Research scholar Ahmad Nawaz Khan* totally blames his supervisor for delay in completion and submission of his thesis and timely award of an MPhil degree to him. He is a teacher at a private school and enrolled as an MPhil scholar at the Faculty of Science, University of the Punjab, Lahore. His session was supposed to end in 2017, but he’s still in the process of data analysis and writing of his dissertation.
“My supervisor never encouraged me complete my lab work. He always found faults with my laboratory test findings,” complains Mr. Khan, who does not want his and his supervisor’s original names disclosed in the write-up. He pretends to be so afraid of his supervisor that he wants only his faculty name shared and the department name kept secret.
“Whenever I needed his help in the laboratory, my supervisor was never available. However, his favourite students, especially female research scholars, always received his attention and they completed their research work on time,” Mr. Khan levels serious allegations against his supervisor.
Ahmad Nawaz Khan’s story is not rare. You ask any research scholar, who is behind schedule, you will come to know about lots of such stories. And if the problem and its real causes are discussed with senior faculty members, who act as supervisors, the blame will be shifted to the scholars, altogether.
However, discussions with scholars and professors make at least one thing crystal clear that the research system in our higher educational institutions has some serious problems, and both researchers and supervisors must be held responsible for it. The latest Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) report on the Punjab University’s MPhil and PhD programmes aptly proved the fact, besides highlighting various other shortcomings.
According to an English-language daily, the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HECP), in a massive crackdown last month, either halted or stopped further intake of students at 27 PhD degree and 33 MPhil/MS equivalent programmes at the biggest public sector university of the province – the University of the Punjab (PU).
Shafiullah Khan, director, Quality Assurance Agency of the HECP, says the decision was taken in the light of a report, presented by a QAA team, after visiting and checking different programmes at PU. A six-member committee of the HEC Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), led by Dr Adnan Sarwar Khan of the National University of Modern Languages, Islamabad, visited PU in January 2019 to review its programmes. The HEC took the decision in the light of the recommendations of the team. The HEC also published a review report of the university’s PhD and MPhil/MS programmes, the QAA director told Cutting Edge by telephone.
According to the QAA report, says Shafiullah Khan, 2,090 students are studying under 55 PhD programmes in different disciplines at Punjab University, while the number of PhD-qualified faculty available at the university is 488. Also, there are 5,598 students registered in 69 MPhil/MS programmes against 249 of MPhil/MS.
The director says that under the HEC rules, a total of 27 PhD degrees and 33 MPhil/MS equivalent programmes have to be halted or barred from further enrolment of students. Out of these, six PhD and seven MPhil/MS programmes are to be immediately halted, while the rest of the 21 PhD and 26 MPhil/MS programmes are to stop further intake immediately. The report differentiates between the two categories and provides the following definitions for both categories:-
Halted: “The University should halt all the activities of the programme, including conduction of classes, examination, thesis defence, award of degrees etc. until the HEC permits.”
Further intake stopped: “The University should not admit any scholar to the programme until the HEC permits. The programme for enrolled students would run provided that other identified deficiencies are rectified.”
The QAA report sought immediate closure of the PhD degree programmes in the College of Art and Design, Gender Studies, the Centre for High Energy Physics, Home Economics, and Philosophy and Polymer Technology. The committee directed officials to stop admission to Applied Hydrology, Applied Psychology, Arabic, Economics, Education, Entomology, Food Sciences and Technology, Geometrics, Horticulture, International Relations, Islamic Studies (Shaikh Zayed Islamic Studies), Pakistan Studies, Persian, Plant Pathology, Political Science, Public Health, Social Work, Sociology, Statistics, Urdu and Zoology.
The MPhil/MS equivalent programmes had been halted in the Art and Design, the Centre for High Energy Physics, Gender Studies, Geographic Information System and Remote Sensing, Home Economics and Polymer Technology. The committee directed the authorities concerned to immediately stop MPhil/MS admission to Applied Hydrology, Chemistry, Education, Policy Development, Entomology, Environmental Sciences, Food Sciences and Technology, Geometrics, Health and Administration, History, Horticulture, Human Resource Management, International Relations, Molecular Biology, Pakistan Studies, Plant Pathology, Political Science, Public Administration, Public Health, Social Work, Sociology, Speech Language Pathology, Statistics and Total Quality Management.
Shafiullah Khan says that under the HEC rules, there is a requirement of appointing three full-time relevant PhD faculty members for launching a PhD programme, and for the MPhil/MS or equivalent programmes, two full-time PhD holders with relevant degrees are required. “Till satisfying the minimum criteria of launching the MPhil/MS and PhD programmes, all such programmes should be halted with immediate effect,” he says while quoting from the report.
The QAA report alleged that the required documentation was poorly managed and data was not provided by different departments to the HEC officials even after repeated calls. The report said that the students were being supervised by supervisors from other departments, having different specialisations. It said that courses, that were being taught at MPhil-level programmes, were not consistent and not per the approved codes of the Academic Council.
The committee members also found that the student-teacher ratio in many programmes was not followed as per the limit prescribed by the HEC, there was a large number of enrolment in many programmes where enough PhD faculty was not available. For example, Dr Farah Malik is supervising eight students of PhD Applied Psychology.
The report said that the minimum and maximum duration of graduate-level programmes, as per HEC guidelines, was not being followed. Whereas, during interactions with students, the committee found that they had to wait for a long time for allocation of supervisors after completing their coursework. Moreover, it was found that the students had to wait for their dissertation defence after submission of their theses. The committee also found that at PU, after completion of coursework, the rule of PhD students appearing in a comprehensive examination within a month was not being followed in most of the cases.
The report quoted various examples to emphasise its findings. It said, “there is only one PhD teacher employed in the programmes of MPhil/PhD Gender Studies and a number of MPhil/PhD students are under the supervision of the faculty of other departments.” Also, the students of the MBIT are being supervised by the officials of other universities. There are a number of enrolments in the programmes such as Sociology, Education, Chemistry, Islamic Studies and Social Work that have dearth of PhD faculty.
The revision in curricula of various programmes, says the report, has not been regularly undertaken as is the case of MPhil Botany. Furthermore, NOCs have not been obtained from the QAD-HEC for the programmes launched after Nov 7, 2013 such as PhD Polymer Technology, and MS GIS/RS. Surprisingly, the MS GIS/RS programme was launched in the absence of PhD faculty.
On the other hand, the PU deans and chairmen of teaching departments also have a lot to say in their defence. While talking to Cutting Edge, they expressed their serious objections and concerns about the HEC action, banning the PhD and MPhil/MS programmes in different departments of the university. A Punjab University dean, seeking anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said that in the past, a PhD student was to complete their PhD in four-and-a-half years. However, the HEC increased the time limit to eight years, which increased the burden on the departments. Another dean told Cutting Edge that the HEC team worked in haste as they met representatives of 80 departments in just two days and did not reconcile the anomalies at the time of data collection. He said that the problem had raised questions over the capacity of the HEC team as well. Khurram Shahzad, the PU public relations officer, told Cutting Edge that Vice Chancellor Prof Niaz Ahmad had constituted a committee comprising all deans. It has held some meetings so far to discuss the anomalies in the QAA report. Another meeting, he added, is expected soon which will prepare its recommendations and replies to the points of contentions, to be presented to the HECP. He said the PU vice chancellor was hopeful the issue would be resolved and there would be no hindrance to continuation of MPhil/MS and PhD programmes at the biggest university of the province.