Sunday, March 22, 2009

Not Enough PhD Applicants

A couple of weeks back, I blogged about how the mini-budget / stimulus package provides for an additional 10,000 places for Masters level courses and 500 places for aspiring PhD candidates in public universities as well as at Uniten, Multimedia University and UTP.

A week after this announcement, on March 17th, Bernama reported that only 16 people had applied for places in the PhD programs. On March 22nd, the Deputy Minister for Higher Education announced that less than 100 applications had been received.

In a typical university in the US, the ratio of applications to places is about 30 to 1 for most programs. This means that if there are 10 spots open, there should be 300 applications for this program. Some PhD programs like Economics will have more. Some, like Romance Studies, will have fewer.

With so few applicants, our public universities should be worried if they can actually find good enough candidates to fill these places. If they can't, typically what will happen is that these spots will go to overseas candidates. This is not necessarily a bad thing but one needs to find out and understand why there are so few local candidates in the first place. Especially since the number of people who want to do PhDs in a developing country like Malaysia should be increasing.


Anonymous said...

1.local graduates do not see post graduate degree would help in their "career" development, what they want is just earn more money, not degree

2.qualified graduates who intend to do post graduates studies will find opportunities in foreign countries more attractive as M'sia Uni are seen less credible

local graduate-to-be

Anonymous said...

Pls link the article…


kah kah kah... MI NO SPIK INGLIS... MI NO PIL POM... kah kah kah...

March 22, 2009 2:25 PM

Anonymous said...

Applying on a PhD program needs good supervision which is sadly lacking in Malaysia. Secondly, if you get irresponsible supervisors like the example of CSU Waga Waga you're goin to drown.

Shawn Tan said...

I do not wish to comment on the quality of supervision as I know that there are both good and bad apples everywhere. So, that point is moot.

However, the issue of renumeration is a fairly obvious one. I was actually told this by a staff member at a local university when I was considering a PhD.

Having a PhD in Malaysia makes one less employable. Even say, for management consultancies, BCG and McK pay more for a PhD but the rest start everyone at an entry level job. Ditto with most other MNCs. Most local employers will just tell you that you are over qualified and bin your CV. They also value real-world experience more than theoretical study.

So, there are less tangible gains for a PhD and the people who do a PhD are usually the people who have their own reasons to do so. This may or may not be a bad thing depending on their reasons. If they're doing it out of passion for a subject, it is probably a good thing. If they're doing it because they do not have any other thing to do, that's probably a bad thing.

Therefore, the career path for a person with a PhD is limited. They can choose to enter research (and take a pay cut) or academia (with its fair share of politics). Other career paths are less well tread.

Anonymous said...

Dont believe everything what UNMO tries to say. Last time they told us we have demand for thousands of bio technologists. Then find out the very few bio technologists we produce can only find jobs as salesmen.
This crap about not enough people wanting to do PhD is another David Copperfield magic show. As it is the very few numbers of our PhDs cant even get jobs...hehe

Lincoln says there are gullibles borne every minute...

Anonymous said...

Malaysian PhD = Phile of Dung.
When you have low quality professors (some with no PhDs themselves) from a low quality uni, you get a lousy PhD degree program fit for nothing. Do not kid yourselves, if I wanted to do a PhD I would go to Singapore or Australia or US. Not the local mamak university.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous1 was somewhat right. I never did applied for ph.d in malaysia, (Scared the quota system would impede my application). Instead, i was offered a scholarship by aus gov with allowance around 20k per year (not much but better than msia, (excluding project grant, travel allowance, etc etc. I just complete my engineering degree and without master, this is probably the best deal an international student can get)).

In fact, i met some msia gov sponsored UTM lecturers doing their ph.d here. Now, why would i study in malaysia when they send their supposingly best and brightest staffs overseas?

Shawn, the trick about Ph.d and job is that you use ur bachelor degree to look for job (not your phd). After few years and if you are indispensable, reveal your Ph.d and get a massive promotion. It works for my friends.

Japheth Lim Gene-Harn said...

why would a malaysian go for a local phd while overseas have so much more better chances and sponsors/schoalrships are so many for phd levels outside there?

Like what an0nx said, the idea of getting a phd is good enough, probably people thought of it during their 25-27 age, but people would choose to go overseas!

The matters come to the question, how much does a local phd earn companies respect here, so many private companies upper hand big boss are from overseas phd, how are you even going to brace the face of shame to say you are from local, that is for now. Even in the private education field, i haven't seen any professors from local uni phd programme.

I think the government would rather spend on encouraging mini home business, or from home online business things? or small business projects, like the planting jasmine flowers, initiatted by first lady jeannie abdullah. The whole sum of money spilled into the phd program could help thousands with their mini business!

Andrew said...

I agree that most people perceive that the local PhD is of lower quality. That's why full time enrollment is low, since it's not too difficult to get into a PhD program overseas with some grants/assistantships.

Local universities need to focus on 2 things:
1. Improve their quality so that full-timers will stay.
2. Continue to work with part-timers to churn out good research to support (1).

Part-timers are a good opportunity; there are about 60-80 people in my department (engineering MNC) who are working on a PhD part-time; 20 of them signing on this year alone.

For pay, I can safely say that for engineering, the PhD is valued and you will receive higher pay if you join with a PhD. I think the starting pay right now is about RM6-7k. Of course, the number of jobs available decreases as well.

Anonymous said...

Let us to be fair in the discussion of local PhD vs oversea PhD degree.

Justification of a PhD candidate quality should not be measured just with which university he/she graduated. It has to look at their publications as well. What about if a local PhD student has published the same amount and the same quality (eg IEEE or IET journals) of journal papers like an oversea PhD student. Do you agree that they are having the same quality of PhD degree?

No doubt, I believe too, our university academic standard are getting low but should we agree that there are minorities, they produced high quality works like those graduated from oversea.

Just my 5 sen :)

Anonymous said...

I agree with the Anon above, the quality of a PhD should be judged by the amount/quality of work done. That doesn't diminish the disadvantage that a local PhD student has going for him/her. For starters, the number of publications for some universities are abysmal. (See previous entry on UiTM, 68 pub/year for the whole school!!!!!!11!!) It really doesn't bode well for a PhD candidate in such an institute.

Secondly, while it is possible in theory for a PhD student to work himself/herself to success, the presence of an at least competent faculty advisor is almost always a prerequisite. Can we say the same for most of our home-bred instructors?

Because of this factors, while it is possible for a local PhD student to do great work that whatever work is drowned in a sea of incompetence - and employers are very often too busy to notice the exceptions. Kind of sad when such gems get binned with the rest - so by all means, go overseas, dammit.

Anonymous said...

As Anon aboce Coltz (herein after refer as AAC) said, there are minorities who produce outstanding publications in local U. The key word here is minorities, period.

Talking about journal, AAC mentioned student publications in IEEE. A friendly advice to all PhD candidates is that not all IEEE journals had high impact factors. (Search wiki for Impact factor (ISI IF) for guys who dun understand. lazy to explain, and I know I had taken AAC words out of context.); and this lead us to Malaysian journal. Just google "Malaysian journal of" and see how many comes out. And how many of these journals are accredited by ISI. Who funded those journals? If we omit publication in these journals, does UiTM still have 68pub/yr?

Hopefully someone can shed some light about Malaysian journals. It’s pathetic at best. (eg: Google IJMechE (ISI IF n/A) , you get “ Results 1 - 6 of about 4 for IJMECHE.”, google catalysis today (ISI IF 2.7xx) , you get :” Results 1 - 10 of about 371,000 for Catalysis Today.”)

Anyway, I am not trying to undermine local PhD Graduate. Years of working in underfunded lab and yet produced a good publication is not easy. However, read what coltz had said in his final paragraph.

Anonymous said...

Yet, you get more than 10 PhD students sponsored by govt in a particular department at the University of Nottingham, UK. Mind you, in only 1 dept, no joke, go and check. They should have been kept in Malaysia in view of the current economic crisis but no, the govt decided to spend billions sending them overseas. Oh yea, they are of a particular race also.

Anonymous said...

Why unis send their lecturers overseas for PhD? Most probably to reduce inbreeding where at all times new idea can be introduced into the faculty.

Local unis have low number publication due to the low enrollment.. It is a chicken and egg situation am I right?

In UiTm where lect. are supposed to teach long hours (high number of undergrads) then one will not expect lect. have the time to do quality research/publication am I right? So pick another uni to bash.

I have visited a number of engineering labs in M'sia and overseas. to say that our lab is underfunded might be too far fetched as the equipment available is on par, but mostly under utilize due to lack of researchers (chicken and egg again?).

Anonymous said...

UiTM is really just anecdotal to the publication drought; check the numbers of UM publications vs. NUS. Oh, and a university mainly made up of "lecturers"... why are they recruiting PhD students in the first place?!

Also, "low enrollment" does not form a cycle with the low number of publications. It is, though, a result of a lack of quality instructors, which in turn is the result of governmental favoritism, a refusal to invest in meaningful human resources and gross amounts of bureaucratic incompetence. Hmm, let's also check how many emigrated professionals we managed to retain after the latest round of recruitment.

Malaysia, contrary to popular belief, was never short on gadgets. Here in Berkeley, some long-established labs are in fact using stuff well back from the 90s and beyond, and we don't give a fret about it, still producing great research. "Underfunding" refers to other things, such as providing competitive incentives (not just salaries, but an encouraging academic environment) to highly-regarded scholars from all over the world, which might actually be less expensive than the gadgets - yet infinitely more valuable.

Anonymous said...

Poor... poor... I think it is because PHD = Permanent Head Disability? Nope, joking only.
Agree with Shawn, it is less marketable compare to foreign PHD.

Anonymous said...

When Najib becomes PM, he will send more and more PhD-sponsored students to University of Nottingham.

The usual tactics...Money for buying paper education qualification.

Najib is an alumni of University of Nottingham,in case you all are unaware.

In return , these sponsored Malay students must pledge absolute loyalty to him and become his henchmen or cronies or die-hard supporters, etc..within UMNO.

A classic old gambit where a cunning politician conniving and conspiring with the Brits overseas to deceive and trick the Malaysian populace.

Anonymous said...

-1. I shall not comment on the grammatical mistake in the title of the Bernama article; I suppose one way to use 'newspapers in education' is to set pupils to find the mistakes in the daily paper. This should not be a very difficult exercise considering how frequently they occur.

0. In physics, acceptance rates at top schools in 2000 were around 15-20%. has more up-to-date details.

1. I wonder which fields these students are in and how the system will 'absorb' them without proportional funding for staff positions and infrastructure/equipment. I don't have the impression that we have an oversupply of these.

2. Where are these 'extra' PhDs going to go when they graduate? A PhD is a professional degree which trains one to conduct research independently; one is prepared quite specifically for a job in research and supposedly teaching. Just speaking for the sciences, it seems that the market is already more than saturated with PhDs, with the result that most science PhDs do not end up with university or research positions for which they were trained. In developed countries, most are able to adapt and switch to industry. What are we going to do with our PhDs? Is the goal here to 'fill up' our uni posts with people with the 'correct' certs...which have been granted by the same unis?

3. In response to several of the comments, no matter how smart you are, I think it's very, very difficult to do good work without the right 'environment' and in particular a critical mass of good colleagues. I would even go so far as to say it is well-nigh impossible.

4. Shawn, a PhD makes one less emplyable in many places, not only Malaysia.

5. How is this going to help the economy?

Anonymous said...

The total operating budget for UM is about 10% of NUS research budget. Budget for other unis?

Bureaucracy etc. exist due to the limited funding/resources that one has.As also the fear/backstabbing of of office politics that comes with it.

Anonymous said...

To the anon above, NUS research budget is mainly sponsored from the industries. UM? whether it's operating or research funding, still need and dependent from the government. You can't compare the operating budget with the research budget, just like you compared apple with orange, right?

They spend less and do more. Why? simple reason, funding is from industry, and no monkey business if you're messing with the industry people. REAL results required, or no more future funding.

UM? just go to their website and see what kind of monkey research they're doing. enough said.

Anonymous said...

Thats where M'sian industries and S'pore industries differ.
M'sian industry tend to invest in products thats near the near the end of its lifecycle thus not worthwhile to do research but depends on cheap labor.

Budget wise:

Chua S said...

By the way , I am a local grad.

Please don't say that Malaysian Professor are of low quality.. they are not. Whatever their race, is not important.. our professors are great.
My supervisor a very learned Malay man, well known in his field, globally.

He went all the way ro support me and my classmates to ensure that our learning and teaching is of quality. He open many channels of opportunities for me, and I was able to do research abroad.

When I was in US, I did not have that opportunity.

So please with due respect, if you have not been into our local universities, please don't humiliate and ridicule our locals.

You can just live in whatever country you like and never come back. Your Choice..

Juwara said...

Who wants to do PhD lah so tiring...

A fulltime job and a PhD part time.. ugghhh

Coltz said...

Chua: I would admit that there are exceptions, there always are. If good people don't exist at all in a university it will just crumble into oblivion. But there are several problems with your statements:

"Whatever their race is not important" - The people upstairs seem to think otherwise. Check faculty profile and do a count, and tell me with a straight face that is not racial bias.

"When I was in US, I did not have that opportunity" - I wonder where did you go in the US, whom did you follow as a supervisor, and how active you were. A common misconception about US education that many back home held, is that you go to a great institution, they're gonna spoon-feed you and whip your way to excellence. They're not! You sink or float according to your own initiatives, and the institution gives you the doors which you will have to open yourself. Good thing your advisor's out there to push you and lead you through the doors, but thing don't usually work that way here.

And I don't see how being analytical and rational in debating the local higher-education problem, which does exist whether your like it or not, is "humiliating and ridiculing". That's actually part of a bigger problem in Malaysia, people can't have sensible debates without calling foul and yelling "you're touching on sensitive issues, you're humiliating me" - be it racial, social or even economical problems.

By the way, bitter remarks like your last line - sigh, should I even comment on that? You know WHY a lot of us don't want to come back, right? Money accounts for half of them, and the other half is due to the bigotry held by the establishment. See a connection between that and your remark?

Anonymous said...

no need to be defensive, good people exist in many parts of the world, and as also the bad/not-so-good/rotten to the core.

Want-2-buy-PhD? said...

As in all countries and systems, there are some good researchers in our local universities.

Why are there not enough PhD candidates applying to do their PhD degrees in our public universities?

Many reasons. Generally the better graduates prefer to apply for scholarships to do their PhD overseas. Lots of Bumi graduates are sent annually under the SLAB scheme to do their PhD overseas.

Furthermore, there are many people who like to have Dr as a decoration before their names (just like Dato', etc.) and know that they can get a PhD degree the easy way, without slogging in our public universities.

They get Honorary Doctorate and call themselves Dr. Najib's mother just got her Honorary Doctorate. Very soon, our public universities will be competing to rain Honorary Doctorate degrees on Badawi and Najib. The VC of USM is also Dr, though Honorary. So are many CEOs and Presidents of local private universities or university-colleges.

There are others who simply pay for their PhD, based on their work experience. These are business people, civil servants, educationists, politicians, con artists, etc.

So, why sign up as PhD candidates and do it the difficult way?

dingo said...

I applied to a local premiere university (ranked above 200 by THES) to do a PhD but was rejected based on some flimsy excuse.

I am now happily enrolled in a a UK university branch campus (ranked in the top 100 by THES) and halfway through to earning my PhD.

So, if my current university thinks i'm good enough to join them, I could not comprehend the grounds of my rejection by this local university.

Yet they complain of a lack of applicants.

Observer said...

There is a mistaken belief that the number of Phd's in any given situation, whether that be at a university or in public service is a measure of intellectual advancement, progress or quality.

A Phd can be awarded on the basis of advancing or further researching a seminal piece of work authoried by someone else. At that level and not all the time, it is the advancement or extrapolation of someone elses work. Nothing brilliant.

Evidence in the market supports the theory that there are too many Phd's floating around, being 'sausaged out' by major universities in the US, Europe and Australia in a policy blunder of lowering entry standards and filling seats in place of excellence and achievement.

Malaysia firstly needs to ensure that its students are competent in basics.

Theresa Kok and her grammar, Citizen Nades and his grammar and the failure of the public at large to notice this in these two very public figures is example of what two supposedly accomplished (academically)individuals with an academic orientation (being a degree and in Theresa's case a masters)are capable of.

It is demonstration of the value and quality (or lack )of their education. God forbid if at this rate Malaysian universities are encouraged to increase or encourage the number of Phd's because there is a perceived need for it.

Prestige alone is insufficient a reason for a Phd. Utility may be a better reason.

The product of Malaysian universities today is shameful. Much of the reason I suspect like in the west where university standards have fallen dramatically is pursuit of the public purse in funding and an unquencehable drive for market share.

Australian universities mushroomed in the eighties when every other polytech and TAFE decided to become University to benefit from the lagre amounts of public funding in an ambitious drive to educate the population and create an 'intelligent society'there. The results speak for themselves. The vast majority of Australians remain generally ignorant at the most basic general knowledge lvel like the US counterparts. ("Mr. Bush who is the president of Pakistan? "The General. I know cause he is a good guy")

Until people can distinguish between a quality education and an expensive one the object of education will be lost.

If examples of the quality of an education are anything to go by then bear this in mind. Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, Stanford, Brown and Wharton still dominate the panel of financial engineers of the greatest financial collapse of all time. Yet no one is game to call that number.

It is quality and not quantity or prestige that one needs to look for. Utility is equally important. Not the ring on ones exposed belly button, a feigned queer personality, cliched MTV phrases or regurgitation of populist myths.

None of these are manifestations of a good education. They are evidence instead of the apeing of a foreign culture of the void.