Disillusioned PhDs

Hundreds of PhDs recently protested outside Islamabad Press Club for not getting jobs according to their qualification. Holding placards, they blamed the Higher Education Commission (HEC) for failing to provide them suitable jobs. The doctorate degree holders contended that, according to an agreement, the HEC had to arrange for their jobs for the first year of getting their degrees. Thereafter, they had to find employment for themselves. But the HEC argued that it provided various scholarships to offer PhD programmes to the candidates and after getting their degrees, they were expected to fend for themselves.

Those pursuing a common cause usually unite on a single platform, hence the formation of Young PhD Doctors Association Pakistan (YPDAP). The recent protest by the YPDAP is not the first of its kind — it has been protesting for its rights for the last few years. However, the dilemma is that many PhDs do not meet the global standards. Some hold PhD in subjects that have little demand in the existing job market. Because of the poor standard of the institutions conferring PhDs, the HEC has forbidden about thirteen universities from running MPhil and PhD programmes through distance learning. These universities had failed to meet the basic standard for conducting such programmes.

Moreover, wheeling and dealing at fake degrees has become a lucrative business both for the institutions selling the degrees and the candidates buying such degrees. We don’t know how many Axact-qualified degree holders and PhDs are gainfully employed in government departments and the private sector. The sad part is that such fraudsters deprive the genuine candidates of jobs. The Axact affair occasionally popped up in the newspapers and then died down. Recently, however, a court sentenced the Axact CEO and 22 of his accomplices in fake degree cases to seven years in jail.

A BBC report titled ‘Staggering trade in fake degrees’ in January this year revealed how about 3,000 fake Axact degrees were sold to UK-based buyers in 2013-2014, including master’s degrees and PhDs. BBC’s Radio 4 programme added: “Thousands of UK nationals have bought fake degrees from a multi-million pound ‘diploma mill’ in Pakistan”. The developed world couldn’t produce a feat that the fertile brains of a developing country managed to offer to the world. It’s often said that given an opportunity our boys can do wonders in any field, not to mention here how hundreds of black coats with fake degrees allegedly operate in our courts. None other than former chief justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali pointed it out once during one of his addresses. Because of the intimidating influence of black sheep among them the lawyers’ community has acquired with time, nobody can touch the fakes among them. In existing aura of litigations, the legal profession is doing very well, thank you.

Come election season, some politicians who claimed to hold PhD degrees, decided to drop ‘Dr’ before their names when submitting their nomination papers to the election commission. Similarly, some religious scholars reverently addressed as Dr so and so for years, have shed their doctorates before filing their papers. Remember, how some of them kept the audience spellbound by their glib oratory on matters of religion and morality. The smooth talking moralists turned out to be charlatans par excellence.

Nevertheless, the PhDs having genuine degrees deserve to get their rightful status and employment opportunities, particularly in private and public sector universities. The problem is that ‘connections at the right places’ matter more than upholding the sanctity of merit. Many senior professors occupying teaching slots in the institutions manage to get extensions after reaching the age of superannuation. Thus, they deny opportunities to mid-level professors to move up the ladder and vacate their positions for the vibrant class of young PhD degree holders to fill.

The appointments of VCs in public-sector universities usually draw criticism for showing favouritism in their selection. Too many professors vie for too few positions as VCs. But why this run for the top slots? In leading foreign universities, professors hesitate to become VCs, as with such responsibilities, they do not get time to carry out research work and write research papers. This explains why none of our universities has attained a position among the leading universities of the world.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2018.

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