Registry of Ph.Ds – how it could be best administered

Posted on: December 29, 2016, by :

Commentary: (April 11, 2017):
On Apirl 03, 2017,  Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Datuk Dr. Mary Yap Kain Ching reported that her ministry will roll out a registry of Ph.Ds soon. But this will be confined to Ph.D holders from local institutions. This is a step in the right direction indeed. However one major problem area, those using fake Ph.Ds from foreign institutions or from degree mills are not covered. Based on my own gut feeling, the bulk of the pretenders are in the latter crowd. So this Ph.D registry may only catch the tip of the ice-berg.

I would like, if one of my readers forward my suggestions below to the power that be to tackle the issue still hiding below the ice-berg!

One comment in the above news report that caught my eyes was what Datuk Dr. Mary Yap said, “We all know those who said they finished their PhD within 10 months are fake PhD holders,”

In fact, the good Datuk took 5 years to complete her Ph.D and my learned beautiful and multi-talented friend (from our Doctorate Support Group in Facebook), Dr. Soo Wincci (#drsoowincci) took 6 years to complete hers proved that there is no short cut!

There has been a lot of news for the past few weeks on the need to set up a registry of Ph.D holders in Malaysia. These calls have been brought about by the increasingly serious issue of bogus Ph.Ds and people claiming to have honorary doctorates etc. which was proven to be bogus. I have also made references to this matter in an earlier post and there is a commentary on this issue recently.

In October 2016, the National Council of Professors (NCP) in Malaysia called for the setting up of this registry and hinted that they be given this task by the power that be. However, since not all Ph.D holders are members of this council, and by that, not many Ph.D holders actually are professors (and not all professors in Malaysian universities hold Ph.D or professional doctorates), this body may not be the best representation of the nation’s academic-intellectual power. The NCP further suggested that some charges be levied for the administration of this registry which implies that there may be some monetary gain by the said organisation should they be granted this task.

It was reported that the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) would be working on setting up a Registry of Ph.Ds for Malaysia where all Ph.D holders from local universities (both public and private) would automatically be added to this Registry. It was mentioned that Malaysian Ph. D holders with their doctoral degrees awarded overseas will have to seek verification of their doctorate degrees. So far I have not been able to find the mechanism for such a verification process. Needless to say, this verification process will have to be effective, efficient, fair and transparent. There is also (as mentioned earlier) the need to sort out a cost effective way of administering this Registry.

I think perhaps the following suggestions might be considered by the power that be before deciding on how this Registry is to be administered.

  1. Ownership:
    The MoHE should be the custodian of this Registry which should be “owned” by the Malaysian Government. This will ensure that no parties can gain any financial advantage for owning the data the Registry so contained or make monetary gains for the administration of the Registry. The MoHE’s Registrar General and his/her staff is the right team to handle this since they have ample experience handling the registration of around 500 active private colleges and universities where many of the Ph.D holders are already in the MoHE’s databases. This will make cross checking of data and verifications work more effectively accomplished.
  2. Criteria of admission:
    There must be a clear, but simple to use set of criteria for admission to the Registry. The admission of a Ph. D holder should be done once all the criteria have been met. There should not be any hint of any “approval” step or steps in the process. Anyone with a bone fide Ph.D (that is verifiable) shall be admitted to the Registry. No one should be denied a place in the Registry because of his/her colour, creed, ethnicity, religion or political affiliation. Getting on the Registry should be considered the same as getting on to the electoral roll –  it is a right and not a privilege. Thus the cost of registration should be made as low as possible where I would suggest that the MoHE be granted a yearly budget by the Treasury for the administration of the Registry. We need to stress the fact that not all Ph.Ds are earning big bucks. There are the freshly minted ones who may not have a job or the senior ones who have already retired. Thus the cost to register in this Registry shall not be made a deterrent to those who may not be so financially endowed. RM10 – RM50 should be the the range for the registration fees for  the administration of this Registry.
  3. Transparency & Peers Review:
    The entire process of registration should be fully transparent to give the Ph.D holders and the other stakeholders confidence in the entire system. Perhaps the transparency can be extended to the data held such that each registrant will be having a “page” where her/his expertise, papers published etc. (but not personal details) will be listed. This will serve one further purpose: anyone who have slipped through the filtering process may be “caught” at this stage as the page will be open to anyone on the internet. Peers review is a very powerful tool for the Registry administrator to use. The power that be should take a leave from the career/job/hiring social medium platform, Linkedin where few of the members have (or dared) to put in false credentials as these could be easily “discovered”. Perhaps for more senior Ph.D holders, the need to verify their credentials may not be that stringent as many would have Linkedin profiles where their respective “contacts” would have studied and scrutinized their credentials before accepting them as “contacts”.My Linkedin profile is more credible not because of my own data but the “contacts” that I have who are more established scientists, entrepreneurs etc. than yours truly had verified my credentials and are willing “to be seen” as a part of my network. This philosophy is actually the key success factor of Linkedin. “I am credible because my many contacts have verified my credentials directly by linking with me”. It is not the same as Facebook! Thus the Registry may have features that mirror that of Linkedin to allow senior, established Ph.D holders to help in the verification process in the “Linkedin” way. In fact, I would risk saying that the MoHE should discuss with Linkedin to find a way to maximize the “social verification” features of this platform and the MoHE may be well advised to considering “putting” the Registry on this platform.
  4. Leverage on Foreign Universities:
    All bone fide institutions of higher learning worldwide will want their academic awards be recognized. This should therefore be the key to getting foreign institutions to contribute to the work needed to administer the Registry. However there are key questions that the power that be needs to have answer to, namely:
  • Is there a way to make sure that overseas universities submit themselves to be included in the Registry?
  • Can we make it simple and accept all universities that are accredited in their home countries?
  • Can we make use of the diplomatic missions in Malaysia to be responsible for keeping this list updated for their respective countries?
  • What about those countries without representation in Malaysia? Can we use some international association like The Association of Commonwealth Universities … even the listing for Malaysia is not complete with only 21 institutions (with many Malaysian public universities not listed the organization)…

MoHE can also leverage on the foreign universities to shoulder a big part of the burden in verifying their own graduates’ credentials. It is after all, to the very institution’s advantage to make sure that their graduates are fully recognized. Thus the MoHE could in fact make a “standard” arrangement with the education authorities of each of these nations so that the list of new Ph.D holders (with verifiable details provided) each year (and that of previous years) could be supplied to the MoHE by each interested institution. My son’s alma mater, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, USA even has a website that provides verified details of its graduates principally for the benefits of prospective employers. Thus giving them confidence of the data held at the website and a way to cross check the resume of UNL’s graduates readily. Perhaps MoHE can tap into this sort of databases to make the verification process a lot faster and effective.

The establishment of the Registry of Ph.D Holders will have one very clear “side-effect”. It will go a long way in separating the wheat from the chaff but since not all accredited overseas institutions award Ph.Ds, the list of institutions in the Registry may not fully represent all accredited overseas institutions but it does provide at least the first list of institutions where their Ph.D awards are recognized in Malaysia. What the Registry also need is a “compliant” segment where if anyone’s credential is challenged, there is a fast-track way for the complaint to be studied and verified. There must also be a heavy penalty for the supply of false information by the registrants. Thus I suggested that the Registrar General’s office shall be the best authority to deal with this as there are already some provisions in ACT 555 and related acts of parliament that have penalty clauses which can be used.

When the Registry is ready, I shall be one of the first to want my name to be on it!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.