Do We Have Too Many PhDs?
PhD is one of the highest academic degrees that one can attain in universities. After earning a bachelor degree, one can continue on to Master program or directly to PhD program, where one conducts thorough research on a particular topic. Most of the doctorate programmes conforms to the model of universities in the middle ages, where the learning is based on apprenticeship.
PhD program prepare the students to be the experts at one specific field, thus they can further the knowledge in the field. In general, PhD students will get a few years of postdoctoral research experience before they can get a faculty position in the universities. As professors, they will be spearheading the research of their expertise. It is, therefore, very important since knowledge will lead to more innovations and improvements.
Rise in the number of PhD graduates
Education is seen as the factor that promotes economic growth, and hence many countries are promoting the PhD programmes. The annual growth rate of doctoral degrees is increasing dramatically as a result of the major expansion of higher education. For instance, China, India, Japan, UK, US see an increase of 40%, 8.5%, 6.2%, 5.2%, 2.5% respectively. In some developing countries, the sustained economic growth has enabled the industrial sector to absorb these educated workforces. However, in some developed countries, supply outstripped demand. It is a waste of resources to train the students for many years and find that they can't find a job that utilizes their expertise.
If there are too many PhD graduates, why don't the universities start to curb the number of students for admission? Well, they should start doing so, but unfortunately it is not done. Universities want to get as many PhD students as they can, since they are seen as cheap and hard-working labours. If they don't grant scholarship, they even get money from the labours. Indeed, doing PhD without scholarship make little sense if any at all. PhDs, which are supposed to be trained by apprenticeship to their professors, are now not much different from research assistants taking graduate level coursework. Graduate schools should disseminate the real picture of job prospects before they enter the programme.
Furthermore, the average quality of PhD graduates is compromised with the substantial increase of the PhD degree holders. The drive for the growth in the number of PhDs in many countries will compromise the admission criteria and hence getting less capable students into the PhD programme. There is more emphasis on the quantity over quality of the PhD graduates, which will be deleterious in the long run. Just like the industrial revolution, the system of apprenticeship practised in the middle ages is gradually replaced with mass production of PhDs in the universities.
Careers for PhD graduates
PhD programmes mainly prepare the students to enter academia. Some programmes also include non-academic training to prepare them for the industrial sectors. Most of the PhD students, though, enter the programme with careers in academia in their mind. They aim to get a faculty position, which is highly competitive and limited. New openings for academic positions are very limited and even if they manage to get one, they need to overcome the hurdle of getting tenure. As a result to this, more and more PhDs are caught in the postdoc cycle, doing one postdoc after another.
One of the problems associated with the doctoral programmes is that the curriculum and training make the PhD to be highly specialized only in one field, which is often irrelevant to the outside world beyond academics. In support of this, employers in industries often complained that PhD students are lacking in professional skills. There is little if no education about career alternatives during the PhD programme. A solution to this is to redesign the programme to foster more soft skills, thus the students are better prepared if they decide to work outside academics. In addition to this, universities can encourage internship to give the students exposure to the job market and the information that there are alternative careers in industry, where their knowledge can be useful.
Advanced or professional master's degrees can also be introduced to fulfill the needs of specialized workforce that are well trained in communications and business administration skills. Some universities have started to introduce PhD-MBA program, where the students take MBA courses, do scientific research, as well as internship program. PhDs need additional training in interdisciplinary programmes, lest they become one dimensional only in academic skills.
The world is producing PhDs at a faster rate than the relevant job market can absorb. It is quite a waste of resource of bright and educated people. The skills of PhD graduates are tailored for them to enter the academics, where the faculty position openings are either stagnating or declining. Hence, we often find they spend up to decades as postdocs before they can secure a faculty position in a university. On the other hand, if they want to find a job in the industry, their skills are not always applicable for working in the industrial sectors due to specialization and the lack of professional training. Many of those who take PhD may find themselves left out in the middle between academia and industries. Indeed, the PhD programme needs to be reformed.
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