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.