Production PhD

TLDR: I fear that in our zeal to meet targets, we will end up diluting the quality of local PhDs.

Our government has just launched a RM2.7billion programme to promote post-graduate studies through three schemes – masters degrees, doctorate degrees, and industrial PhDs. Application opened yesterday. However, what caught my attention was the fact that among the targets set under the SLAI programme was to produce 18,500 PhD holders by 2015.

Produce.

Having been through the process myself, I can safely say that you cannot produce a good PhD. You can most certainly manufacture a random PhD but one can only gain a good PhD if they earn it. The process is such that the quality of a PhD is only as good as the quality of its input and a lot of it comes from internal mechanisms that are difficult to quantify.

The article does not mention the details but I have gathered that the scheme is good for covering local university fees.

While I do not think that further education is a bad thing, I fear that in our zeal to produce a certain number of PhDs by a certain date, we will end up compromising quality. This invariably happens when people care more about the number than the game. I certainly hope that our local universities will ignore the targets and work on producing quality instead of quantity, and that the candidates themselves will focus on tackling world-class problems rather than doing just enough by a certain deadline.

Of course, having 48,000 quality PhDs in Malaysia by 2020 is a Good Thing. However, we need to be careful about how we get there. Otherwise, I fear a dilution of the degrees awarded by our local institutions, which will only further depress their global standings if the world realises that we are only good at turning out PhDs.

I have heard lots of horror stories on local PhDs from various sources. One friend of mine, has basically been offered decent money to basically write the thesis for a PhD candidate from USM. Another friend of mine, told me of a case where her UKM lecturer merely cobbled together the work assigned to students, and called it her own. Of course, all of this is hearsay but such things (and worse) definitely happen.

PS: Incidentally, the website for information is down.

Published by

Shawn Tan

Chip Doctor, Chartered Engineer, Entrepreneur, Law Graduate.

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