Sunday, April 30, 2006

More postgraduate students - Quantity versus Quality

This seems like a busy week for education issues. The Zahid Higher Education Report was released to the public and I'm sure Tony and I will be blogging about it as more details are known. As usual, we're a step behind YB Lim Kit Siang who has already blogged about it here. But in this post, I'd like to discuss a report in the Star a few days ago quoting Higher Education Minister as saying that there will be a three fold increase in the enrolment of post graduate students in our local varsities, both private and public.

"Higher Education Minister Datuk Mustapa Mohamed said the current enrolment of 39,000 master’s and 7,000 PhD holders would increase to 116,000 and 21,000 respectively by 2010."

Let's analyze this statement further.

Where will the bulk of these postgraduate students receive their degrees? Mostly from public universities. According to Table 11-6 of the 9MP, out of the projected 21,680 PhD enrolment for 2010, 21,410 (98.9%) will be enrolled in public universities. Out of the projected 117,320 Masters student enrolment for 2010, 111,550 (95.1%) will be enrolled in public universities.

The first question that comes to mind is this - where are all these 'extra' postgraduate students going to come from? According to the same Table, to achieve this three fold increase in postgraduate student enrolment, we need to have an annual average growth rate of 26% for the next 5 years. That seems like a pretty tall task. Imagine a faculty with 40 Phd students and 40 Masters students. To achieve a three fold increase in enrolment, this faculty has to take in an average of 16 new students in both the Masters and PhD programs for the next five years (closer to 20 if you take into account graduating students).

I am quite sure that if one requires a department to increase its intake of students at such a rate, quality will surely be compromised. Most programs probably won't get sufficient applications to makeup the additional places required for growth. And if they do, it probably means that they are letting in students who might not have otherwised qualified.

One can only begin to imagine possible consequences. Since most departments would not be willing to fail or to hold back the underperfomers, what might happen is that we'd get a flood of underqualified Masters or PhD holders coming out from our public universities.

I had an earlier post here with some recommendations of how to increase the % of PhD holders among the academic staff in our public universities. I'd like to thank the many people who posted replies and enlightened me on some of the intricacies to applying to do a PhD within the public university system. I'm quite sure that some of the posts were from current lecturers within the system.

One of my suggestions was to force those lecturers who cannot get into foreign universities to complete their PhDs locally. Some lecturers with PhD's will struggle mightily to complete their degrees in an overseas environment that is foreign, competitive and difficult. At Duke, even with very well qualified applicants, the completion rate for PhDs stands somewhere between 60 to 70%. It makes more sense for these lecturers to try to complete their PhDs in a local environment.

But getting our non-PhD lecturers who are underperformers to obtain their PhDs locally is one thing, tripling the number of PhD students in 5 years is a whole new ball game. As if a mass of underemployed and underqualified undergraduates is not enough, should we exacerbate the situation with a mass of underemployed and underqualified postgraduate students as well?

Worse yet, what if some of these post graduate students who cannot get jobs in the private sector gets 'absorbed' back into the public university system as professors and lecturers? Then we're back to square one (if not worse).

We also have to look at the other side of the equation. Increasing the number of postgraduate students also means that we have to increase the number of qualified professors who can teach and supervise these postgraduate students. Given that we currently have less than 60% of our academic staff who have PhDs (and we will only reach this 60% target in 2010), is it realistic to assume that we have the capacity to train TRIPLE the number of postgraduate students at the Masters and PhD levels by 2010? The numbers just don't seem to add up!

My assessment of the situation goes something like this.

The numbers in the 9MP are just targets. The Higher Education Ministry and the administrators in the public universities are probably aware that a three fold increase in the number of postgrads is not viable. They will probably aim for a two fold increase (still problematic, for the same reasons outlined above). They probably won't get sufficient local applications. They will open up some places to foreigners, probably from other developing countries. They will also try to hire foreign lecturers and professors to fill up the 'gaps' in capacity and manpower. But the quality of the courses as well as the graduates will inevitably be affected, negatively.

I think that Tok Pa is caught betwen a rock and a hard place. To achieve developed country status and to upgrade the reputation of our local varsities requires more postgraduate students as one of the elements. But without a more substantive change in the structure and culture of local varsities (hiring and promotion decisions, the competitiveness of academic salaries, incentives to publish and do good research), quality will have to be sacrificed to achieve quantitative results.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

As usual, they seem to come up with something rather unrealistic to materialize. Did they do some basic simple calculations as you did? Did they assess the posibilities of achieving what they said? Or those were just another rubbish that came out of pressure?

I really agree that, after having a large number of underqualified undergraduates, our country cannot continue these "quantity" mindset to the graduate level. This are just going to paralyse the development of the country in the future!

Then, to offset the current difference between staff and student ratio, where will they get those lecturers from? Even Malaysians abroad refuse to come back. Check out theStar today about the survey in London.

I seriously think that they are just trying to go the simple way, rather than building up the foundation to create a real first world mentality students. Sad case...

Anonymous said...

I think in the Zahid report, there are a lot of commitee members with the ' Foot in Mouth " disease

What is important is not the quantity of Phd generated but quality of PhD graduates produced

If these anticipated PhD candidates comes from the present stock of undergraduates, under research supervision of present mediocre supervisors and Universities and with " kawan tolong kawan' attitude, then I can forsee a disaster in the near future

One friend of mine use to quote:
...When you add up a number of beggars, you are going to get one big beggar..." High numbers of poor quality Phds will create more problems than creating a solution

As it is now with the glut of undergraduates, and graduates without jobs, I wonder the 'thinking' that goes in such irrational' exercises. You got to commend the Ministry concerned for practising such futile exercises!

Anonymous said...

A three-fold target is totally unrealistic. As it is, the majority of lecturers are non-PhD holders and most are seriously underperforming. To increase graduate enrollment to such a high intake will definitely reduce the quality of such graduates. Most applicants will be from the unemployable undergrads that we abundantly have at the moment. We are only exacerbating the problem, not solving it. When will the government ever realise this?

samp said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
shinwee said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
aston said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
konek said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
San said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
tim said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
vesewe said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
julee said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
yoy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
reek said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Tony and Kian Ming,

The last comments have been nothing but racially incited slander. PLEASE monitor the comments section.

I find it quite amazed how one person can actually write so much within 30-40 mins.

Anonymous said...

Sigh, this is it. There's no freedom of speech at all in this country, even cyberspace. Good job, government of BN

Tony P said...

If freedom of speech means ranting about Chinese being XXX and Malays being YYY and Indians being ZZZ, then yes, there is no freedom of speech.

If freedom of speech means writing irrelevant comments (often with only ill-intent) to the post, topic or blog, then, again there is no freedom of speech. The owners of this blog would like to keep the site useful for interested readers and not for disgruntled unreasoned rantings about anything under the sky.

Please feel free to refer to a post written earlier on our editorial policy.

Anonymous said...

To Anon @ Sun Apr 30, 10:13:31 PM,

Keep your racist views to yourself. This world needs less of people like you who have nothing in mind but to incite anger. There is a line between freedom of speech and inciting racism. If you wanna pick a fight, then fight like a man and not hide behind your many pseudonyms in cyberspace. Moron.

Anonymous said...

This is completely ridiculous...I really don't understand where this number comes from? We already have 'thousands' if not 'millions' unemployed graduate? Are we going to add more?? Even nowdays, most post graduate student in local university choose to do master or PhD as a 'short cut' because they can't find a job out there..Does gov think if this people get their master or PhD degree, it's become easier for them to get a job??? Get real! It's become harder! nobody going to hire an overqualified person..

I always advise my friends/junior/student, NOT to do their master/ PhD unless they really want to do teaching, research or consultation. There's so many things out there for them to explore, let them work for few years then only allow them to further study..We can't afford to have 'over flow' graduate anymore...

Anonymous said...

I had read one of the comments before it was removed. To all our young readers think rationally. We are in a multi racial country.

Let us make an analogy, suppose in a family there is a child A who is hardworking (similarity xxx) and 3 child B (similarity yyy). A is successful in life due to his hardworking and B isn't. B come back and ask you as a father for help. Will you help? If you don't, definitely B will create problems. Those who have kids were understand what I mean.

My education years was in the late 60's to early 80's. In my time all form 5 took the MCE (SPM now). We are graded by a pass (Grade 1, 2 or 3) and fail. Non bumi can only go to form 6 if you have a grade 1. Grade 2 or 3 sorry you have to find your ways. As for our counterpart, grade 1 will go overseas or gov. college. Grade 2 will enter mara and grade 3 will enter form 6. In my time we have to paid school fess for studying form 6 but our friends are free. As a results of this lots of poor students have no place to go. Those who are rich will go overseas. Luckily TAR college was formed and absorbed these students.

When we have problems, find a solution shouting and fighting will not help. It only brings more misery. We can't have equality even our ten fingers is not the same length. When we are oppress only will make us more hardworking. You want your rights but what our counterparts will said? We know very well it's impossible to get what we demand. Do you want this country to be in chaos? I'ts not because we are scare but will there be any winner or loser in a chaotic country. We have TAR college and now UTAR. As least it solve some problems. Don't just make noise but no action.

A concerned graduate student said...

Dear Tony,

Thanks for moderating the comments posted at this blog. I personally feel that some people were trying to "hijack" your blog and turned it into their cyberspace for rantings.

I personally feel that the resources allocated to education in Malaysia is not good enough. Perhaps, in term of percentage of GDP, this can be quite high. But the "absolute" amount of money "invested" in education is still very low compared to developed nations. To produce and train a PhD candidate requires lots of funding; consumables, equipment, infrastructures, research hub, research expertise etc. Do we have the money to spend on R&Ds?

From my experience as graduate student (at one of the local public uni), MSc candidates apply for Vote F to fund the research projects. You'll be really lucky if RM3000 is secured/year. Perhaps RM5000/year for PhD. With this limited amount of funding, it is not possible to venture into higher ends R&D.

Now, try to imagine, if the resources commited to higher education is not tripled in the coming years, but the postgrads intake is to be tripled... how will be the resources be distributed. Just do your maths.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Tony and Kian Ming

doink said...

Yeah, i read some of those post removed earlier, kinda extreme...good job Tony and Kianming

Anonymous said...

Anyway, back to the topic. I guess we can all agree that inflating the statistics to meet government objectives is not going to help, in fact, it is just going to make it worse.

However, I think one of the main points regular visitors fail to realise is that we are still a young and developing country. We have ambitions, we have goals. Developed nations take many generations to improve themselves, except for maybe Singapore. Even Taiwan have their own problems with their education systems whereby the standards have dropped to inflate PhD numbers.

Anonymous said...

To "A concerned graduate student",

May I ask which uni are you in? Just curious.

Anonymous said...

Dont say Malaysia, even in USA, freedom of speech to incite racial issue is not allowed. You want to be some members of the KKK or something? Grow up people and think.

Anonymous said...

I am currently pursuing my PhD at one of the local universities. I am also a working mother who feel marginalized by the current system. I tried very hard to get sponsorship for my PhD locally but to no avail. I feel that many lecturers at public universities keep giving lame excuses for not pursuing their PhD, locally or overseas..they got everything financed for heaven sake!...my friends who are in the same program take things for granted and end up failed the first assessment! They just not serious about it. We cannot change people..they have to change themselves..Well, I am a frustrated student..:)...

Anonymous said...

Undertaking a PhD is no easy feat. If wannabe academics are in it for the money and/or prestige, I'm afraid you're sorely wrong. Don't waste your time and money. You must love what you do in academia or else you're going to find the 3-4 yrs of PhD work long and tedious. There are many other ways of making money.

Anonymous said...

Nowadays, obtaining PhD is easy! You got the money, you can "buy' your PhD

Gone are the days when getting PhD means,:
1 You got to work long hours into the night and almost everynight
2 You got to defend yrself at the Viva against the External Examiner who is the real experts in the field
3You got to produce results which merit publications into peer reviewed international journals
4 You got to do the work on your own with little or no supervision

Nowadays, the PhD produced are no longer following the above benchmark...

1 Very little lab work
2 More plagiarism
3 Lots of stupid data collation and questionaires
4 You can even be an expert in your tiny 'niche' of knowledge
etc etc

Anonymous said...

Nowadays, obtaining PhD is easy! You got the money, you can "buy' your PhD

Gone are the days when getting PhD means,:
1 You got to work long hours into the night and almost everynight
2 You got to defend yrself at the Viva against the External Examiner who is the real experts in the field
3You got to produce results which merit publications into peer reviewed international journals
4 You got to do the work on your own with little or no supervision

Nowadays, the PhD produced are no longer following the above benchmark...

1 Very little lab work
2 More plagiarism
3 Lots of stupid data collation and questionaires
4 You cant even be an expert in your tiny 'niche' of knowledge
etc etc

Anonymous said...

to anon with double post above,

though i do agree with you that the standard of getting a PhD has dropped over the decades, it is not as simple as how you make it out to be. the long time and paperwork is alone enough to desuade wannabe doctorates from pursuing these higher degrees.

respectable unis overseas have strict standards to adhere to. plagiarism is not as rife as how u make out to be. external examiners are always involved during oral defense. and in some good universities, the floor is open for the public.

regarding your point on very little lab work. i think perhaps you yourself do not really understand the nature of PhD work. for a start, not all the arts and sciences require lab work. even for those that do, u have failed to realize that most of research work is to do .. RESEARCH. that is, lot's of litterature review and read-up that will take up the bulk of ones time.

publications are an important part of research. usually, a PhD candidate should at least have published 2 papers worthy of international peer-review journals/publications throughout their candidacy. conference proceedings and presentations of the progress of their work can be substituted instead.

to counter your 3rd point "Lots of stupid data collation and questionaires". this depends on the area the person is researching on. primary research usually requires first-hand approach in obtaining valuable data. this includes interviews, surveys, questionnaires, etc. these data that is mainly used for quantitative research, which is then later analysed during the middle stages of research work.

as for your 4th point "You cant even be an expert in your tiny 'niche' of knowledge." i'm not sure how u define as being an expert in the first place. do enlighten me.

in summary, while the standards of academic research has fallen globally over the past decades, the rigours of obtaining a PhD is still not as easy as most people think. it used to be that only the gifted can take seat in academia, but these days it is more on hardwork and the ability to perform independent work sustained over a lengthy period of time that matters.

shag said...

Agree with you 100% KM.

In truth, it isn't all that difficult to get into postgrad courses in Local Universities.

All you need to do is .
1. apply (easier said then done since most local Uni's don't practice roling admissions. if you miss the NST/Utusan advert, you'll ahve to wait till next year)
2. satisfy the admission criteria with basically is the posession of a good first degree (i.e. 2nd class upper or better).
3. be willing to take it up on a near full time basis (i.e. classes at least on one weekday)
4. don't choose an MBA. Those are expensive & in demand. Then again, its arguable if an MBA is postgrad education or management training on steriods.

& thats it really. The fees are not expensive (2,000+ per year about 5 years ago) & there is no apparent ethnic quotas.

The Minister's plan to double/triple postgrad enrollment assumes there is a latent unmet demand for it, something I would disagree with.

kampongbouy said...

It is too terrible to conceive.

All the main recommendations did not address many of the issues I feel important. E.g.

1. The standard of "excellence"
-what is excellence
-how we evaluate it

2. The overall environment for RND
-libraries
-supporting industry

3. creating and maintaining knowledge

and many others. In general, it felt as if they are plainly thinking about this as if HE is a factory. Just put in more raw material and you will have more output.

If this goes through, we have to brace ourselves against moronic phd holders...........