Ministry imposes tougher rules on PhD students

The Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research has announced strict new rules for doctoral students who fail to submit their theses in the requisite four years after ministry figures revealed that over 1,000 PhD projects were outstanding – some for up to nine years.

The rules are part of a broader ministerial initiative aimed at regulating the production of PhD students and raising the quality of postgraduate training.

As a first step the ministry has said it will deregister any student who has put their registration on hold for two consecutive years. In addition, all PhD students who registered in 2009 are required to defend their final thesis by the end of the 2017 academic year in June, or face exclusion.

The ministry has instructed university presidents to provide detailed progress reports of registered doctoral students since 2014 in order to determine the seriousness of their work.

The new moves come after a series of delays and postponements relating to the controversial issue of PhD submission deadlines.

Secretary-General of the Higher Education Ministry, Salah Eddine Seddiki, previously issued a notice fixing 31 December 2016 as the deadline for doctoral students who have been registered for over five years.

Pressure on students

In addition, supervisors were told to put more pressure on students to meet the four-year deadline, failing which the supervision relationship would be suspended.

Doctoral students for their part argued that the period given to them to complete their PhDs is inadequate, given their teaching requirements. Other reasons cited include having to deal with bureaucracy, as well as the lack of a supportive environment for scientific research.

Observers now say the minister seems determined to deal with the issue once and for all.

"The present minister, Professor Tahar Hajar, seems determined to finish with this issue … It is unfair and illogical that students should spend nearly nine years to finish their degree instead of a period of four years as initially scheduled," said a ministry official speaking on condition of anonymity.

Pointing to the need for qualified staff, he said: "While many universities face shortages of qualified academic staff postgraduate students are still striving to finish their PhD degrees".

The issue has also been raised in the local press.

"We cannot achieve better education, knowledge production and higher rankings with university teachers who are not well trained and not sufficiently qualified," wrote Kheira Laroussi in the national El Khabar newspaper.

Broader initiative

The new rules come into effect in the current 2017-18 academic year and are part of a broader initiative aimed at streamlining postgraduate offerings at Algerian universities and tightening admission criteria.

The first phase of the process from 20 March to 30 April involves an audit of all PhD programmes in universities. This will be followed by a regional conference of universities and ministry representatives, including scientific councils, to determine institutional postgraduate offerings. This will be followed by a national conference on 15 June at which the final list of universities qualified to enrol limited numbers of postgraduate students in specific research areas will be adopted.

The new mark required for postgraduate students to take the exam for PhD studies has been raised to a 12/20 average, while at each university, only a limited number of postgraduate positions will be made available.

According to Professor Najib Zerdoumi in the education sciences department of Algiers University 2, the ministry’s new rules for PhD registration and training are intended to end the anarchy and decline in standards perceived to be prevailing at postgraduate levels where demand from applicants is exceptionally high.

Preparing a new elite

"Competence and education quality should both be key criteria for new PhD applicants’ selection if we have to prepare a new elite of universities' professors for tomorrow," he said.

According to Professor Sefwan Hacini, Scientific Council president in the faculty of information and communication studies at Algiers University 3, last year the faculty made 32 PhD degree positions available in four areas which included: radio and TV, political and social communication, multimedia, and cinema and new technology.

Although the total number of participants was over 500 for all subjects, in the end, only eight applicants were accepted, based on their examination results.

"This small number is a factor of motivation for students and professors; it ensures high-quality training," said Hacini.

The new ministerial directives also limit each professor’s supervisory capacity to nine postgraduate students in social and humanities studies, and five in technology.

Examination jury

With regard to the examination of theses, it is now required that the examination jury is composed of five members with professorial status. Two members should be sourced from outside the university at which the student was registered.

Professor Ahmed Adhimi from the faculty of information and communication at Algiers University 3 said this measure could be assumed to be a response to concerns around nepotism and past impropriety over jury selection.

"It is hoped that the new jury composition will add more impartiality to the examination process and, more importantly, the new instructions from the Higher Education Ministry will bring about and encourage new values and practices of intellectual honesty and probity," he said.