In a bid to improve the quality of supervision at the doctoral level, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) has recently barred fresh PhD holders from supervising indigenous PhD and MS scholars until they complete their post-PhD three years’ experience. Fresh PhD fellows have also been advised to undertake a couple of co-supervisions with so-called senior researchers for learning the art and ethics of supervision.
While it may be construed as an attempt to raise the bar of quality, the decision shows HEC’s enduring mistrust of protégés, supervisors and their institutions. The premier educational body has always been skeptical about the integrity of this troika. And instead of devising a coherent performance evaluation system, it continues to embark upon unorthodox solutions.
The first example of mistrust can be found in HEC’s criteria for indigenous PhD programmes. In academically advanced countries, a doctoral thesis is required to be evaluated at first by an internal evaluator (or a committee) and subsequently by one external evaluator from another university. Whereas dissertation of a Pakistani PhD candidate is poised to be evaluated not only by internal and external evaluators, but also by two foreign professors working in highly ranked North American or European universities.
The requirement is certainly over and above the international practices and standards. Yet, had it been a concern of quality alone, this stringent criterion should have been sufficient to prove the quality of dissertation. But this is not the case. Policymakers are somehow convinced that this amoral troika is felon enough to get the dissertation approved from internal, external as well as two foreign evaluators, not on merit but through undue means. The indigenous PhD candidates are, therefore, grilled through another out of the box test — the condition of a publication from the dissertation in either an international impact factor or HEC-approved local journal, before the award of the degree. Needless to mention, these undue requirements are at the expense of inordinate delay in the PhD process and its consequent repercussions for candidates, supervisors and varsities.
Take another case of International Research Support Initiative Programme of HEC. Under this programme, indigenous PhD scholars are provided financial support to work on their thesis in any of the top 200 universities of the world for a period of up to six months. Among other eligibility criteria for the scholarship, the candidate has to secure a letter of acceptance from a foreign professor, who is willing to supervise him/her if scholarship is granted by HEC. Understandably, it is an uphill task for a local PhD student to convince a professor from one of the world’s top-ranked universities to supervise his PhD thesis. Yet, to make it even difficult HEC has made a rule that those foreign professors should not be ex-supervisors of candidates’ local supervisors.
Why? If the purpose is to facilitate local PhD students to get guidance from foreign professors, why would HEC make it rather difficult by imposing this restriction? Yet again, the answer boils down to mistrust.
The current ban on fresh PhDs has put their qualification under question. Across the world professors are entrusted to supervise PhD candidates as soon as they complete their degrees. The enactment of the new HEC policy would therefore mean that a Pakistani professor, after earning a PhD from a foreign country, is eligible to supervise PhD candidates anywhere in the world but Pakistan.
The HEC’s thrust for upgrading the education sector is beyond doubt. However, it is not the will but a cogent strategy which the sector needs from HEC. Instead of being too innovative, policymakers at HEC need to learn from and benchmark their policies with international practices.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 10th, 2017.