In July/August 2009, the Maha Sabha wrote to the president and other senior academics of the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) on the serious issues of the academic standards at UTT regarding specifically the PhD. We were concerned that the Academy at UTT for Arts, Letters, Culture and Public Affairs is at risk of not enjoying accreditation in the public's perception. This concern was based on two main observations. First, the supervisors that have been appointed to oversee the research of their PhD students have no apparent academic integrity in the area. Second, the students who are pursuing their PhD degrees have not fulfilled the standard requirements which are mandatory internationally.
To support this charge we included the titles of PhD research projects and the names of supervisors at the academy at UTT as posted on its Web site: Festival of T&T, Prof Brinsley Samaroo; The Indian Film Industry of T&T, Prof Brinsley Samaroo; Indian Genealogy Project, Prof Kenneth Ramchand; The Origins and Growth of Indian Music in T&T, Prof Brinsley Samaroo. Accredited institutions of higher learning like Capella University require dissertation chairs to be specialists in the work that they are supervising. They must also be experts in the field under their supervision. The University of Waterloo also has clearly-defined requirements for its supervisors. They must have published a book, or at the very least several articles in refereed journals on the subject/area they are supervising. The requirements for awarding a PhD degree to a student vary throughout the world.
In some countries (eg the US, Canada, Denmark) most universities require coursework in addition to research for PhD degree. The requirements are sometimes waived for those students submitting a portfolio of peer-reviewed published work in the relevant area of research. In Canada, a student is required to complete four to seven years of study on full-time basis to graduate with a PhD. The minimum requirements to get PhD admission to Canadian higher educational institutes is normally a Master's degree in the relevant subject with sufficiently high grades and proven research ability. Before embarking on writing a PhD dissertation, a student will be required to do a comprehensive or qualifying examination (both oral and written) to demonstrate his or her knowledge in a specialised area. In universities in the UK, students who want to pursue a PhD will commonly have to be first accepted in the MPhil programme.
Students in the US typically undergo a series of three phases in the course of their work towards the PhD degree:
1. Two to three years of coursework in the student's field of study.
2. A comprehensive examination, or a series of cumulative examinations
3. A dissertation. The Maha Sabha called upon the powers that be to investigate the process through which PhDs at the academy are being awarded and received. There seems to be a deficiency in meeting international standards which can turn out to be a serious embarrassment, if not a scandal, for UTT. On October 6, 2009, Prof Kenneth S Julien, TC, UTT chairman and president, replied requesting suggestions on the draft of the "Academic Regulations, Policies and Procedures for Post-graduate Programmes" as a response to our concerns. On October 28, 2009, a comprehensive list of recommendations and comments was submitted to the office of the chair- man and president.
Some of the comments we made were as follows:
Entry to the PhD programme will generally be after one of the following requirements has been met:
(i) Persons holding a research Master's degree from an approved university amended to include "in the same subject, area, field or discipline in which the student is applying for the PhD."
(ii) Persons without an MA or MSc degree in the same subject area, field or discipline in which they are applying for the PhD shall do coursework. The duration shall be two to three years of coursework with exams in the student's field of study.
(iii) Persons holding a taught Master's degree from an approved university and to include "in the same subject, area, field or discipline in which the student is applying for PhD."
(iv) Persons with other professional qualifications and experiences deemed to be suitable by the Post-graduate Studies and Research Committee. And to also include: "This experience require- ment shall be certified by professionals in the field, locally and internationally. Persons shall also submit a satisfactory portfolio of peer-reviewed published work in the relevant area of research which will demonstrate proven research ability."
(v) Additionally to include: "Persons holding a BA or BSc degree shall not be eligible to enter the PhD programme."
Appointment of supervisors recommended:
i. Supervisors shall be suitable qualified persons who are specialists and experts in the work that they are supervising.
ii. Supervisors should have published a book, or at the very least several articles in refereed journals on the subject/area they are supervising.
Satnarayan Maharaj is the
secretary general of the
Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha