Oct-Dec 2012

A Blueprint for Success: My Perspective

A Blueprint for Success: My Perspective

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.

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