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The mad rush for Ph.D.

We come across people who take a Ph.D. like a magician bringing out a parrot from his black hat. Suddenly we find the prefix ‘Dr.’ added to their names. Nothing was known about their working on a thesis, no endless trips to a guide or a university, no reams of printed sheets, and the final spiral-bound tome, but a Ph.D. materialises from nowhere. This happens to be a scam in the sphere of education in our country today. This is scandalous, to say the least. 

There are serious questions about the authenticity or originality of many a thesis that finally earns the author a doctorate. Plagiarism is a widely used method to turn out research papers. Now the universities have software to detect plagiarism, but people still have devious methods to circumvent the software. If they apply the same ingenuity to pursue real research, they could very well earn a degree by sheer merit instead of becoming "copycats". 

In certain cases, the question of plagiarism also doesn’t arise as some of these so-called universities do not even demand a thesis written by the candidates for awarding Ph.D. 

What a travesty of research! 

So the entire spectrum of research qualification is under a cloud. Why does this happen? What can be done about this? Ever since the UGC insisted on a Ph.D. for promotions, there is a mad rush to earn the degree by hook or crook. The dignity and respect associated with a doctorate has gone down the drain. This is really unfortunate. 

Why do people yearn for a Ph.D. degree? This is basically because we give so much importance to titles like Dr., Professor and so on. That’s why there is an obsession for Ph.D. In India, we set great store by titles, and people feel bad if their titles, whether they deserve them or not, are not used while addressing them. We hold titles so close to our heart! 

When one of us was in a U.K. university for a year for a Master’s, our Director of International Students, who was a professor with a doctorate, insisted that we address him by his first name, Jim, and not use the title. He even put a sticker on his door, saying "Jim will fix it", which was the tagline of a popular advertisement at that time. 

Haven’t you seen people showing the prefix Dr. and the suffix Ph.D. in their letterheads, correspondence and so on, though that’s patently absurd? This is the ludicrous extent to which we take our obsession with degrees. 

People try to gain respectability with a doctorate, no matter how they managed it. Such people do not seem to understand that in reality they lower their credibility by using a title undeservedly. 

One earns a genuine Ph.D. degree after three or five years of struggle, rigorous academic research and study. It’s a long and arduous pursuit of knowledge and so the final acquisition of the degree is a proud possession. Nobody will grudge their carrying the title Dr. with their name. They have every right to do it. 

What about the Ph.D.s who suddenly appear out of thin air? The grapevine has it that there are some private universities that give a Ph.D. degree for a certain fee. Even some State universities dispense a doctorate on some consideration or the other, sometimes a donation or a sponsorship, when in fact the conferring of a doctorate must be a clear recognition of outstanding merit in a chosen field or record of service. These norms are long forgotten. 

The supermarket of Ph.D.s operates in some foreign countries too. All that you need is an agent and some money, and a trip abroad for a photo-op. Thus one is armed with evidence of having received a doctorate from a self-styled university. What’s this if not a scandal? 

A.P.J. Abdul Kalam never earned an academic doctorate through research, but had as many as 40 conferred doctorates. Universities were vying with each other to confer doctorates, including a few from abroad, on him. But Abdul Kalam never flaunted his degrees. He didn’t even have a teaching degree but he turned out to be the most sought-after teacher in India during his later years. So it’s not the ‘title’ that matters, but the ‘substance’ within us. 

Some may argue that they have been conferred an honorary doctorate by a certain university. Such a degree is known in Latin as ‘honoris causa’ which means "for the sake of an honour". By convention, the title Dr. is not to be used by the recipients in the broader community. At best, they can use it while corresponding with the degree awarding institution. All these conventions are perhaps unknown to the people concerned. 

This recent trend to make Ph.D. a shopping-list item is condemnable. This tendency must be exposed. The UGC and the Human Resource Development Ministry must take the necessary steps to curb this pernicious practice of people displaying degrees that are not worth the paper they are printed on. Universities that indulge in this outrageous practice must be stopped in their tracks and blacklisted. Universities and Boards must ascertain the genuineness of the qualifications and titles people claim for themselves. That’s the only way to stop this unholy nexus. 

(Mathew C. Ninan is Director, Little Rock Institute for Educational Leadership, Udupi and Unnikrishnan K. is President of the Confederation of Kerala Sahodaya Complexes of CBSE Schools) 

litroc77@gmail.com


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Printable version | Dec 6, 2021 12:26:39 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-mad-rush-for-phd/article33424717.ece

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