Dilemma that fresh PhD graduates face

EVERY fresh PhD graduate wants a job that pays well, at least better than a graduate with a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree would expect. However, most fresh PhD gradnates face difficulty in finding local jobs that actually utilise the research skills that are central to PhD training.

Currently, there are not many job vacancies that require candidates with the highest academic degree, especially in the private sectors. The global pandemic that caused many firms to freeze recruitment has made it even more difficult for a fresh PhD graduate to get a job now.

The local unemployment rate for 2020 also hit a record level of 4.5% amid the economic slowdown compared to an average of 3% in previous years.

Although most PhD graduates would prefer to pursue a career in academia, the number of such graduates is far more than universities will ever hire. And very often, they have to compete with foreign candidates for the same positions.

The situation is unlikely to get better in the next few years given the constant influx of fresh PhD graduates into the labour market. It is anticipated that the number of such graduates will exceed the demand for that qualification.

The Higher Education Ministry and higher educational institutions have adopted various strategies over the years to increase doctoral enrolment locally for various programmes. Some of the strategies include government scholarships under MyBrain15 and MyBrainSc programmes and institutions’ various sponsorships.

It is the aim of the Malaysian government to produce 60,000 PhD holders by 2023 to meet the nation’s increasing need for research and innovation. It is also part of the broader strategy to develop a knowledge-based economy.

In 2016, there were an estimated 23,000 PhD holders in Malaysia, with a large portion of them working in universities as academic staff and researchers.

Compared to other countries such as Germany, Japan and the United States, we have very limited jobs from local industries that require PhD graduates.

This can be seen from the low number of relevant job openings advertised in newspapers and employment websites.

For those who are able to get a post-doctoral research fellowship in universities, long-term employability and job security remain their main concern. Such positions are always offered on a contract basis of one to two years. Failing to achieve desired outcomes – mainly based on the number of publications in reputable journals – will result in non-renewal of contract.

The overproduction of PhDs has been an issue for years in many countries, including the United States. So what can we do in Malaysia to address the influx of fresh PhDs into the job market?

There is, in fact, no immediate solution for this issue.

But an increase in academia-industry collaboration could ensure the research expertise of PhDs match with industrial needs in terms of expectations and professional skills upon graduation.

Local industry should take into account the PhD levels of talent that can meet the increasing need for specialisation and technical complexity of jobs.

In many developed countries, a PhD qualification makes a candidate very attractive to employers looking to fill R&D-driven positions.

Fresh PhD graduates here can also apply for entrepreneurship and skills enhancement training programmes through the Higher Education Ministry’s Graduates Reference Hub for Employment and Training (GREaT) portal while waiting for a job offer. Such programmes are important to increase their employability in a highly competitive job market.

Also, they can consider taking up jobs overseas once international borders are opened again.


School of Chemical and Energy Engineering,

Teknologi Malaysia

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