HYDERABAD: The condition of qualifying a graduate assessment test (GAT) conducted by the National Testing Service (NTS) has become a stumbling block for hundreds of scholars expecting to be awarded their doctorates.
As a result, PhD candidates enrolled at the Sindh University (SU) have raised their voices, writing to the varsity vice-chancellor (VC) to demand an end to the NTS test as a precondition for the degree.
"Most of the scholars fail to pass the NTS test despite repeated attempts because of the irrelevant questions," argued a doctoral candidate at SU, who requested anonymity while talking to The Express Tribune.
The test, according to him, contains multiple choice questions among which 70 per cent pertain to the subject and 15 per cent each test their analytical skills and English.
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The scholars are supposed to pass through the rigorous stages of three seminars, viva voce and submission of their thesis for internal and later external evaluation, besides contributing articles to the journals recognised by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) in order to receive their degrees. The reports are submitted along with the NTS results to the advanced studies and research board for final approval.
According to the PhD student, hundreds of degrees were stuck because of the varsity's NTS pre-requisite. "I myself have made half a dozen attempts to pass it but failed. It's strange that we can clear all the stages leading to the PhD degree but not the NTS test."
According to the application submitted to the VC, a number of PhD research scholars have been unable to receive their degrees on time due to the condition of the GAT subject test by the NTS.
Another candidate contended that the SU had unnecessarily imposed the condition, especially after a 2014 order by the Lahore High Court and subsequent correspondence from the HEC conveyed that universities could dispense with the test.
"The universities and other academic institutions recognised by the HEC are not under any lawful obligation to conduct tests organised by NTS or be bound by the results of NTS in the matter of admissions or grant of scholarships," reads the LHC order from January, 2014.
The court had further ordered the HEC "to dispel the impression that the NTS is a duly approved national testing body of the HEC."
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However, at SU, passing the NTS test with a score of at least 60 per cent remains a pre-condition for receiving doctoral degrees.
"The score is required to be submitted with the thesis evaluation reports for further process," read the rules and regulations for awarding PhD degrees at the varsity.
The rules provide three options for the subject test, also including the international Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or a test conducted by the varsity's faculty members. However, students claim that the NTS test has been made the only accepted norm in the SU.
"I attempted the test eight times and the highest score I could get was 58," said one researcher, while an assistant professor claimed he had attempted the test a dozen times without success.
"The repeated failures further reinforce our concerns that something is definitely wrong with the NTS test and not with the capability of candidates like us," the professor said.
For him, the NTS test for admission to MPhil or PhD programmes, as required by the HEC, may be justified but it should have no relevance for awarding PhD degrees. "Even in the case of admissions, the HEC has provided three options, which also include a test conducted by the university itself or through any other renowned testing service."
The scholars also pointed out the diminishing relevance of the NTS by pointing to an office memorandum of the cabinet secretariat establishment division, which withdrew the directives for conducting federal recruitment screening through the testing services.
SU vice-chancellor Prof Dr Fateh Muhammad Burfat did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 12th, 2020.
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