LAHORE: The Higher Education Commission (HEC) is at the centre of controversy as it has unilaterally launched a new policy of allowing candidates to take up PhD degree programmes after their BS degree.

The stakeholders including academics and administration of the public and private sector universities said the commission had not consulted any of them in drafting and launching the new PhD policy.

According to the new policy (the document is available with Dawn), the applicants having BS or equivalent degree can get admission to a PhD programme and can also pursue the degree in another discipline. The policy removes the requirement to send PhD dissertations to foreign experts for review and dissertations can now be sent to Pakistani experts too.

The maximum duration of a PhD degree will be eight years, with the minimum being three years. The students will require spending at least two years in their home country during their PhD studies.

The new policy had been enforced on Jan 1, 2021 in all public and private universities of the country. The HEC has termed the policy binding on the universities citing the powers have been conferred upon the regulator under the Higher Education Commission Ordinance 2002. “Violation or failure to comply with the HECs policies may lead to regulatory action being taken against non-compliant HEIs (including but not limited to, issuance of warnings; direction to stop further admission; suspension or cancellation of NOCs; issuance of public alerts; and non-recognition of deficient degrees).”

Under the new policy for admission to PhD programmes, a minimum CGPA of 3.0 (out of 4.0 in the semester system) or first division (in the annual system) in the most recent degree obtained is required for aspiring students. It further stated that an MS or MPhil degree leading to a PhD programme will be defunct henceforth and candidates would still be allowed to get an MPhil or MS degree if they meet the required standards during the course of their doctoral studies.

The policy mentioned that a student pursuing a PhD will have to take up a course load of 48 credit hours. “If a student has completed an MS/MPhil degree in the same discipline, the university can reduce 50 per cent of their required credit hours for the PhD programme. At present, PhD programmes at universities vary between 12 and 18 credit hours course load.” Following the completion of coursework, every PhD student shall be required to pass a comprehensive examination in order to be granted candidacy as PhD researcher; provided that if the student fails to pass the comprehensive test, he or she shall be allowed one more attempt to take the test. Each PhD researcher shall be required to write a doctoral dissertation supervised by a faculty member who holds a PhD degree and is an HEC approved supervisor and shall be a full-time faculty member of the university in which the student is enrolled.

The universities can award degrees after a minimum of three years and not more than eight years after the enrolment of the student.

One of the senior administrators at a private university told Dawn that there were several concerns about the new PhD policy which has been formulated without involving higher education stakeholders. “Secondly, the quality of BS particularly in affiliated colleges is questionable and it would lead to compromising the quality of PhDs,” he said. Punjab University Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Niaz Ahmed told Dawn that the academic council had allowed a new PhD degree policy with some changes. He said the commission did not consult HEIs about the policy but it was an American model and they would follow it.

He said the academic council had rejected local PhD dissertation and would continue evaluation from external experts. HEC chairman Tariq Banuri and spokesperson were not available for comments.

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2021

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