Simplifying admission at the PhD level and allowing flexibility.

Javed Ahmad


Applying for admission at a university for a Master’s or PhD program is not same like applying for admission at an undergraduate program. At the undergraduate level all one is required to do is fill out an application add requested documents and send the application package to the admissions office at the targeted university. But in case of graduate admission, especially if it is a research based program one would have to first look for a supervisor who is willing to supervise the planned research work by the student. Once this matter is decided and agreed upon them a formal application is launched. In most cases, a student would seek research fund or scholarships to carry out his or her research activities at the intended university for the program duration. This makes the application process more difficult as the anticipated funds could come from different sources for different amounts. That too is student’s responsibility to seek and apply. Lastly, the arrangement for the recommendation letters from at least two academic persons from the past academic interactions who knows about the student’s research capabilities. This is the general picture of the overall application process in pretty much all the universities around the world.


This is a complex way of processing an application for a PhD program at a university. How about a simplified way of handling the process? Can we do the following instead –


  1. A prospective student would complete an application online over the Internet by furnishing all the information that a university would normally require.
  2. This online system would allow a student to upload scanned credentials and other related documents with the application such as, the transcripts, research proposal, list of publications (if any), etc. I do not see any reason why copies of the certificates would be required at this stage of admission process.
  3. Admissions office could forward each application to the appropriate departments or schools heads or deans so that they could be reviewed by a committee of willing supervisors who are interested in supervising student’s work at that level.
  4. All the members of the committee would review each application to see if any of the applications appeal to them. From that list of applications they could shortlist on the basis on their area of interest.
  5. Depending on the availability of funds for scholarships a supervisor would decide how many students he or she could supervise and offer funds to and of what amount.
  6. The decision criteria could depend on the followings:
    1. Transcripts: Courses taken and GPAs earned. This would allow the reviewer to see if the student has the needed and supporting courses completed in the area of student’s intended research. If not, then the supervisor could list the courses that would help the student in his or her research work and then recommend them to the student as a condition or pre-requisites for admission
    2. Research ability: That could be determined from the student’s research activities like participations in conferences as a paper presenter or getting a paper published in a journal, etc. This verification would eliminate the need for referees or recommendation letters. Many students may choose to get into a PhD program after leaving school for a long time and they may not have direct communication with an academician who could remember the student or his or her capabilities to comment on.
    3. Test scores: Although the test scores like GRE or GMAT could help a supervisor to determine a student’s aptitude and knowledge, but these scores does not always reflect actual research capabilities. These scores maybe used as a determining factor for admission consideration at the master’s level course based program, but un-necessary at the research based PhD level. Besides, many scholars may not have access or the means or the scope for taking such an exam at the location where he or she resides. In many countries, paying for test fees is a hassle and often very difficult to remit.
    4. English proficiency: Considering the fact that the English language is the base for all PhD level work around the globe, the level of English proficiency of a candidate could be easily determined by the work they have done through their published papers in the journals and conference proceedings. Therefore, no test scores are required. At the graduate level studies, in most countries, medium of instruction and academic activities are carried out in English. Therefore, a student of PhD candidature is likely to have sound English abilities to handle his or her research work.
  7. Research work at the PhD level should be free of tuition for all students. A PhD student normally engages in a full time research in an attempt to contribute something new to knowledge. Therefore, the student should be given enough flexibility and support so that he or she could carry out his or her research activities with ease. Because once the research work is successfully completed that contribution to knowledge could bring out of value to mankind in terms of usability and commercial viability. Interested foreign students could be allowed to work in his or her country provided they have the facilities needed to carry out the work comfortably. This arrangement would reduce the amount of scholarships needed to support a student. In today’s world of Internet communications distance is no longer a factor. Therefore, residency requirement can now be relaxed.
  8. Once the students are selected for admission all the files could be sent back to the admissions office for completion of all formal processes – such as, issuing acceptance letters, requesting other documents, etc.


PhD program should be offered to mature individuals with ample research and work experiences in the real world so that they could produce something of value. While exceptionally bright candidates could be allowed to get into PhD programs, but frankly speaking I am yet to see any valuable output coming out of such candidates in terms of creation of new knowledge that could benefit mankind.


Age should not be criteria for admission at the graduate level. Anyone at anytime is capable of contributing knowledge into the academic community as long as they have the capacity and interest. I have seen many universities in Bangladesh have a age bar, which should be lifted. Learning is a lifetime adventure and age is not at all a factor. In Islam, our Prophet Muhammad (SM) is credited to have said, “Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.” He is also credited to have said, “He who leaveth home in search of knowledge, walketh in the path of God”. Therefore, we should not create any obstacle to anyone who intends to seek knowledge. Instead, we should encourage the person.


Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) have simplified their application process at the PhD level quite a bit. In their system, an application can be launched completely online. During the application time they open up a special web link that allows the interested applicants to apply online.


Similar system has also been seen used by different international scholarship management systems, namely the Australian Leadership Award (ALA) program, the Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme (HKPF), etc. However, since they are primarily a selection committee attempting to allocate scholarships to eligible students their process varies a little. In their case, they receive applications for scholarships and it is the student’s responsibility to seek admission into a listed university.


Many universities in the developed countries however have introduced partial application process online. But they still largely depend on paper process in the traditional sense, which is not really helping the applicants.




Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET):


Australian Leadership Awards:


Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme (HKPF):