Beating the ‘PhD trap’ |

Beating the ‘PhD trap’

George Town, 6 September 2018 - IN a recent interview with KDU Penang University College deputy vice-chancellor Associate Professor Dr Brian Imrie, he said: “In the spirit of Malaysia Baharu, it is time to rethink the role of our university sector, in particular how we can most effectively leverage postgraduate research to advance the nation’s well-being.”

This consideration should incorporate not just the public sector but also private university/university colleges, which increasingly contribute to Malaysia’s knowledge creation. He said it is an accepted economic premise that innovation is a primary driver of wealth creation. Within an increasingly interconnected world, we must strive to be different.

As developing nation, Malaysia needs to position institutions of higher learning to help solve real industry problems and advance the nation’s productivity. This is where local private institutions with strong links to industries can play a key role. The current narrow focus on postgraduate research as a major driver of university rankings should not be a priority.

Dr Imrie suggested that the focus should be on knowledge creation that advances the well-being of both industry and the rakyat.

Rankings should be considered an outcome, not the goal. It is an academic “trap” that those striving for their master’s degree or doctorates are all too familiar with: the craving for published research by universities.

Dr Imrie said many Malaysian universities drive their postgraduate students and academic faculty to do research at the expense of career development. When they finally earn these coveted qualifications, they have become too academic to put themselves to good use in the education and industrial sectors.

Having been in the Malaysian tertiary education sector for nine years, he said when postgraduate students are compelled to focus on theoretical academic research, they lose out in terms of their marketability in the business world when they graduate.

“For those who go into the tertiary education sector upon graduation, they also lose out. We have had master and doctorate holders applying to join the KDU Penang academic team, but they have never spent a day teaching,” he said.

KDU Penang University College offers postgraduate research programmes – doctorates and master’s degrees – in computing and engineering, and will soon extend this to include business, hospitality and tourism postgraduate programmes.

Dr Imrie said these programmes are designed to develop students’ careers holistically, adding: “Our postgraduate students can opt to develop their teaching capability alongside their research endeavours. Additionally, our master and doctorate postgraduates have the option of being industry-based.

“This means they may continue with their industrial careers while pursuing industryrelevant research.”