New route to PhD


BY S. INDRAMALAR

IN keeping with the demands of both postgraduate students as well as of the present-day workplace, a consortium of universities in the United Kingdom has introduced NewRoutePhD – a doctoral degree tailor-made to be relevant and applicable. 

Introduced in the UK in September 2001, NewRoutePhD does not aim to replace the traditional doctoral programmes offered by UK universities. Rather, it is a revised programme – an alternative for students not looking for a career in academic research but rather seeking a programme that gives them an edge as professionals. 

“This is not a new PhD but rather, a new way of getting to a PhD, one that combines various aspects necessary for procuring a PhD – the taught element, professional skills as well as advanced research training,” said Prof Clive Booth, chairman of the PhD consortium.  

Initially, less than a dozen universities joined the consortium in adopting the new structure. Now, however, the consortium boasts of 31 participating. 

The NewRoutePhD has also garnered the support of British Prime Minister Tony Blair who said: “Every year, Britain welcomes hundreds of thousands of students from all over the world.  

“They come because British universities and colleges have a very strong international reputation for research and teaching. And they are attracted by the huge choice of high quality programmes.  

“I am delighted that this choice will be increased with the introduction of a new route to the PhD, designed to give students from both home and abroad a competitive edge in the knowledge economy of the 21st century.” 

What is the difference between the traditional and the new PhD then? While the traditional PhD tends to focus predominantly on research and developing research skills, NewRoutePhD integrates in-depth study (which is often inter-disciplinary) with research training and high-level professional skills training.  

“Although the existing PhD programmes are excellent, this offers students another option, especially those who want to do more than university-based research. 

“Also, in modern research, the most interesting discoveries happen on the boundaries of two (or more) different areas of study. Therefore, inter-disciplinary study is increasingly relevant and this is what the NewRoutePhD aims to advance.  

“There will always be a need for the subject specialist, but the competition for jobs in all sectors is increasing and many find that having specialist knowledge – even at doctoral level – is insufficient. 

“NewRoutePhD allows students to deepen their specialist subject, at the same time it offers unique opportunities for interdisciplinary research,” said Prof Booth who was in Malaysia recently with three other consortium members to meet representatives from local public and private higher education institutions. 

Another plus point about NewRoutePhD is the flexibility it accords. 

“As the first year of the programme is made up of the taught element, students do not have to decide their research area immediately unlike the traditional programme, where a student is required to pinpoint the research topic before enrolling. Therefore they have slightly more time to mix around with existing research groups before they decide,” adds Prof BoothThe cost of the NewRoutePhD programme is “about the same” as the traditional PhD programme – about £10,000 (RM62,000) for a Medical or Engineering PhD (or one with laboratory requirements) and roughly £8,000 (RM49,600) for other doctoral programmes.  

Out of the 10,000 odd Malaysians pursuing higher education in Britain, 2,500 are PhD students, of which only about 10 are pursuing their PhD through NewRoutePhD. In total, NewRoutePhD has 85 students.  

The diminutive figure is understandable, as the consortium has only just started marketing the programme outside the United Kingdom.  

One Malaysian student enrolled in the NewRoutePhD programme is Jasni Zain who is researching mobile and terrestrial network security in telemedicine. On a scholarship from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Jasni chose Brunel University because of “the university’s good relationships with industry and its reputation for providing a friendly atmosphere and good supervision structure”. 

For Turkish PhD student Eda Ustunel, “A distinctive advantage of the NewRoutePhD is that I am not alone on the long path of PhD research. Since I have courses to take for the first part of the programme, I have the opportunity to get to know and exchange ideas with other Masters and PhD students from my research area. This has a positive impact on my academic progress.”

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