I REFER to "PhD numbers to fulfil national goals" (Letters, July 22). Under the MyBrain15 human capital development programme, the government wishes to create a pool of brilliant human resources among Malaysians and aims to have 60,000 PhD holders by 2023 to enhance national competitiveness, innovation system and wealth creation.
The goals are noble but what should be of upper-most importance is that we don't produce watered-down or half-baked PhD holders. In the letter, there is a terse sentence: "Nevertheless, the Ministry of Education will not compromise on the quality aspects of the doctorate programmes offered by universities in the country".
Unfortunately nothing is mentioned in terms of how quality will be ensured, maintained or even upgraded.
I'm not sure what the passing rate is like here in Malaysia – I would definitely like to know. Assuming the graduation rate is 50 %, then a total of 120,000 graduates would have to enrol by 2023 or 12,000 entrants a year. This is a tall order and indeed a daunting challenge for the Ministry of Education. The world-wide trend shows that fewer and fewer people are interested in pursuing their doctorate degrees.
Take for instance my experience in the US. There were six of us who enrolled for the doctorate degree in marketing. Only three of us graduated – all foreigners –the locals dropped out as they could not stand the gruelling pace and were not able to allocate enough time and effort to their studies.
The demands on a doctoral student are overwhelming; not only does he need plenty of drive and initiative, he also needs to develop the capacity to think, ponder and reflect on what he reads (which our education system falls short), relate to concepts and establish relationships. He will be subject to rigorous rules of academic research (and not adopt the "cut-and-paste"practice) before his theory and findings become "facts".
The imagery that conveys the determination that is required in undertaking a doctorate degree is that the candidate is willing to beat his or her head against a brick wall until the wall gives way. All PhD holders will know what I mean by this.
The government encouraged serving PTD officers (the elite administrative and diplomatic officers) to pursue their PhD but there were few takers as the officers know what a rough and tough time they would have to undergo for the next four years. In fact many officers have asked "What is it in for me should I accept the scholarship." Mind you these officers will also get their full pay and maintain their seniority.
The challenging task will be how to persuade more to do their PhDs and how to motivate them to complete the task at hand until they graduate.
In our haste to churn out more PhDs, there is a tendency to be more sympathetic and lenient so that the national targets can be met. The problem does not end there. These PhD holders – after a number of years – will be supervising new doctorate students and they too will be equally if not more sympathetic and extra "nice" to their students. So with each batch, quality is compromised.
I have met many local PhDs who definitely do not measure up to their qualifications.
So let's not be too ambitious as not everybody can be a suitable doctoral candidate. Only a few can take the stress and strain of pursuing such a degree. So let's be realistic and review our targets.
After all the PhD is the highest academic qualification one can aim for.
To my mind, the ministry should aim for a core group of highly qualified, brilliant and articulate PhD holders.
In the academic line, quality is the essence and much more important than mere numbers. P. Singh PhD Kuala Lumpur The SUN Daily 27 Jul 2014