates and many advisors but no one gave a logical argument as to why the GRE should not be enforced as a pre-requisite for a PhD. One candidate said “The revenue generated from the test should be restricted to Pakistan and a local test should be arranged instead of the international one” while another felt that “the HEC should pay the high fee of the test which a poor student cannot afford.”

Even professor Pervez Hoodbhoy, who is a staunch critic of HEC, supports the condition of International GRE. It is not that Pakistani students are less talented than Indians or Iranians (who usually score in excess of 80 percentile in this test while we cannot score the 40 percentile which is required by HEC) but the problem is that advisors are more concerned with quantity of PhD candidates and the money they bring.

Moreover, there are lecturers in every university of Pakistan who used some unfair means to be appointed while doing their PhD simultaneously, so they enroll at the same department and after a few years they automatically get a degree because there is no quality control check on awarding degrees by our universities.

One hopes that HEC doesn’t succumb to this pressure applied by vested interests, and stands firm to apply its stringent measures for awarding a degree. After all, the PhD is not a birthright and only those capable enough should pursue it.

Just like PMDC requires any candidate having a foreign MBBS/MD degree to pass its test before permitting him/her to practice in the country, HEC should also make it compulsory for anybody with a foreign PhD to show proof of passing the international GRE before allowing him/her to work in Pakistan.


Maria Khan

A PhD student at the University of the Punjab. She is studying biological sciences.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.