In this article, Professor Ramamurthy Natarajan endorses Professor Phanish Puranam’s views on the state of doctoral education in India and supports the need to develop a new model that is suited to India’s requirements.
In general, PhD programmes, whether in Management or Engineering or other disciplines under the pur view of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), have been few and far between in India. It is only with the AICTE stipulation that faculty must have doctoral degrees for recruitment as well as for “job keeping,” that the demand for PhD qualifications has emerged. Comparisons with other countries, especially China, have been another contributing factor.
Professor Phanish Puranam’s fear of dilution of quality is very real. While a massive expansion of undergraduate capacity has taken place recently without meeting the pre-requisites for imparting quality education, it is a far more serious matter when it comes to the expansion of PhD capacity. We have to deal with a severe lack of prepared and motivated research scholars, competent super visors or guides, worthwhile problems to solve, research infrastructure and research culture in the institutions, to name a few. We cannot “mass produce” PhDs as we can undergraduates. A PhD degree requires substantial and focussed effort and a single-minded commitment to discover or invent something new.
Professor Puranam has provided a very insightful taxonomy of different segments for doctoral education. Management research has quantitative as well as qualitative dimensions, demanding different types of preparation, background and competencies.
He introduces two propositions in the introduction to his article. He examines the purpose and future of doctoral programmes in management in India and he establishes the substantial demand for, and the acute scarcity of, resources for offering doctoral education in management in India. This demands an optimal and effective investment of the available resources, which involves matching the different reasons that scholars
The crucial issue is acceptability by academics and practitioners, not only domestically, but also internationally. India cannot design the new system unilaterally.
pursue doctoral education with the capabilities of the academic institutions. We also need innovative means of deliver y of doctoral education. He makes the important point that “all PhD aspirants don’t want the same thing” − several different market segments for doctoral education exist.
Unlike in the US, in India we have a situation of decreasing quality as we move from undergraduate to postgraduate to doctoral education, at both entr y and exit. Professor Puranam believes in the intrinsic value of good quality research, whether or not “practically useful ideas” emerge from management research internationally. It is pertinent to note that doctoral
education varies among different countries. Typically, European degrees attach greater importance to the thesis, i.e., depth of investigation, while US degrees require both depth and breadth. This obviously determines the characteristics of the PhD holders.
He makes the perceptive suggestion that what India should do today is to redesign the requirements of the doctoral degree, taking into consideration the characteristics and competencies of the end product, defined by its utility in the different market segments, without diluting the quality requirements. Naturally, there will be questions of substantial equivalence of the different types, for which standards have to be established, presumably by bodies involving academics and practitioners. While doctoral education should ideally produce excellence in research,
education and practice, we should settle for undisputed excellence in at least one of the tracks. This is the strategy Professor Puranam offers for doctoral education in India.
His analysis of the problem we are currently facing may be summarised as follows: There is a huge unmet demand of PhDs in management education in India and these are sought by different market segments. There is an acute scarcity of the needed resources for creating and sustaining doctoral education in management in India, thus calling for their optimal and effective deployment. The current strategy for producing PhDs in management in India seeks to train them in only one track, that is, research, which is abysmally deficient in quality. The strategy he is suggesting is to define the requirements and standards for the five different tracks he has identified, which combine the depth and breadth dimensions of doctoral education with less rigorous demands on research, which has been our traditional weakness. The crucial issue is acceptability by academics and practitioners not only domestically, but also internationally. India cannot design the new system unilaterally.
Professor Puranam has challenged the existing models and practices and proposes a viable strategy for tackling the current and emerging challenges of doctoral education. What is needed is a mindset to accept and implement change, which requires both administrative and academic commitment.
He also recommends the leveraging of several open-source online courses to substitute for or supplement doctoral education in India. He calls for the “design of a basic doctoral curriculum, based on online resources” by apex bodies such as the All India Management Association (AIMA). He cites the example of INSEAD offering doctoral courses across its two campuses in France and Singapore using video conferencing to recommend technology-enabled (virtual) international collaboration. Inasmuch as considerable learning occurs through student peer- to-peer interactions and the spread of the social media revolution, he considers students to be a very important resource in doctoral education.
In summar y, he proposes that the current traditional model of doctoral education, which fulfils the demand of just one market segment, is incapable of being scaled up to meet either the enhanced capacity or diversity of the market demand. We need innovative strategies, which involve: a) the leveraging of technology for the delivery of doctoral education, international collaborations, tech-savvy XXIC (21st century) learners and the widespread use of social media, and b) the tailoring of content to address the needs of different market segments.
Professor Puranam has challenged the existing models and practices and proposes a viable strategy for tackling the current and emerging challenges of doctoral education. What is needed is a mindset to accept and implement change, which requires both administrative and academic commitment. The Januar y 2013 issue of “Prism,” the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) publication, reports that in response to “a weak academic job market and a growing recognition that a knowledge economy depends on research-based innovations” and student entrepreneurship, engineering schools are reengineering their doctoral programmes for the business world. Being an engineer myself, I believe that the rationale employed by Professor Puranam for doctoral education in management and business education applies equally well to engineering education, and that we should design different strategies and programmes for the diversity of market needs.