Posts filed under ‘Admission to PhD Courses’
Like technical institutions, general universities in Odisha need to pursue a special programme and prepare a vision document for next five years keeping an eye on the requirements of students. A direction in this regard has been given by Commissioner-cum-Secretary of Higher Education Chandra Sekhar Kumar to the Vice Chancellors of the State’s six general universities.
The VCs of Utkal, Berhampur, Sambalpur, Ravenshaw, Fakir Mohan and North Odisha universities have been categorically told to ensure enhancement of the education standard in their respective institutions besides special action plan to attract foreign students to the State.
Apart from regular teachings, the State’s universities need to introduce five year integrated courses like Astronomy, Astrophysics, Earth System Science, Archaeology, International Law and Disaster Management. Introduction of new and job oriented courses like Risk Management, Banking & Finance, Insurance and IT in colleges and universities were suggested. Foreign students and students having outlook would certainly prefer to pursue courses in such subjects, the VCs were told. The new courses would open up channels of education in the State, the Higher Education Secretary told the VCs. While the strength of English speaking students in the State in general is poor, this is needed to be improved by making provisions for imparting communicative English and soft skills. Similarly, courses on Computer Applications and Entrepreneurship are much needed.
Revision and modernisation of syllabi was also suggested during a daylong consultation with VCs recently. Enhancement of competencies of faculties, greater use of ICT and networking of universities in general and foreign universities in particular was discussed at length.
Sources in the committee said if the model works well, it can be adopted at the undergraduate level. However, the report is silent on admissions into undergraduate courses.
Another panel on Nava-ratna Universities — Indian equivalent of Ivy League varsities — has recommended direct funding from the central government, freedom to fix salaries, fee structure; reward for performing teachers, cutting increment to non-performers and flexibility to invite the best faculty from any part of the world.
The recommendation on common entrance test could evoke strong reactions. Set up late lst year by HRD minister Kapil Sibal, it said common entrance for PG courses should be based on both performances in entrance test and in the graduate examination. Performance in the first two years of graduation would be factored. The weightage for performance in graduate course may be 30%, and 70% weightage could be given to performance in the entrance test.
The entrance test will consist of two sections: scholastic aptitude and knowledge of subject in which admission is being sought. The committee has suggested that relative weightage between the two could be in the ratio of 40:60. The panel has said universities with special character/historical reasons could be free to have their own admission process.
In case of MPhil or PhD courses, the committee has recommended, common entrance could be similar to the UGC National Eligibility Test for Junior Research Fellowship. The varsities would be free to have their own interviews for MPhil and PhD courses. The institutions would also have the freedom to decide weightage for the interview, but it should not be more than 40% in any case.
ON THE evening before All Saints’ Day in 1517, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg. In those days a thesis was simply a position one wanted to argue. Luther, an Augustinian friar, asserted that Christians could not buy their way to heaven. Today a doctoral thesis is both an idea and an account of a period of original research. Writing one is the aim of the hundreds of thousands of students who embark on a doctorate of philosophy (PhD) every year.
In most countries a PhD is a basic requirement for a career in academia. It is an introduction to the world of independent research—a kind of intellectual masterpiece, created by an apprentice in close collaboration with a supervisor. The requirements to complete one vary enormously between countries, universities and even subjects. Some students will first have to spend two years working on a master’s degree or diploma. Some will receive a stipend; others will pay their own way. Some PhDs involve only research, some require classes and examinations and some require the student to teach undergraduates. A thesis can be dozens of pages in mathematics, or many hundreds in history. As a result, newly minted PhDs can be as young as their early 20s or world-weary forty-somethings.
One thing many PhD students have in common is dissatisfaction. Some describe their work as “slave labour”. Seven-day weeks, ten-hour days, low pay and uncertain prospects are widespread. You know you are a graduate student, goes one quip, when your office is better decorated than your home and you have a favourite flavour of instant noodle. “It isn’t graduate school itself that is discouraging,” says one student, who confesses to rather enjoying the hunt for free pizza. “What’s discouraging is realising the end point has been yanked out of reach.”
Whining PhD students are nothing new, but there seem to be genuine problems with the system that produces research doctorates (the practical “professional doctorates” in fields such as law, business and medicine have a more obvious value). There is an oversupply of PhDs. Although a doctorate is designed as training for a job in academia, the number of PhD positions is unrelated to the number of job openings. Meanwhile, business leaders complain about shortages of high-level skills, suggesting PhDs are not teaching the right things. The fiercest critics compare research doctorates to Ponzi or pyramid schemes.
For most of history even a first degree at a university was the privilege of a rich few, and many academic staff did not hold doctorates. But as higher education expanded after the second world war, so did the expectation that lecturers would hold advanced degrees. American universities geared up first: by 1970 America was producing just under a third of the world’s university students and half of its science and technology PhDs (at that time it had only 6% of the global population). Since then America’s annual output of PhDs has doubled, to 64,000.
Other countries are catching up. Between 1998 and 2006 the number of doctorates handed out in all OECD countries grew by 40%, compared with 22% for America. PhD production sped up most dramatically in Mexico, Portugal, Italy and Slovakia. Even Japan, where the number of young people is shrinking, churned out about 46% more PhDs. Part of that growth reflects the expansion of university education outside America. Richard Freeman, a labour economist at Harvard University, says that by 2006 America was enrolling just 12% of the world’s students.
But universities have discovered that PhD students are cheap, highly motivated and disposable labour. With more PhD students they can do more research, and in some countries more teaching, with less money. A graduate assistant at Yale might earn $20,000 a year for nine months of teaching. The average pay of full professors in America was $109,000 in 2009—higher than the average for judges and magistrates.
Indeed, the production of PhDs has far outstripped demand for university lecturers. In a recent book, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, an academic and a journalist, report that America produced more than 100,000 doctoral degrees between 2005 and 2009. In the same period there were just 16,000 new professorships. Using PhD students to do much of the undergraduate teaching cuts the number of full-time jobs. Even in Canada, where the output of PhD graduates has grown relatively modestly, universities conferred 4,800 doctorate degrees in 2007 but hired just 2,616 new full-time professors. Only a few fast-developing countries, such as Brazil and China, now seem short of PhDs.
A short course in supply and demand
In research the story is similar. PhD students and contract staff known as “postdocs”, described by one student as “the ugly underbelly of academia”, do much of the research these days. There is a glut of postdocs too. Dr Freeman concluded from pre-2000 data that if American faculty jobs in the life sciences were increasing at 5% a year, just 20% of students would land one. In Canada 80% of postdocs earn $38,600 or less per year before tax—the average salary of a construction worker. The rise of the postdoc has created another obstacle on the way to an academic post. In some areas five years as a postdoc is now a prerequisite for landing a secure full-time job.
These armies of low-paid PhD researchers and postdocs boost universities’, and therefore countries’, research capacity. Yet that is not always a good thing. Brilliant, well-trained minds can go to waste when fashions change. The post-Sputnik era drove the rapid growth in PhD physicists that came to an abrupt halt as the Vietnam war drained the science budget. Brian Schwartz, a professor of physics at the City University of New York, says that in the 1970s as many as 5,000 physicists had to find jobs in other areas.
In America the rise of PhD teachers’ unions reflects the breakdown of an implicit contract between universities and PhD students: crummy pay now for a good academic job later. Student teachers in public universities such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison formed unions as early as the 1960s, but the pace of unionisation has increased recently. Unions are now spreading to private universities; though Yale and Cornell, where university administrators and some faculty argue that PhD students who teach are not workers but apprentices, have resisted union drives. In 2002 New York University was the first private university to recognise a PhD teachers’ union, but stopped negotiating with it three years later.
In some countries, such as Britain and America, poor pay and job prospects are reflected in the number of foreign-born PhD students. Dr Freeman estimates that in 1966 only 23% of science and engineering PhDs in America were awarded to students born outside the country. By 2006 that proportion had increased to 48%. Foreign students tend to tolerate poorer working conditions, and the supply of cheap, brilliant, foreign labour also keeps wages down.
Proponents of the PhD argue that it is worthwhile even if it does not lead to permanent academic employment. Not every student embarks on a PhD wanting a university career and many move successfully into private-sector jobs in, for instance, industrial research. That is true; but drop-out rates suggest that many students become dispirited. In America only 57% of doctoral students will have a PhD ten years after their first date of enrolment. In the humanities, where most students pay for their own PhDs, the figure is 49%. Worse still, whereas in other subject areas students tend to jump ship in the early years, in the humanities they cling like limpets before eventually falling off. And these students started out as the academic cream of the nation. Research at one American university found that those who finish are no cleverer than those who do not. Poor supervision, bad job prospects or lack of money cause them to run out of steam.
Even graduates who find work outside universities may not fare all that well. PhD courses are so specialised that university careers offices struggle to assist graduates looking for jobs, and supervisors tend to have little interest in students who are leaving academia. One OECD study shows that five years after receiving their degrees, more than 60% of PhDs in Slovakia and more than 45% in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany and Spain were still on temporary contracts. Many were postdocs. About one-third of Austria’s PhD graduates take jobs unrelated to their degrees. In Germany 13% of all PhD graduates end up in lowly occupations. In the Netherlands the proportion is 21%.
A very slim premium
PhD graduates do at least earn more than those with a bachelor’s degree. A study in the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management by Bernard Casey shows that British men with a bachelor’s degree earn 14% more than those who could have gone to university but chose not to. The earnings premium for a PhD is 26%. But the premium for a master’s degree, which can be accomplished in as little as one year, is almost as high, at 23%. In some subjects the premium for a PhD vanishes entirely. PhDs in maths and computing, social sciences and languages earn no more than those with master’s degrees. The premium for a PhD is actually smaller than for a master’s degree in engineering and technology, architecture and education. Only in medicine, other sciences, and business and financial studies is it high enough to be worthwhile. Over all subjects, a PhD commands only a 3% premium over a master’s degree.
Dr Schwartz, the New York physicist, says the skills learned in the course of a PhD can be readily acquired through much shorter courses. Thirty years ago, he says, Wall Street firms realised that some physicists could work out differential equations and recruited them to become “quants”, analysts and traders. Today several short courses offer the advanced maths useful for finance. “A PhD physicist with one course on differential equations is not competitive,” says Dr Schwartz.
Many students say they are pursuing their subject out of love, and that education is an end in itself. Some give little thought to where the qualification might lead. In one study of British PhD graduates, about a third admitted that they were doing their doctorate partly to go on being a student, or put off job hunting. Nearly half of engineering students admitted to this. Scientists can easily get stipends, and therefore drift into doing a PhD. But there are penalties, as well as benefits, to staying at university. Workers with “surplus schooling”—more education than a job requires—are likely to be less satisfied, less productive and more likely to say they are going to leave their jobs.
Academics tend to regard asking whether a PhD is worthwhile as analogous to wondering whether there is too much art or culture in the world. They believe that knowledge spills from universities into society, making it more productive and healthier. That may well be true; but doing a PhD may still be a bad choice for an individual.
The interests of academics and universities on the one hand and PhD students on the other are not well aligned. The more bright students stay at universities, the better it is for academics. Postgraduate students bring in grants and beef up their supervisors’ publication records. Academics pick bright undergraduate students and groom them as potential graduate students. It isn’t in their interests to turn the smart kids away, at least at the beginning. One female student spoke of being told of glowing opportunities at the outset, but after seven years of hard slog she was fobbed off with a joke about finding a rich husband.
Monica Harris, a professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky, is a rare exception. She believes that too many PhDs are being produced, and has stopped admitting them. But such unilateral academic birth control is rare. One Ivy-League president, asked recently about PhD oversupply, said that if the top universities cut back others will step in to offer them instead.
“The HRD ministry has announced 10 more IITs for the country. UVCE has the necessary infrastructure, expertise, faculty and students. This can be converted into an IIT with a campus at Mudenahalli,” vice-chancellor N Prabhu Dev, told reporters on Friday.
The memorandum will be submitted at the mega reunion event of UVCE alumni from January 1 to 3 on the occasion of Sir Visvesvaraya’s 150th anniversary.
“UVCE might remain a constituent college of BU. Even if we have to let go of the administration of UVCE when upgraded, we will not mind,” he added.
The UVCE will have placement cell for companies from different countries. The alumni who have their own companies will absorb students from the college. An investment of Rs 100 crore is mooted for the college in the coming 10 years. A national skill development centre, new buildings, smart classrooms, hostels of international standard and more is being planned.
Around 1,500 people have already registered for the meet. The function will begin with a candlelight march on Saturday evening. The alumni meet that will be held at Gayathri Vihar and UVCE campus will feature keynote address by eminent people, panel discussions and entertainment.
A delegation headed by MR Doreswamy, member of the legislative council, is all set to meet Union law minister M Veerappa Moily to submit a memorandum seeking that an Indian Institute of Technology be set up in the state.
“We are meeting Veerappa Moily on January 2 to submit the memorandum,” Doreswamy said.
As the eleventh five-year plan period ends in 2012, there is a buzz that the Union government would set up an IIT in the state in the 12th five year plan.
Sources from the ministry of human resource development said that under the 12th plan, the Centre would announce 10 more IITs. Academics from the state are keen that one of these be located in Karnataka.
Talking to DNA, Doreswamy said that the location of the institute should not become a matter of contention. “We don’t mind where the institute comes up, so long as there is one in Karnataka. We are putting pressure on the Centre for many years now. Karnataka is eligible to get an IIT, but the demand has not been heeded, on the pretext that the state already has the Indian Institute of Science, an Indian Institute of Management, and a central university. This time, we will not let them pay no heed to our demand,” said Doreswamy.
Former chairman of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), Dr Ramegowda, said, “Last time, we met Moily and we hoped that an IIT would come up in Karnataka in the 11th plan period. This time, we have to make a very serious and sincere effort. Bangalore is the capital of information technology, and it fully deserves an IIT.”
Since 1996, the state has attempted to get the Centre to sanction an IIT here. In 2009, the human resources development ministry had agreed in principle to the IIT in Karnataka under the 11th plan. Later, however, officials from the department claimed that there was no proposal for an IIT in Karnataka.
In the past two years, many delegations have met the Union minister for human resources development, seeking that an IIT be set up in the state. 137 MLAs from North Karnataka submitted a memorandum in this connection earlier. Doreswamy too has earlier met Union human resource development minister Kapil Sibal, and submitted a memorandum, but to no avail.
Karnataka had once before missed the IIT bus because of a controversy over its location. While the then Congress government recommended that the IIT be set up in North Karnataka, JD(S) MLA HD Revanna had opposed that plan, seeking that the IIT be located in Hassan district.
Seven years ago, a committee set up by the then prime minister to seek recommendations for setting up IITs, headed by scientist UR Rao, had recommended that an IIT come up in Karnataka, at Hubli-Dharwad.
The Vir Surendra Sai University of Technology (VSSUT) formed by up-gradation of the University College of Engineering (UCE) at Burla completed a year this month with Prof Deba Kumar Tripathy as the first Vice-Chancellor.
“It (VSSUT) has made record achievements during this short span. It also plans to go ahead and reach the peak to see itself at par with all other developed technical institutions of the country and abroad,” said Prof Tripathy at a media conference in the university campus.
The V-C said the university, being entrusted by the Department of Industries, conducted the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) 2010 this year very successfully for students’ admission into medical, engineering and many other technical courses through e-counselling. Formation of a finance committee and a board of management, filling up of the vacancies in teaching posts and appointment of deans, Registrar and Controller of Finance are the other achievements, he said.
The university also held its first convocation for the pass-out batch of students for the year 2009. “Smooth conduct of different examinations and publication of results in one month’s time is nothing but a record in the State,” Prof Tripathy claimed. As many as 305 students have been recruited in various reputed institutions and industries during 2009-10 through campus interviews, he pointed out.
The V-C further said the university has introduced new programmes like Electrical and Electronics Engineering, MTech in Computational Math and MSc in Applied Physics and Industrial Chemistry. It has also enhanced the intake capacity to various programmes keeping in view the growing demands from students.
Prof Tripathy informed that the State Government has sought a proposal from the VSSUT for converting it into an Innovative University. The Centre Government wants to convert 20 technical institutions in the country into such universities. The VSSUT can stake its claim for this as it fulfils most of the criteria.
“The Centre Government will spend `4,600 crore to upgrade 20 institutions to Innovative Universities,” the V-C further informed. Instead of establishing new universities, the Government will rather improve the old ones, he added.
Orissa State Open University bill is criticised by the All India University Employees’ Confederation (AIUEC)
Bhubaneswar Sept. 2: Members of the All India University Employees’ Confederation (AIUEC) has raised objections on certain provisions in the proposed Orissa State Open University bill.
The confederation has raised objections to section three of chapter two in the draft bill which says: “With the establishment of this university, the overall control of all the Centres of Distance Education and the correspondence course institutes is deemed to have passed over to the Orissa State Open University subject to a proviso that the parent universities will be given a one-time opportunity to decide the status of their personnel working currently in these centres.
“All parental universities are to submit the final list of such members, who are to continue working in the Orissa State Open University, within a period of three months after the Act comes into existence.”
President of the confederation, Bhabani Shankar Hota, opposed the state government’s move to hand over the control of the centres of distance education, and correspondence course institutes to the proposed open university. Calling it an intentional step by the state government that would lead to the untimely death of existing major Universities Hota, demanded its immediate withdrawal.
“The five important universities — Utkal, Berhampur, Sambalpur, Fakir Mohan and North Orissa University — are going to suffer,” said former MP Hota.
He also urged intellectuals, students and educationists to decry the provision in the Bill. He asked chief minister Naveen Patnaik to scrap the objectionable provisions of the bill.
“There is nothing wrong if the state government establishes more than one open university in the state. However, the provisions to hand over the control of distance education and correspondence courses to the proposed university should be deleted,” the AIUEC president said.
The department of higher education had earlier issued a notice inviting “public opinion” on the issue.