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Past Issue • Oct-Dec 2012

An Alternative Direction for Doctoral Education

In his commentary on Professor Phanish Puranam’s article “PhD Training in Management in India: Is there a Doctor in the House,” Professor N Ravichandran questions the need to develop variants of PhD programmes and proposes a different approach.

In his  article,  “PhD Training  in Management  in India:  Is there  a Doctor  in the House?” Professor Phanish Puranam presents an interesting perspective on the possible evolution  of doctoral  education in management in the Indian context. Professor Puranam  projects  a huge demand  for PhDs based on the AICTE norms (whether the norms would be strictly adhered to or other wise is a matter of discussion)   and  identifies   a  supply  constraint. His obser vations  and  suggestions are based on the assumption that PhD education is an educational product in the context of a  related demand-supply setting. The university system and nationally important institutions in India have historically been the sources of PhDs. The  article  also identifies  variants of the PhD programme and proposes that ever y institution need not offer ever y variant of the programme. It also points out the inefficiency of an institution  spending its  limited  resources (primarily  faculty)  on  all  the variants of the PhD programme (this is ver y similar to the optimal  selection of a portfolio   of activities with  limited  resources). The article clearly argues for innovations in doctoral education in terms of design, content and delivery. The Reality of PhD Education in India Evidently, a PhD is the highest educational qualification an individual  can aspire to. Should it be  viewed  as an educational product  similar  to a  short duration executive course on a specific topic  or does it merit deeper contemplation? We do not subscribe to the view  that  a PhD programme is an educational  product. Ver y  often,  it represents  not only  an individual’s academic  and  intellectual   accomplishment,  but is also  a  process  certification   to conduct  scientific/ management enquiries  (on a  professional/ rational basis) on phenomena which are of practical relevance. Often,  candidates enrol in PhD programmes for the sake of an occupation,  and occasionally, for the joy of acquiring an additional qualification and/ or engaging in an enriching experience. If we accept the reasoning that management science is: (a) an applied discipline  and (b) a derivative of several fundamental  scientific  and social science disciplines, research in management would  have real constraints and natural boundaries in execution. There are broadly two directions in which doctoral education in management is likely  to evolve. If peer - reviewed publication  is of critical  importance and the  focus  is  on  abstraction  and  technical  rigour, the  agenda, content  and  focus  of research would invariably move towards a fundamental basic discipline related to management.  The  research contribution would move towards expanding marginally (rarely substantially)  the  knowledge  base of the discipline and a potential  application.  On the contrar y, if we extend the obser vation that practice precedes theor y in management discipline,  the  research focus  and content  would  predominantly  be based on empirical evidence (including case-based research in its extended form),  and the relevance of the research would  be of the UK model. The (newer) standalone institutes of excellence and  nationally  important  institutions have  tried to emulate the  US  model  with limited impact.  However,  over a period of time, the doctoral programmes  housed in the  university  system have systematically de-emphasised rigour  in methodology and explored problems which added insignificant incremental  knowledge  to the  existing  knowledge base. The  power  of intuition   was usually absent in doctoral  theses and in training. Institutional  doctoral education was motivated by an aspiration  to solve a real-life  problem.  However

Indian doctoral education has no option but to move towards a practitioner-oriented, context-dependent, problem-solving focus. The artificial barrier (if any) among researcher, educator and sophisticated practitioner will blur in the medium term.

established by the  closeness and importance  of the problem context to the practising community.  The quality  and validity  of the work  would  be a function of the robustness, sophistication and applicability of the research methodology employed. The key questions to be asked in evaluating  a PhD work, and hence the norms of the programme, are: what is the significance of the problem  that is being researched and how well does the solution proposed address the problem  context?  The second objective  of a doctoral  education  is to evaluate how well prepared the candidate is to carr y out research (applied with a practising orientation) independently post-PhD. India  has traditionally  followed  two approaches to  doctoral   education,   specifically:   a)   the   UK model   and  (b) the  US  model.  The  UK model is predominantly intuition-driven  and envisages generating  a hypothesis,  testing  the  hypothesis  with field-level data, validating the hypothesis, verifying it with  available data and abstracting the result (when possible)  as theor y. The US-based model emphasises building  the capacity of the  researcher to conduct research independently  after completing  their PhD. It enhances the candidate’s knowledge base, creates his capability to acquire new knowledge and helps him evolve  as an independent thinker  and scholar. We do not mean that the processes, content  and output  are distinct. It is quite possible and often true that there is some overlap in the output in both the approaches. The university  system in India is broadly a replica in seeking to achieve the required  rigour  (of peer- reviewed professional publications), the problem often got lost in the technical nuances of the research methodology employed. Often, the methodology and technical  details played a more  central  role  in the research than  the  problem  context.  Consequently, innovative solutions were seldom explored and the findings had ver y little  relevance to the situation being investigated. Possible Future Direction Indian   doctoral   education  has no  option but to move towards  a practitioner-oriented, context- dependent, problem-solving focus. The artificial barrier (if any) among researcher, educator and sophisticated practitioner  will blur in the medium term. The doctoral education focus for a practitioner (candidate) would be to inculcate a spirit  of scientific investigation    and   the   focus   for  an educator candidate would be to arm him with methodological skills and adequate rigour. It is well known that good applied research requires  a solid grounding  in research methodology  and fundamentals. Ever y PhD  educator  should  be trained in the  Indian  context  or in a  similar context to acquire the ability to identify a relevant  significant  context  (problem) and develop an approach to solve it with adequate rigour. Every PhD educator should be trained in the Indian context or in a similar context to acquire the ability to identify a relevant significant context (problem) and develop an approach to solve it with adequate rigour. Typically,  we expect a PhD  programme  to have several inter-linked   modular  academic components: a  thorough   and  concise  exposure   to management concepts (equivalent to first-year MBA core courses), wide coverage of the tools and techniques  of research methodology,  training  and exposure to identify real- life problems  and possible solution  approaches and the ability to articulate and write research papers with rigour. In  our  opinion, every   doctoral    education programme  in management  should  have the  prime objective of developing  innovative  and insightful approaches to solving problems from the perspective of  the   practitioner    community.    Depending   on its emphasis on research methodology, doctoral education will move  either  towards  a researcher  or towards a sophisticated practitioner.  In other words, we  envisage a single  doctoral   education   programme with  content described earlier, whose output  would vary among researcher, educator and sophisticated practitioner.  There may be no need to look at three separate product  process associations, variations  and consequent faculty and other resource deployments. Pooling resources, providing  visibility  to the PhD programme and technology-driven innovations would accelerate the growth  of doctoral education in India and contribute  in a significant   way to its quality. It must also be remembered  that with  access to modern tools and technology, the training  of a  doctoral student will tend towards greater customisation, and it may not be possible to find a technology substitute for individual coaching and mentorship by an advisor.


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