Posts filed under ‘Educational Policy’

Why doing a PhD is often a waste of time : A report from The Economist

Following report is from The Economist. Thanks to Nanopolitan for the pointer:

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.

Rich pickings

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. 

January 4, 2011 at 1:27 pm Leave a comment

Xavier’s Institute of Management (XIMB) plans for a University at Sambalpur

Following is a report from the http://www.pagalguy.com:

Bhubhaneswar-based Xavier’s Institute of Management (XIMB) is in the process of turning into a university soon, its Director Fr PT Joseph, SJ tells PaGaLGuY. In this interview, he also speaks about the curriculum changes the institute is planning for its Post Graduate Diploma in Management (PGDM) and the PGDM Rural Management courses.

What changes can the incoming batch of 2013 look forward to benefitting from at XIMB?

From the point of view of the fulltime programme students, we will be revising the curriculum a little bit next year. Apart from that, although it doesn’t directly affect PGDM or PGDM(RM) students, but we have started a 1-year advanced management programme on Resettlement and Rehabilitation and Corporate Social Responsibility for 15 executives of Uttarakhand’s Tehri Hydro Development Corporation. This along with our other initiatives in the rural management and social sector will continue to be under focus in the coming year.

Are you looking at an increase in intake for any of the the two-year programmes?

We were looking at expansion in the number of seats but the proposal hasn’t gone past AICTE’s regulations. But we may become a university soon and therefore increase intake from a university perspective. That process might take one or two months to finalize, but we are in the process of becoming a university.

Would that mean that the PGDM degrees would be offered as full-fledged MBA degrees under the XIMB University?

The PGDM will still remain as an AICTE-approved course, it may not become a university degree for now. But after we get university status we may start some other type of programmes under the university. Right now we have gotten the government sanction of Rs 10 crores and are involved with acquiring the necessary land for the University in Sambalpur. Until land is acquired, which is priority for now, we aren’t in a position to share more details.

What is XIMB’s faculty strength now and how are you thinking about expanding it?

As of now we are 55 in total. One more is joining in December and another two may join in January 2011. We hire faculty whenever we come across somebody good. For example, one of the faculty joining next is a Cornell University PhD with lots of experience. Another person in the recruitment process has worked in Netherlands and has a PhD from Korea.

What kind of curriculum changes are you going to make in the PGDM and PGDM(RM) courses before the next batch joins?

We have already started a new course on Environment and Sustainability which is mandatory for all the 180 PGDM students. There’s another mandatory course on Emotional quotient and Leadership. Next, we are planning a meeting of all the faculty on the January 12, 2011. Before that meeting, a committee is preparing the background papers by looking at changes in the global and Indian economy. Only after the January 12 meeting will a clear picture emerge about the exact changes.

But speaking in general, we’ve been teaching management that is too bifurcated by specialization in our view. As you know, students choose to go for either marketing or finance or other specializations during the course. We are having a feeling that there should be some integration between these specializations by changing their content and give each course a holistic approach. For example, we know that there is a good market for inkjet printer cartridges. But inkjet cartridge production also generates a large amount of waste and affects the environment. So when we teach either of marketing or production management, we need to also bring awareness of sustainability in and show how both marketing and production are linked. If we can do this, we will not only make better managers but also better human beings. Apart from that, we would like to increase our connection with the bottom of the pyramid. We have a very strong programme in which all 180 PGDM students went and stayed in villages for 3 days. We want to increase their exposure to bottom of the pyramid and to leadership. We would also like to focus on ways to increase mentoring from faculty and senior students.

What are your thoughts on b-schools changing their admission policy to reduce the number of engineers in the batch?

This is something we tried to do last year already. We wanted to bring down the number of engineers and increase the batch diversity by taking in students from other backgrounds. But unfortunately all the students who are getting good grades in XAT were engineers and we could not reduce their number last year. But we’ll continue to give quantitative ability lesser weightage compared to verbal and commnication skills and try to reduce the number of engineers.

Looking at the Indian scenario, I would prefer 60% engineers and 40% non-engineers ideally in the XIMB batches. The job market requirements are still such that the engineering background is preferred so we cant reduce it too much.

We have traditionally seen what an engineer-driven MBA job market looks like. But in your view what scope do non-engineers with an MBA degree have in the market?

Only the product marketing, production and manufacturing companies need people to necessarily have engineering backgrounds. But the remaining type of jobs, that is finance, human resources, some types of marketing and market research, advertising are areas that do not really require engineers.

January 2, 2011 at 11:04 am Leave a comment

Establish the proposed Vedanta University in western Orissa

Following report is from the http://www.orissasambad.com:

NOTE: Earlier it was also reported in the Dharitri that Vedanta should establish a full fledged University at Kalahandi.

January 2, 2011 at 10:57 am Leave a comment

HRD minister announces additional 200,000 engineering seats

Following is a report from the http://economictimes.indiatimes.com:

NEW DELHI: In a pleasant surprise for students, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal Thursday announced an increase of almost 200,000 seats in engineering courses in India.

As part of reforms in All India Council for Technical Education ( AICTE )) norms, the minister also announced additional 80,000 seats in management and 2,200 seats in architecture courses.

The norms for land requirement for engineering colleges were also liberalised, with Sibal saying that lesser space will be needed for establishing technical institutes.

While an engineering college in rural India will need 10 acres of land, just 2.5 acres of land will be needed in urban areas.

December 30, 2010 at 2:03 pm Leave a comment

National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) to set up medical and engineering colleges in Orissa

Following report is from the Pioneer:

National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) will set up a medical college and an engineering college in the State as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities. Informing about the proposed institutes, Energy Minister Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak said the State Government has lauded the CSR proposal of NTPC. The location for the colleges are yet to be identified and talks are on, the Minister informed.

Following is another report from http://www.business-standard.com:

National Thermal Power Corporation Ltd (NTPC), India’s largest power generation utility, has sought 15 acres of land from the Orissa government to set up a medical college. The company also intends to set up a power engineering institute in the state.

The locations and other specifics of these two institutes are yet to be finalized.

“NTPC has sought 15 acres of land for setting up a medical college in the state. It has also evinced interest in setting up a power engineering institute. The company has written to us, requesting for land allotment and we will hold an inter-departmental meeting soon to decide on the site for the medical college and the power engineering institute. The details of the medical college are yet to be finalized but as per the norms of Medical Council of India, they have to start with a 300-bed facility”, an official source told Business Standard.

NTPC which had proposed to set up two super thermal power plants to be set up at Gajamara in Dhenkanal district and Darlipalli in Sundergarh district and also add 1320 Mw to its thermal power station at Talcher, was keen to sign a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with the state owned Grid Corporation of Orissa (Gridco).

The PPA was to be signed between NTPC and Gridco for a period of 25 years. NTPC is setting up a 3200 Mw power plant at Gajamara and 4800 Mw power plant at Darlipalli.

One of the conditions set by the state government for signing of the PPA was the setting up of a medical college and a power engineering institute. The second condition was allocation of 50 per cent power for the state from the two proposed super thermal power stations.”NTPC has claimed that it has got the approval of the Centre for allocation of 50 per cent of power for the host state. We have asked the company to produce a copy of the letter of approval of the Centre”, the source added.

The proposed super thermal power projects of NTPC at Gajamara and Darlipalli were scheduled to be operational by 2016-17. The Gajamara project needed 2900 acres of land and NTPC claimed to have conducted the gram sabha for this project in March this year.

 This is a good initiative by NTPC. The Orissa govt. must ask other industries to establish medical and engineering colleges in the industrial zones of western Orissa. In particular, such industry sponsered institutes need to be established in Sambalpur-Jharsuguda and Rourkela-Sudergarh belt.

December 28, 2010 at 6:22 pm 1 comment

IIT Kharagpur to open its second campus at Kolkata; IIT Bhubaneswar should plan for a campus in Western Odisha

Following is a report by TOI:

KOLKATA: Four years ago, the state government had given 10 acres to the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, for its second campus. But the institute has not been able to put up the boundary wall till now as it has not been given possession of the land by Hidco, the housing and infrastructure agency that is developing Rajarhat as a township.

Apparently, the plot that had been allotted to IIT-Kgp has a path through it, which is used by locals, who have reportedly blocked the handover of the land. According to the agreement between the institute and Hidco, the latter would handover the land after walling it. But even after repeated reminders from the institute, Hidco has done little. Presently, with its go-slow policy on land takeover, Hidco is reportedly not willing to push the case too much to avoid another land-related controversy.

“We are in trouble as the Union human resources development ministry had allotted funds to us long back to develop the new campus. We might be asked to return the funds because of this delay,” said AN Majumdar, the deputy director of the institute.

A lot of excitement was generated in 2006, when the land was allotted to the institute. IIT-Kgp had even drawn up a blueprint for the land.

Though regular postgraduate tech programmes will be there, this is not to be its focal area. The institute authorities want the campus to have advanced laboratories, run incubation programmes and become an industry hub which will attract international and national industries to set up their R&D infrastructure here. It shall also be a nodal centre for the larger technology parks being set up around the institute in Kharagpur.

“The Kolkata campus shall be mandated to promote an inter-disciplinary structure to incubation programmes, multi-disciplinary academic programmes, advanced research and development activities. We will also have some PG programmes in the emerging areas. But all this can start only if we get possession of the land!” said PP Chakraborty, dean of the institute’s sponsored research initiatives, who is in charge of drawing up the plans for the new campus.

“We are looking at helping tech professionals who already have a basic degree and do not need to stay on the campus for a full-time programme,” Chakraborty added.

The multi-disciplinary areas being targeted include Information Technology, VLSI & Embedded Systems, Media and Communication Technologies, Information Assurance and Security, Urban and Regional Informatics, Human Resources Management and Business Administration, and, Bio-Informatics.

November 29, 2010 at 10:43 am 1 comment

100 acres more land to be provided for National Institute of Technology (NIT), Rourkela expansion

Following is from the Pioneer:

The State Government on Saturday decided to provide 100 acres more land to the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Rourkela for its expansion. Besides, the Government has also decided to provide an alternative source of water supply to the institute.Decisions to this effect were taken in high-level meeting held under chairmanship of Chief Secretary Bijay Kumar Patnaik at the State Secretariat. It was known from the meeting that the NIT authority had 400 hundred acres more land for its expansion. The construction work of the institute is going on and the Central Government has given `50 crore for this year.

Similarly, on water problem issue, the meeting decided that the NIT would be given water from Mahanadi. The Rourkela Steel Plant is planning to take water from the river, the NIT would have the small share on the water, the meeting decided. Presently, the institute is taking water from Koel River.

November 1, 2010 at 4:45 pm Leave a comment

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