Monday, June 05, 2006

Malaysian Professors sans PhDs

In my previous posting Mister Professor Doctor, I queried why university professors in Malaysia would insist on titling themselves as Professor Doctor So-and-So (apart from other titles and national awards) when only a person with a doctorate can be appointed a professor. Other Commonwealth professors don't bother with the relatively insignificant 'doctor'.

I jokingly asked whether those multi-titled academicians were scared that people might not know they have a PhD. I didn’t realise how close I had been to the truth.

Over at my other blogsite Boleh Talk Reader Malayan Tiger provided a penetrating insight into Malaysian Academia. He said:

“There is a good reason for the title Prof Dr and Prof. The reason being many 'Professors' in local Malaysian universities do not have a PhD but are promoted to Professors. To make this distinction, Professors who have completed PhD's make themselves known as Prof Dr so and so.”

“So the next time you see a Prof Dr, you know that particular person is a Prof with a PhD whereas a Prof So and So is a Prof due to a promotion and does not have a PhD.”

I am shocked that academicians without PhD could be ever promoted to professors! What are we trying to prove? That our universities are full of professors, when in reality there are just half-past six ones.

Then one Anonymous reader here at KTemoc Konsiders said:

“In Malaysia (or UK system in general) a professor does not necessarily has a PhD degree. Not like in USA where a professor is definitely a PhD holder (i.e. Dr.). That is why he put Prof. Dr. bla bla .”

I agree with his or her description of the US system but not so for his/her claim of the UK’s. According to Wikipedia:

“In the United Kingdom the Republic of Ireland and most Commonwealth countries (but not Canada, which follows the North American system), equivalently senior academics to assistant and associate professors are generally known as ‘Lecturers’, ‘Senior Lecturers’ and ‘Readers’, with professorships reserved for only the most senior academic staff.”

Thus unlike the USA or Canada, UK and other Commonwealth countries don’t have Assistance or Associate Prof, but ‘lecturers’ and ‘readers’. Therefore the Commonwealth system is even more stringent.

Now this is what Wikipedia says about the lowest of the 3 US professorships, the Assistance Professor (or the UK/Commonwealth equivalent of lecturer):

“… the entry-level position, for which one usually needs a Ph.D. or other doctorate, sometimes only a masters degree, … In some areas, such as the natural sciences, it is uncommon to grant assistant professor positions to recently graduated Ph.D.s, and nearly all assistant professors will have completed some time as Postdoctoral fellows.

my underlining & bold-ing

The standard is so high that the 3rd level of professorship, that of Assistance Professor or the equivalent of the UK’s ‘lecturer’ (not even yet a ‘reader’) has to be not only a PhD but one who is not a recent one, but additionally has “completed some time as Postdoctoral fellows.”

While there would of course be the rare occasions when just a Master could be considered for Assistance (not full) Professorship (equivalent to the Commonwealth 'Lecturer'), this would not be condoned in the natural sciences.

"A Professor in these countries holds either a departmental chair (generally as the head of the department or of a sub-department) or a personal chair (a professorship awarded specifically to that individual). In that sense, only full professors (North American style) are equivalents of professors."

So we can see that under the UK system, its Professor is the equivalent of the US (Full) Professor. There is no such thing as a person without a PhD becoming a professor. It would be impossible, except in Malaysia!

In fact Wikipedia goes on to elaborate that:

"The title of Professor is a great honour, normally reserved in correspondence to full professors only; ..."

My underlining – it then continues:

“… lecturers and readers are properly addressed by their academic qualification (Dr for a PhD, DPhil or MD, and Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms otherwise).”

Therefore the new Vice-Chancellor of Universiti Malaya whose highest quals is only a Master, should by Commonwealth academic tradition be addressed as only Mrs, Miss or Ms.

How long do you think it'll be before she becomes a Professor?


  1. Professorships in Malaysia are given based on kulitfication, not qualifications.

    You also might be surprised that Mickey Mouse research such as this could come up on the front page of a national paper and the person mentioned only has a 'very impressive' one-paper publication track record.

    Amazing, innit?

  2. Ahhh... better not say such and such research are of the Mickey Mouse kind....

    Better leave it to the editors of some peer reviewed journals!

  3. In UK, one can be conferred professorship even without a PhD. It is a mistaken belief that one can only be considered a good academician if he/she has a PhD. What is important is his/her research track record. I have personally met a few professors in UK who do not have a PhD but are the "Who's who" in the field.

    However, I cannot comment much about the Malaysian case as I do not know enough. But let's not sneer Malaysian conferred professors (Prof. Dr or Prof) and generalized them. I am sure that there are many well deserved Malaysian professors out there.

  4. I have to agree with 'Insider'. During my MBA studies, some of my best lecturers were without PhDs. Many of them had several years of work experience in the corporate sector before they became lecturers.

    Sometimes they were able to give a better realistic picture as compared to some of the academics who didn't have any real "work" experience. However, I am taling about business studies and not the sciences or other arts subjects.

  5. I am the anon who wrote that

    "In Malaysia (or UK system in general) a professor does not necessarily has a PhD degree. Not like in USA where a professor is definitely a PhD holder (i.e. Dr.). That is why he put Prof. Dr. bla bla .”

    I wrote this based on experience where I come across Prof from UK without a PhD. I know, I have masters degree both from UK and US.

    Ktemoc, please do not just rely on wikipedia for your information. Not all written in Wiki are true.

  6. OK, take your point.

    By the by I have a couple of degrees including a Master, but have never met a prof without a PhD. Where I was, there were many PhDs walking around but without any title other than 'lecturer'. The real Profs all have PhDs (minimum).

    I have a relative (PhD) who was Associate Prof in Australia for eons, and who only achieved full professorship after he migrated to another Commonwealth country.

    One notable observation has been our own Prof Drs who wanted to distinguish themselves from those Prof sans PhD. Overseas there isn't this distinguishing need - doesn't that tell us something?

  7. I think it's a bit unfair to label all professors without PHD as undeserving or unqualified. For example, the undeniably best and most learned professor in the Malayan University's Law Faculty is without a PHD. He is not only respected by the local legal fraternity but also by the international community. Just mentioning his name invokes awe. Senior judges consult him on many matters too.

  8. Stop relying on just wiki. Some fields my only have terminal masters eg. Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing or a Masters in Library Science hence the title Prof without Dr.