Guest Article: Weakness in the PhD programmes

Posted on December 21, 2010


In his third guest article in this repository, our  author,  Prof.  M.N. Faruqui, Former Deputy Director, IIT Kharagpur and Former VC, AMU, shares his views and ideas  about the PhD programs in India.    Prof.   Faruqui  can be approached at  naseem.faruqui AT


A number of PhDs have been approved by the Universities in India where I felt that the rigour and thoroughness is lacking in the thesis, its write up and presentation. Without casting any doubt on the standards of the work there is a lot of slackness even by the Committees that examine the thesis. There is a danger that such lacklustre approach is resulting in lowering the standards of our doctoral degrees. Quality research is one of the important requirements if the University has to achieve the avowed objective of Excellence.

Doctoral Research:

Research leading to a Ph D degree consists of many components that together form a coherent proclamation of ideas and findings that enhance the frontiers of knowledge. The various parts that go to make the whole are registration of the candidate, formation of relevant committees, choice of topic of research, appointment of the supervisor, literature survey coupled with seminar to monitor the progress, assignment of broad-based course work and its completion, research work and relevant monitoring through seminars, publications of the findings of the research done, final seminar before submission of thesis, appointment of external examiners, and reports of examiners being satisfactory oral presentation and defence of the thesis.

Duration of Research:

The number of years a candidate takes to complete a Ph D is a matter of concern and shows that the amount of effort required to qualify for the degree in Indian universities is far less — maybe because we do not insist on quality of publications before submission of the thesis. For example in majority of good American, European and Canadian universities a candidate takes around 5 years or more working full time for a doctoral degree. The period spent on studies directly reflects on the Quality of the work. I feel that it is the Quality that is more important than the Quantity or number of Ph Ds produced in a year and the race for producing more Ph Ds is actually harming the cause of education. Acceptance of poor quality of research leading to a degree is self defeating in the sense that it perpetuates bad research. Support by Indian or India based industries is likely to pick up and therefore doctoral research would get more impetus with industrial houses hiring people with higher qualifications.

Minimum requirements:

In my opinion there are certain minimum requirements that every doctoral scholar has to fulfil. These requirements are discussed here because it is felt that most of the scholars cut corners and the supervisors do not put enough emphasis on them.

  • Objectives of the Research undertaken must be clear and well defined
  • Evidence that literature survey has been done critically and extensively – Seminar(s) are essential to monitor these.
  • Course work completed with at least B+ grades (course waiver should be exception)
  • Two papers in International Refereed journal of repute

Committee monitoring the progress of the candidate may meet occasionally to examine the progress of the candidate. The candidate should normally in a Seminar presentation give a report of his progress.

Literature Survey:

I have seen a very casual approach by the candidate to literature survey and review being adopted. It is important that the candidate is aware of the current work going on in his area and the publications available. It is only the proper literature survey and a critical study of the same would give him an idea about the scope and depth of study required. A suggestion here is that the candidate must give a Seminar talk at the end of the first year of study where he presents an analytical study of the important research papers he has studied. This Seminar is different from the one held before the submission of the thesis. It may be advisable to hold more Seminar talks along the way to monitor the progress of the student. The Supervisor may make it a point to insist on Seminar presentations during the literature survey period. It would clarify many doubts of the candidate as he progresses along.

A tendency to include 250 or more references at the end of the thesis is meaningless because more than half references are taken from other research papers and the candidate could not possibly have studied them. I feel that the Supervisor should insist on inclusion of only those references alone that the candidate may have referred and used. Course work and literature survey should strengthen each other towards producing research work of good quality.

Philosophically there are two divergent thoughts regarding the thesis for Doctoral degree. In one case one requires substantial amount of course work etc and a lower percentage of investigation work. While in the other case the thesis is basically by research only. There can be no strict classification or categorization but the examiners should take this into account before processing the thesis.

Course Work:

Though the importance of course work is recognized the tendency has become to assume that the course work done as an M Tech student is enough for an Engineering candidate. The idea of course work was not this. The candidate has to have a broad knowledge of his field of research and a good acquaintance and understanding of diverse disciplines connected with his research.. A wide canvass along with specialized activity is required for a Ph D and not a narrow vision of the subject.

There are times when it is argued that the subject of interest is not taught as a regular course, I propose that such subjects should be made as self study course followed by an examination either written or oral. The Committee should feel free to assign courses to the candidate and not waive them even if the candidate is a faculty member (or a part time scholar). A wider and deeper perspective about sister disciplines and areas cannot be overemphasized. We should not produce zombies confined to one very narrow area of their research.

Some of the rigour is missing in our doctoral work because we do not have enough emphasis on course work. Course work should not be interpreted in the narrow sense of a subject of study offered at a PG level but the Supervisor may suggest a number of research papers in own or sister area to be studied in detail, analyzed critically and be subjected to an examination.


To judge the standard of the work it is absolutely necessary to publish in International refereed journal(s). If for some reason an International journal is not available at most one publication may be in a National refereed journal of repute. Such a step is essential if the Quality of Research and the Ph D is recognized as of a standard worthy of a Centre of Excellence.

Publication in well recognized International (National) refereed journals ensures that the Scientific and Engineering community world over has accepted the findings / contribution of the author as significant or useful. Number of publications in National conferences should not be counted towards the minimum requirement of publications.

The case for part-time scholars – mainly faculty members — becomes even more difficult since they have a personal or vested interest to get a quick Ph D. I have a feeling that maintaining and insisting on the standard of publications is one way of achieving the Quality and Excellence of research in the university.

Based on external examiners ‘satisfactory’ report and the final presentation and defence of the thesis by the candidate the committee recommends the award of the degree

The above exposé illustrates the general principles and does not attempt to give rules and regulation that have to be worked out based on above.

Some Valuable Comments

1.  Prof. Harish Sujan, Tulane University

I am a 1971 IITD grad, chemical engineering. In 1979 I began a PhD program in Business (Marketing) UCLA and completed it in 4 years. I found the amount of class work I was exposed to for the first two years highly educative, the constant exchange of knowledge and ideas with other doctoral students necessary and the continual feedback I received while developing my thesis essential. I teach at Tulane University now. At this university we run a latin american phd program which gives PhDs to current business faculty at universities in Mexico, Colombia,… They spend every summer at Tulane, taking classes or working at research and during the year may have to attend intense sessions over some weekends and continue working on their research. I think though this is not the same as the 4-5 year full time program it does work. Mita, my wife, and I were involved in efforts with a society called North American Society for Marketing Education in India and through this society attempted to catalyze PhD education in business in India in 1990. We were not successful. As best as I know it, the only strong PhD program in India, in business, is at the ISB. Since PhD education not only allows for applied and theoretical research that helps a developing economy sometimes in remarkable ways, and it contributes to “evidence based teaching” in contrast to “experience based teaching” I wish the zest for this education in management in India was more and offerings of good quality were plenty.

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