PhDs: High in number low in quality

By He Dan (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-08-26 07:50
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BEIJING - With a rapid increase in the number of Chinese graduates enrolling in PhD programs in the past decade, it seems the quality of education doctoral students receive is falling short.

About 70 percent of employers complain that employees who hold PhDs show little innovation in their work performance, according to a recent survey, which interviewed 1,392 PhD candidates, degree holders, professors and employers.

The survey found several flaws in postgraduate education, especially PhD programs, in the country.

Zhou Guangli, a professor at the Institute of Education Sciences in Huazhong University of Science and Technology, was in charge of the survey.

China replaced the United States to become the world's top producer of doctorate holders in 2008, according to an Asia Times report.

The number of PhD students in China reached 246,300 in 2009, about five times the figure in 1999.

The massive enrolment of PhD students has resulted in a severe shortage of qualified professors, Zhou was quoted as saying in the Wuhan-based Changjiang Daily.

"Nowadays, it is not rare for people in their 30s to become professors and supervise PhD students in Chinese universities, but I really doubt their experience and capability at such a young age," said Ge Daoshun, a professor of social policy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Almost half of the professors polled admitted each of them had to supervise more than seven PhD candidates. One supervisor said he was in charge of 47 candidates, according to Zhou's new book, which is based on the survey.

Some 60 percent of PhD candidates revealed they have been assigned more than half of their professors' research projects.

"According to my personal observation, this happens all the time. Professors in China are underpaid compared with talents in other careers who may have the same educational background," said Zi Liang, 30, a second-year PhD student in Beijing's Renmin University of China.

The relationship between PhD students and their supervisors has become an employment of sorts, in other words, a "master-apprentice" relationship, since professors use their students as cheap labor to do research. Besides, there is no comprehensive appraisal system to assess the professors, said Zhou.

"Chinese universities should step up efforts to reform the tutorial system and introduce more stricter requirements for people to get a PhD diploma in a bid to improve the quality of education," Ge told China Daily.

However, Liu Xin, a 25-year-old PhD candidate at the University of Sussex in England, argued that a major reason China is producing low quality doctorates is that most of the candidates do not have a passion for academic research.

"The best college students of China have seldom ended up in academic positions. Most of them pursue careers in either banking or foreign companies, which pay much better.

"The quality of doctorates is based on the quality of students," Liu said.

China Daily