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Sample PHD Entrepreneurship Dissertation Proposal

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Entrepreneur’s Attitudes and Understanding towards Human Resources Applications in Saudi Arabia

Executive summary.

Saudi Arabia’s government has also focused on achieving entrepreneurial success, allowing and encouraging individuals to move the entrepreneurial business. The entrepreneurs’ ability is also required to focus on human resource management and significantly influence business performance.

This research will assess how the entrepreneur views and understands human resources applications and how the entrepreneur attributes human resources applications as the catalyst for the success of their business organisation. This research will also assess the most appropriate way for start-up companies and S.M.E.s to implement human resources applications effectively.

This research will be conducted using a secondary qualitative research method to assess the online databases’ data. The literature search for this research will be conducted using the search terms and keywords thematic analysis method for data analysis. The outcomes extracted from this research will contribute to developing an understanding of the entrepreneurs’ attitudes towards human resources applications in Saudi Arabia. The results extracted from this research will help build strategies adopted by the business enterprises in Saudi Arabia.


Entrepreneurs play a considerable role in the economic development of countries. In this regard, most developed and developing countries have been focusing on creating an entrepreneurial culture within the public and private sector business entities (Inman, 2016). Like other countries of the world, Saudi Arabia’s government has also been focusing on achieving the entrepreneur’s success, allowing and encouraging the individuals to move the entrepreneurial business (Nzonzo and Matashu, 2014).

Entrepreneurs also play a considerable role in contributing to economic development; therefore, Saudi Arabia’s government also focuses on developing entrepreneurial corporates for boosting the financial condition of Saudi Arabia. The entrepreneurs working across the globe have been focusing on utilising advanced technology for assuring continuous development of information.

An entrepreneur’s success depends on their knowledge, skills, and ability to carry out strategic management. The entrepreneurs’ ability to specifically focus on human resource management also significantly influences business performance (Dizgah et al., 2011).  The evidence reported that the entrepreneurs’ attitudes and understandings towards the human resource application significantly impact business performance.

The entrepreneurs’ attitudes and understanding of entrepreneurs’ human resource management allow the corporates to develop strategies for improving the employees’ perspectives associated with the entrepreneurs’ corporates (McAdam, Crowley, and Harrison, 2018). This research will assess entrepreneurs’ current understandings of the efficacy of human resource management and the association between human resource management on business performance.

Besides, the Saudi Entrepreneurs’ attitudes and understanding analysis is also likely to contribute to implementing human resource applications by the start-up and Small and Medium Enterprises.

Thesis Statement

This research will seek to acquire answers to the following research questions.

  • How do entrepreneurs view and understand human resources applications?
  • To what extent, entrepreneurs attribute the human resources applications as a catalyst of their company success?
  • What is the most appropriate way for start-up companies and small- and medium enterprises to implement human resources applications?

The previously published literature has analysed human resource management’s impacts on business performance (Dizgah et al., 2011). However, the association between human resource management and entrepreneurial corporates needs to be explored in detail. The analysis of previously published literature related to entrepreneurship and human resources revealed a research gap related to human resource management within entrepreneurial corporates (Nzonzo and Matashu, 2014).

The evidence reported that the efficacy of the human resource management strategies within the corporates is strongly dependent on entrepreneurs’ attitudes, perceptions, and views. Furthermore, the previously published literature analysis also revealed that only some of the researchers have considered identifying how the Saudi entrepreneur attributes the human resources applications for improving business performance.

In this regard, the analysis of attitudes and understanding of entrepreneurs towards applying human resources in Saudi Arabia will fill the research gap. The outcomes acquired from this research are also likely to facilitate the start-up business firms and S.M.E.s in implementing human resources applications.

Literature Review

The entrepreneurial orientation is crucial for the survival and growth of an organisation within the business environment. The analysis of current trends towards the knowledge-intensive industries revealed that business organisations’ competition depends on the management of relational bases of the employees associated with the particular business organisation (Nzonzo and Matashu, 2014).

The success of start-up businesses, the Small- And Medium-Enterprises (S.M.E.s), and the business entities are performing business on a large scale depending on the organisational culture, organisational values, and commitment of the employees associated with any organisation. In this regard, human resource management is the most appropriate aspect for any business organisation’s success.

The practical applications and management of human resources enable start-up companies and Small- And Medium-Enterprises to achieve their goals inefficiently (Yousuf Danish and Lawton Smith, 2012). Besides, the mismanagement within the human resource applications results in employee dissatisfaction, contributing to its downfall.

The attitudes and behaviours of entrepreneurs towards managing human resources associated with any organisation have significant impacts on acquiring human resources and deployment, specifically within the start-up businesses (Dizgah et al., 2011). The entrepreneurs possessing efficient knowledge about human resource management have improved the survival rate of new ventures and are also likely to impact resource allocation positively.

Besides, entrepreneurs’ knowledge and attitudes related to the appropriate management of human resources also assist towards the direction of growth, specifically within rapidly expanding firms.

The attitudes of entrepreneurs towards human resource applications are strongly associated with the business organisation’s success (McAdam, Crowley, and Harrison, 2018). Human resource application is categorised into internal and external elements, such as in some business organisations.

Human resource management is carried out by the particular internal department, whereas some business entities rely on out-source parties to manage human resource-related functions.

The research conducted by Ahmed (2016) assessed the mediating effects of the organisational commitments on the relationship between corporate entrepreneurship and the policies for managing the human resource associated with an organisation in Saudi Arabia. This research was conducted by considering the sample population consisting of 250 employees working in the telecommunication sector.

The research outcomes revealed that human resource practices’ appropriateness strongly influences the efficacy of corporate entrepreneurship. This association is mediated by the organisational commitment levels (Ahmed, 2016).

The evidence further reported that the human resource’s effective management is considered one of the most vital managerial decisions impacting corporate entrepreneurship. The research conducted by Dabić et al. (2011) stated that the entrepreneurs’ attitudes and knowledge about managing human resources had been analysed from the past few decades.

Dabić et al.  (2011)  mentioned that Schuler and Jackson (1987) assessed the influence of entrepreneurs’ knowledge and attitudes on organisational performance and revealed a direct relationship between human resource management policies. Schuler and Jackson (1987) found that the human resource policies related to planning, appraising, staffing, compensating, the relationship between labour and management, and development and training significantly influence the entrepreneur’s performance.

Potential differences in human resource practices within the entrepreneur corporates are based on the entrepreneurs’ knowledge about the significance of human resource management.  The characteristics of employees associated with the entrepreneur corporate have been associated with the successful entrepreneurial efforts, the entrepreneur’s ability to take and manage risks, and the entrepreneurs’ ability to adopt a flexible attitude towards change (Dizgah et al., 2011).

For this reason, the success of business operations performed by the entrepreneur organisation is significantly dependent on the attitudes and behaviours of the entrepreneur toward the practices carried for human resource management.

The entrepreneurship researchers have analysed human resource management issues from the corporations engaged in business operations on a large scale (Nzonzo and Matashu, 2014). In this regard, managing the human resource is considered in light of firms’ policies, procedures, and strategies to address the issues and conflicts related to the human resource.

The evidence also reported that the small and medium-sized enterprises and the organisations engaged in the start-up business lack particular departments for managing the human resource.

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Theoretical Framework

De Kok and Uhlander (2011) have combined a range of theories related to organisational behaviour and human resource management into a particular framework of human resource management-related practices. The framework provided by De Kok and Uhlander (2011) revealed that any organisation’s business performance is influenced by management’s ability to fulfil the demands of human resources and the supply of financial resources.

In this regard, this framework proposed that the enterprises’ effective business performance on a small scale or large scale is strongly associated with human resources management. The human resource theory revealed the requirement of providing facilitation to the employees, assisting them in delivering the best performance, and improving business firms’ performance (Diamantidis and Chatzoglou, 2011).

Besides, the social exchange theory presented that the employment relationship assists the employees in reciprocating organisations’ inducements by adopting discretionary role behaviours to contribute to organisational success appropriately (Ana-Maria, 2012). However, facilitation operations management’s efficacy is strongly dependent on the knowledge and attitudes of the corporate management for managing the human resource.


Review analysis.

This secondary qualitative research will analyse the entrepreneur’s attitudes and understanding of human resources applications in Saudi Arabia by extracting previously published research data. This research will extract the previously published research focused on Saudi Arabia entrepreneurs’ knowledge and attitudes towards applying human resources.

This research will review a previously published study, specifically related to Saudi Arabia, published in 2010. The research questions considered for this research reveal the explicit nature of research; therefore, data extraction will be carried out using particular inclusion and exclusion criteria.

Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria

As this research is specific to Saudi Arabia’s entrepreneurs, the criteria for including the research articles will ascertain that the research articles considered within this research will be published either in 2010 or after 2010. Also, the inclusion criteria will ascertain that the research articles published only in the English language will be included in this literature review.

The exclusion criteria for this research will ensure that the exclusion of research articles published before 2010, published in languages other than English, and focused on the entrepreneurs’ attitudes belonging to countries other than Saudi Arabia.

Data Sources

For this literature review, the research journals and articles will be extracted from the online databases. The online databases will be considered data sources for this research to extract relevant research aims and objectives. Following online databases will be searched for this research.

  • Google Scholar

Search Terms

The literature search will be converged using search terms and keywords to retrieve the most relevant research articles related to the research topic.  The search terms will include ‘ entrepreneurs’, ‘attitudes of entrepreneurs’,’ perceptions of entrepreneurs’, ‘human resource management, ‘human resource applications, ‘ and ‘Saudi Arabia’.  The literature search will be further refined using the Boolean operators “AND” and “OR.”

Potential Difficulties Associated with Research

While conducting this research, the research will likely experience ambiguities in data collection due to a lack of accessibility to the online databases. Besides, the researcher will also experience difficulty in data collection, as a limited number of research articles have been published on this research topic.

Methods of Analysis of Evidence

The research articles extracted from this literature review will be conducted by using different methodologies. For this reason, the utilisation of meta-analysis for synthesising the primary evidence will be considered as an effective choice for analysing the extracted literature.

On the other hand, the data analysis by utilising the qualitative research method will permit the evaluation of the methodological quality of the research papers (Vaismoradi, Turunen, and Bondas, 2013).  Besides, the thematic analysis will also facilitate in assessing the researches performed by using different methodological approaches.

Ethical Considerations

This research will not direct the research participants’ involvement; therefore, there will be no direct ethical considerations for this research. However, specific ethical guidelines will be followed for extracting and collecting data related to the research topic. The current research will ensure that the data collected from the academic databases will be collected ethically. In addition, only those research articles will be considered for this research, which has followed the ethical considerations.

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Ahmed, N.O.A., 2016. Human Resource Management Practices and Corporate Entrepreneurship: The Mediating Role of Organisational Commitment. International Business Management, 10(9), pp.1632-1638.

Ana-Maria, B.E.R.C.U., 2012. Trends and Challenges in Human Resource Management and Organisation Performance. TABLE OF CONTENT MANAGING INNER FORCES AND OUTER THREATS OF THE COMPANY, p.16.

Dabić, M., Ortiz-De-Urbina-Criado, M. and Romero-Martínez, A.M., 2011. Human resource management in entrepreneurial firms: a literature review. International journal of manpower, 32(1), pp.14-33.

Diamantidis, A.D. and Chatzoglou, P.D., 2011. Human resource involvement, job-related factors, and their relation with firm performance: experiences from Greece. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 22(07), pp.1531-1553.

Dizgah, M.R., Gilaninia, S., Alipour, H.R. and Asgari, A., 2011. High-performance human resource and corporate entrepreneurship: the mediating role of organisations citizenship behaviour and procedural justice. Australian Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences, 5(3), pp.492-499.

Inman, K., 2016. Women’s resources in a business start-up: A study of black and white women entrepreneurs. Routledge.

McAdam, M., Crowley, C. and Harrison, R.T., 2018, July. The Emancipatory Potential of Female Digital Entrepreneurship: Institutional Voids in Saudi Arabia. In Academy of Management Proceedings (Vol. 2018, No. 1, p. 10255). Briarcliff Manor, NY 10510: Academy of Management.

Nzonzo, J.C. and Matashu, M., 2014. An Insight into the Human Resource Management Practices Adopted by Entrepreneurs in South Africa. Journal of Small Business and Entrepreneurship Development, 2(3), pp.73-87.

Vaismoradi, M., Turunen, H. and Bondas, T., 2013. Content analysis and thematic analysis: Implications for conducting a qualitative descriptive study.  Nursing & health sciences ,  15 (3), pp.398-405.

Yousuf Danish, A. and Lawton Smith, H., 2012. Female entrepreneurship in Saudi Arabia: opportunities and challenges. International Journal of Gender and Entrepreneurship, 4(3), pp.216-235.


Kayed, R.N. and Kabir Hassan, M., 2011. Saudi Arabia’s economic development: entrepreneurship as a strategy.  International Journal of Islamic and Middle Eastern Finance and Management ,  4 (1), pp.52-73.

Rahatullah Khan, M., 2013. Mapping entrepreneurship ecosystem of Saudi Arabia.  World Journal of Entrepreneurship, Management and Sustainable Development ,  9 (1), pp.28-54.

Zamberi Ahmad, S., 2011. Evidence of the characteristics of women entrepreneurs in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: An empirical investigation.  International journal of gender and entrepreneurship ,  3 (2), pp.123-143.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to write a phd dissertation proposal.

To write a Ph.D. dissertation proposal:

  • Choose a research topic.
  • Develop a clear problem statement.
  • Outline objectives and methodology.
  • Review literature.
  • Present a timeline.
  • Seek feedback from advisors.
  • Revise and finalize the proposal before submission.






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Learning from a sample PhD Research Proposal: A step by step guide.

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Developing a PhD research proposal is a pivotal step towards delving into scholarly inquiry, shaping the trajectory of one’s academic journey and contributing to the body of knowledge. Doctoral candidates incessantly look for a sample PhD research proposal to serve as a blueprint, illuminating the intricacies of their research endeavor to contribute meaningfully to their chosen field through rigorous research and inquiry.

In this blog post, I share a sample PhD Research Proposal that may serve as a starting point for doctoral candidates’ scholarly pursuit. This sample research proposal represents not only a culmination of years of my academic endeavor but shall also provide a gateway to the doctoral candidates to unlock new insights, push the boundaries of existing knowledge and make a tangible impact in the academic community and beyond.

Starting from the title, this write-up presents the content of my PhD research proposal in an abridged form as per following format:

  • Context of the study-higher education dynamics in Pakistan.
  • Statement of the problem.
  • Rationale of the study and evolution of the research questions.
  • Research Questions.
  • Objectives of the study.
  • An overview of Human Resource Management.
  • HRM in the public sector.
  • HRM in the public sector in Pakistan.
  • An overview of HRM in universities.
  • HRM in the universities in Pakistan.
  • Recruitment and Selection.
  • Recruitment and selection in the universities in Pakistan.
  • The gaps in literature and propositions.
  • Theoretical Framework.
  • General Systems Theory.
  • General Systems theory and its application to diverse disciplines.
  • General systems theory and its application to organization.
  • General systems theory and its application to HRM.
  • Application of General Systems Theory to recruitment and selection
  • Case Selection and Design
  • Observations
  • Documents and archival records.
  • Data Analysis.
  • Ethical considerations.
  • Informed consent
  • Privacy and confidentiality
  • Significance, expected outcome and contribution of the study.
  • Implications of the study.
  • Outline of the Thesis.

An Exploratory Study of Recruitment and Selection of Administrative Staff in the Public Sector Universities of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan.

Contemporary discourse on recruitment and selection underpins the researchers’ argument in articulating that staffing function does not take place in isolation in any organization. This is influenced, not only by internal factors but also by external environmental forces. While undertaking staffing function in any setting, HR managers must be cognizant that they select the right person for the right job as the critically important function set the stage for other human resources subsystems to pragmatically and smoothly function.

Using General Systems Theory as a theoretical lens, this qualitative study shall investigate the system of recruitment and selection in the public sector universities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan with a focus on administrative staff. Data shall be collected through in-depth interviews with purposefully selected participants and thematic analysis shall be undertaken to analyse the data to unearth how the system of recruitment and selection has been designed in the public sector universities.

Furthermore, this multiple case study shall identify loopholes in the system of recruitment and selection in the universities and will pinpoint the major factors responsible for the bottlenecks that need to be addressed if the institutions of higher education were to meet emerging challenges of the competitive academic world and growing expectations of all stakeholders. The study shall conclude with recommendations, how the system of recruitment and selection in public sector universities may be improved.

  • Introduction

This empirical study is aimed at investigating how the system of recruitment and selection is designed in the public sector universities by carrying out a comprehensive scrutiny of the current employment practices, investigating major problem areas, nd various factors responsible for these loopholes which need to be addressed if the institutions of higher education were to meet challenges of the competitive academic world and growing expectations of the stakeholders.

1.1 Background

The growing forces of globalization and increasing significance of emerging market economies advocate strongly that success of managers in the contemporary world rests on the degree to which they grasp a deep understanding of the issues confronted by organizations while managing human resources (Budhwar & Debrah, 2001).

For effective management of human resources, organizations require a sound Human Resource Management system. The HRM system is defined as “a set of distinct but interrelated activities, functions, and processes that are directed at attracting, developing, and maintaining (or disposing of) a firm’s human resources” (Lado & Wilson, 1994:701). An effective HRM system requires interconnected and dependent subsystems to work in harmony for its smooth functioning. HR subsystems connote those relationships and interactive activities ingrained in a larger organizational context which is aimed at managing the pool of human resources and making sure that these resources are utilized in the most effective and efficient manner so that strategic goals of the organization may be accomplished (Tiwari & Saxena, 2012:671).

The paramount HR subsystems include recruitment and selection, training and development, compensation, career development, performance evaluation, working environment and succession management to mention a few. Each of these subsystems has its own peculiar dynamics and significance. Amongst them, the most exigent is recruitment and selection. Recruitment is the process through which organizations hunt for potential applicants intended for productive employment while selection implies the process by which organizations attempt to identify the most suitable candidates with the desired knowledge, skills and ability to perform the desired tasks to help the organization realize its goals (Searle, 2009:151).

Concerted efforts aimed at reforming employment management practices were underway in developed countries for the last couple of decades. These initiatives were primarily set off by financial crisis confronted by both developed as well as developing economies. The role of the state was challenged for mismanagement and bad governance and the efficacy of service delivery system in the public domain came under enormous pressure. Hence, the public sector was censured severely for its lack of efficiency, transparency and flexibility. HRM has become one of the central themes of the public sector reform agenda (Colley, McCourt & Waterhouse, 2012:508; Gray & Jenkins, 1995: 80; Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2009:30).

Indeed, HRM is at the embryonic stage in Pakistan (Khilji, 2001:250), the case with the public sector universities is not much different. Since inception, much attention was not paid to the management of human resources in the higher education sector. With mushroom growth of universities, the HR problems confronted by these academic bodies multiplied with the passage of time. The traditional HR department, regarded as Establishment Section, in the universities used to be grossly deficient in having the requisite skilled and experienced HR professionals. Recruitment and selection was not conducted in a systematic manner. Training and development of employees were undertaken in the most orthodox fashion. Career development opportunities were scarce and infrequent. Pay was not performance based and performance appraisal was equally defective. Nevertheless, serious and sincere efforts were not undertaken in the past to revamp, redesign and restructure the same, to put it according to the changing needs of the globalized world. To be brief, HR was found to be one of the most neglected areas in the public sector universities in Pakistan (Abbas & Ahmad, 2011:21; Qadeer, Rehman, Ahmad & Shafiq, 2011:230).

Over the years, much attention has not been paid to evolve HRM system in the universities. The scenario of staffing function is not much different. Especially, the recruitment and selection system of administrative staff remained overlooked. Having taken for granted, this area remained grossly deficient and out-rightly neglected. In fact, the system of recruitment and selection of administrative staff has not received the desired level of attention and consideration. It remained controversial for being non-meritocratic, asymmetrical and even unlawful (Husain, 2007:1; Khilji, 2001:104). This area received little attention from academics, researchers and scholars despite its overall significance.

This study shall investigate the prevailing employment practices in the six public sector universities of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with prime focus on recruitment and selection system of administrative staff. This multiple case study research shall unveil numerous loopholes in the prevailing system of recruitment and selection in the public sector universities in the province and makes several recommendations in light of which the system of recruitment and selection system of administrative staff may be revived in the institutes of higher education in the country.

1.2 Context of the study-higher education dynamics in Pakistan

Institutions of higher education exist in all kinds of configurations, sizes and shapes (Edgley-Pyshorn & Huisman, 2011:610). Universities are generally esteemed as “communities of scholars researching and teaching together in collegial ways” (Deem, 1998:47). University is a seat of advanced learning, a meeting place for researchers, scholars, academicians and academic workers where students pursue their higher studies after school or college level education. It is an intellectual center of the highest level offering various academic programs and different schemes of studies for graduate and postgraduate students (Ahmad & Junaid, 2008:501).

It is essential to have a background understanding of the landscape in which higher education sector operates in Pakistan. The contemporary higher education system in Pakistan is fundamentally influenced by its historical traditions (Altbach, 2004:15)  and the Universities in Pakistan have a robust colonial legacy Rahman (1998:669).

At the time of creation of Pakistan in 1947, there was only one university functioning in Pakistan, namely University of Punjab established by the British rulers (HEC, 2013; Rahman, 1998:672). The rationale for setting up a university, in this part of the world, was that many British officers, essentially, felt that the cost of running the administration would substantially decrease if the lower level jobs were given to the Indians. And secondly, to appease the concerns of the Indians as they were left frustrated and got alienated from the British rule by the fact that they were debarred from all offices of trust, lucre and authority. Therefore, the colonial masters desired that the Indians should be educated —“educated to be westernized — and employed under British superiors” (Rahman, 1998:670). Altbach (2004:17) argues that the aim of the colonial university was to train obedient and loyal civil servants to serve the colonizers. This system of governance, subservient administrative arrangement, docile academic models and pliable managerial practices influenced from the British era persisted in universities in Pakistan with cosmetic changes even today (Altbach, 2004:15). 

Sharp increase has been recorded in the number of universities established, both in public as well as private sector, in Pakistan during the last two decades. The public sector universities are government chartered, self-governing autonomous bodies funded by the Government of Pakistan through HEC. According to Hayward (2009:19), universities and institutions of higher education remained, largely, neglected in Pakistan throughout, its history. “The crisis in higher education was acknowledged as early as 1947, followed by more than a dozen commissions and policy document s. In 1998, some small steps were finally taken to improve access by increasing the number of higher education institutions from 18 to 78 and encouraging private higher education”. Major changes took place, in the sector with Musharraf’s takeover and the establishment of HEC in 2002, development budget of higher education has risen exponentially, and the number of new universities increased manifold.

Hence, based on the dates of inception, space, diversity of programs offered, availability of internet and video conferencing facilities, these universities can be classified into two broad categories of universities (i.e. the first generation and second generation universities).

The ‘first generation’ of these universities were established since 1947 till 2002 (before the establishment of HEC). The ‘second generation’ comprises of those universities, established in the last 10 to 15 years. The ‘first generation’ of these universities are marked by spacious flat buildings, serene academic environment, intellectual richness, outdated libraries, on-campus residency, little automation and a vast pool of imaginative students. University of the Punjab University of Peshawar, and Quid-e-Azam University, Islamabad are few among those. The ‘second generation’ comprises of those universities, established in the last ten to fifteen years. These are distinguished, mainly, by multistory buildings, fully automated offices, Wi-Fi and video conferencing facilities, with newly established well-furnished Offices of Research Innovation and Commercialization, Quality Enhancement Cell, Career Counseling and Student Aid and Placement Offices. Some of the recently established universities are housed in rented buildings while others have erected their own structures. University of Health Sciences, Lahore, Kohat University of Science and Technology and Karakurum International University, Gilgit, Baltistan are few of the second-generation universities.

These public sector universities, in general, share symmetrical organizational composition having top-down hierarchical structure. The governor of the respective provinces or the president of the country, in the case of federal universities, used to be the Chancellor by virtue of their designation. They accord approval for appointment of the vice- chancellors, some members of the Senate, Syndicate and Selection Board (the key statutory bodies of the universities) and the Deans, the most distinguished academic position in the universities (Ministry of Education, Government of Pakistan, 2000; Rahman, 1998:673).

Most of these institutions are following the government timeworn policies while managing human resources. Notwithstanding, these universities have own statutory bodies to revamp and redesign their own employment system, but little efforts have been made in the past to this effect. Resultantly, these universities are confronting a myriad of challenges pertaining to employment practices. Some of these are external; nevertheless, most of these are internal challenges.

These challenges have the potential, to engender serious repercussions for employment practices in the public sector universities. At the same time, key stakeholders have varied expectations from the contemporary universities in the country (Ahmad & Ghani, 2013).

In the face of these challenges and growing expectations of the stakeholders, the university top management has to overhaul, redesign and restructure the entire HRM system in order to hunt the best lot in the market to circumvent total collapse of the higher education system in the days to come. The next ten years are anticipated to be crucial for the universities in Pakistan. This might turn out to be the golden era for higher education sector if university authorities, policy makers, government functionaries and funding agencies realize this, seize the opportunity, take the initiative and act ambitiously. If failed, “an avalanche of change will sweep the system away” (Barber, Donnelly & Rizvi, 2013:5).

1.3  Statement of the problem

Recruitment and selection of administrative staff are among the most redundant areas in the institutions of higher education in Pakistan. Being one of the most crucial HRM subsystems, staffing function failed to muster the desired level of attention in the public sector universities for a variety of reasons. Little effort has been made in the past to revamp and overhaul recruitment and selection system in the universities in Pakistan by appreciating its contribution as a strategic undertaking and a change agent role. At a time, when unprecedented modernization and innovation are taking place in the system of recruitment and selection across the globe, staffing function in the public sector universities in Pakistan is operating in the most obsolete and redundant fashion. Similarly, limited research has been undertaken in the area to explore its dynamics and inform reforms initiatives and enlighten necessary improvement.

This pioneering multiple case study research shall divulge the problems confronted by higher education sector with a prime focus on the system of recruitment and selection of administrative staff in the public sector universities of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa while using General Systems Theory as a theoretical lens.

This study shall open up new avenues for further research in other subsystems of HRM in the institutions of higher education in the country. The study shall come up with some recommendations to regenerate and transform the system of recruitment and selection of administrative staff that successfully address the varied needs of the universities and growing expectations of all stakeholders.

1.4  Rationale of the study and evolution of the research questions

A detailed review of the literature revealed that management of the human resource is one of the most neglected areas in the higher education sector in Pakistan (Abbas & Ahmad, 2011:4). The traditional HR practices prevailing in the public sector are in place in the universities across the board. HR policy is hardly designed in any public sector university. Job descriptions are not available for any position. Compensation is not performance based. Performance appraisal is not systematic. Recruitment and selections are not merit based. This invariably engenders serious administrative problems besides audit objections and legal complications. The entire process is tiresome, hectic and time-consuming, essentially, characterized by bureaucratic behavior and red-tapism. A great deal of confidentially is involved in the process culminating in serious doubts and concerns.

Serious efforts were not undertaken in the past in the universities to address these problems at the strategic level. Similarly, limited research can be found in the HR domain in the context of higher education sector. Dubosc & Kelo (2012:1) argued that there is a serious deficiency of research on strategic HR practices prevailing in universities across the globe. In the same vein, very limited research can be found on recruitment and selection system with a focus on institutions of higher education in Pakistan (Shahzad, Bashir & Ramay, 2008:302; Iqbal, Arif, & Abbas, 2011:217; Qadeer et al ., 2011:231).

This provided the desired impetus and thrust to undertake this study. This research is aimed at investigating the existing recruitment and selection system in the higher education sector exploring how this subsystem of the overall HR system is aligned with the remaining HR subsystems to drive the overall academic business of the public sector universities. This study will be looking into the ways in which recruitment and selection system in the public sector universities may be reshaped to meet burgeoning aspirations and growing challenges of the knowledge economy.

In view of the above, this study shall address the following three broad research questions:

1.5 Research Questions:

  • How for the function of recruitment and selection of administrative staff in the public sector universities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is designed in a systematic manner?
  • What are the major loopholes in recruitment and selection of administrative staff in the public sector universities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa?
  • What are the major factors responsible for these loopholes?.

1.6  Objectives of the study

This research study will probe the current employment practices in the public sector universities of Pakistan. This study, in the first instance, will investigate the prevailing system of recruitment and selection in the selected universities, in order to develop a deep understanding of the current practices. This study will, then, identify various loopholes in the recruitment and selection system. All the key factors responsible for these loopholes will be inquired to delineate how to bridge these gaps. The study will conclude with recommendations for policy makers at university level, authorities at the federal and provincial government level, HEC, provincial higher education departments and donor agencies to prioritize the area.

The study will help in realizing the following objectives:

  • To investigate the current system of recruitment and selection of administrative staff in the public sector universities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
  • To identify gaps/loopholes in the prevailing system of recruitment and selection of administrative staff in the public sector universities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
  • To examine the factors mainly responsible for the gaps/loopholes in the system of recruitment and selection of administrative staff
  • To explore how the system of recruitment and selection system of administrative staff may be revisited to overcome these gaps/loopholes?

2. A brief review of literature

HRM is the effective management of people at work. This brief review of existing literature discusses HRM in the era of globalization with focus on HR system, policies and practices prevailing in the public sector and functioning of HRM in the public sector in both developed as well as developing countries having a special focus on HR practices in the institutes of higher education in Pakistan with peculiar attention on recruitment and selection practices in the public sector universities. Identifying research gaps in the prevailing staffing function, the preceding section provide rationale for the study.

2.1 An overview of Human Resource Management

Human Resource Management is the management of people working in an organization. This primarily deals with human dimension in an organization. To match an organization’s needs of the capable and committed workforce, to the skills and abilities of its employees, essentially comes under the domain of HRM (Decenzo, Robbins & Verhulst, 2010:4). “HRM is a system that strives to achieve a dynamic balance between the personal interests and concerns of people and their economic added value” (Hussain & Ahmad, 2012:10).

To manage human resource is a challenging task. The organizations that have learned to manage human resources diligently and professionally enjoy an edge over others (Wright, MacMahan & MacWilliams, 1994:320). It is a vital element for the success of any organization. Undoubtedly, HR is one of the most essential assets for an organization; nonetheless, very few have realized it significance and even very few have harnessed its real potential (Ahmad & Schroeder, 2003:19).

“HRM includes anything and everything associated with the management of employment relationships in the firm” (Boxall & Purcell, 2003: 1). Price (2007: 32) defines HRM as a “Philosophy of people management based on the belief that human resources are uniquely important in sustained business success…HRM is aimed at recruiting capable, flexible and committed people, managing and rewarding their performance and developing key competencies”.

HR, since its inception has transformed a great deal in significance from its role largely as maintenance and administrative function of diminutive impression to the contemporary world, where it is widely reckoned to have strategic business partner status, having bottom-line implications for the organization (Ferris, Perrewé, Ranft, Zinko, Stoner, Brouer & Laird, 2007: 117). Nevertheless, there is a common misconception that HR has become “a reactive, fire-fighting and administrative” function, has lost its relevance and dismally failed to be connected with strategic aims of the organization (Collings & Wood, 2009: 5; Lundy, 1994: 687).

2.2 HRM in the public sector

For successful operations, every organization, whether public or private, commercial or not-for-profit requires people (Tessema & Soeters, 2006:86). Since, this study is taking up public sector intuitions of higher education, therefore, the focus primarily converges on public sector HR practice. Public sector implies that part of the economy, which is predominantly concerned with the provision of basic public services. This is generally regarded as government sector or public service. In general terms, the public sector consists of government and all publicly controlled or publicly funded agencies, enterprises, and entities that deliver public programs, goods, or services.

The structure and composition of the public sector vary from country to country and region to region. Nevertheless, basic services such as education, healthcare, communication, transportation, army and police services fall under the ambit of the public sector. These services are essentially not for profit, tailored to the need of public in general and aimed at serving the welfare of the society at large (Colley & Price, 2010; OECD, 2008:18). Being highly ‘personnel intensive’, the functioning of public sector enterprises, their efficiency and transparency are assessed on the basis of performance of their workforce (Tessema & Soeters, 2006:86). Hence, HR practices are regarded as vital to improving the overall quality of public services extended by the government functionaries (Ingraham & Kneedler, 2000:245).

Indeed, public sector plays a vital role in delivering goods and services and maintaining law and order. The workforce being the public service providers and executors of duties is the critical core of public management. The effective management of human capital not only determines efficiency and quality of service delivery in the public sector (Tessema & Soeters, 2006:86) but having serious bearing upon the socio-economic development of the entire country (Chang & Gang, 2010:1).“The ability of governments to recruit, train, promote and dismiss employees is a key determinant of their capacity to obtain staff with the skills needed to provide public services that meet client needs and to face current economic and governance challenges” (OECD, 2009:75).

 HRM is of prime importance for every state agency as the government functionaries are expected to deliver commodities and services, efficiently and effectively (Anazodo, Okoye & Chukwuemeka, 2012:1; Nyameh & James, 2013:68). HRM in the public sector symbolizes flexible and flatter management structure. Decentralization of decision making, devolution of authority, uniformity of rules, sharing of responsibility with line managers are some of the key dimensions of HRM in the government sector (OECD, 2009:76).

Notwithstanding, HRM has been sharing common attributes across all sectors, whether public or private for its prime focus on workforce issues and concerns, HRM in the public sector is vastly different from HRM in the private sector in all most all kind of employment practices. Indeed, public interest has always been the focus of attention for public sector entities, whereas private sector organizations remained concern more with private interests. The notion of public interest is perplexing, as the theme does not “easily fit with HRM as a strategic partner in accomplishing organizational competitiveness and business outcomes” (Brown, 2004:305).

2.3 HRM in the public sector in Pakistan

As a British colony, before independence in 1947, the government machinery was run under the bureaucratic administrative structure set up by the colonial masters. Even after sixty years of independence, the public sector is still getting hitched with British legacy (Ali et al., 2010:3; Rehman, 1998:678). The public sector, as a whole, is having a passive management culture. To run the administrative affairs of the government, key strategic decisions are being made, essentially based on political clientele rather than sound business acumen (Khilji, 2001:104). “Decades of mismanagement, political manipulation and corruption have rendered Pakistan’s civil service incapable of providing effective governance and basic public services” (International Crisis Group, 2010).  To get away with British traditions in many spheres of public management, particularly, bureaucratic setup and employment practices have become cumbersome for the Pakistani public sector over the years (Husain, 2007:1; Khilji, 2001:104).

According to Khilji (2001:250), HRM is at the very early stage of evolution in Pakistan. Very few organizations in the country have adopted a strategic approach to managing human resources. In some organizations, the function of HRM has broadened in scope and importance. HR departments have been linked with service delivery function and communication channels have been established. Some organizations are pursuing HR practices in a piecemeal manner. These organizations have adopted new practices such as ‘Management by Objectives’ and ‘pay for performance’. Concerted efforts are being made to adopt ‘open’ appraisal systems and further expound the role of their training programs.

To transform the existing corporate culture of public sector enterprises, nonetheless, the government took a number of reform measures during the 1990s. Hiring teams of sound professionals at the top level to invigorate the entire HRM culture as to make it flexible, meritocratic and responsive was one of those initiatives (Khilji, 2001:104).

Resultantly, a series of business concerns in Pakistan restructured their personnel divisions. HR departments were established. The role of HRM was further expanded. In the face of these reforms, one of the dilemma with the application of HR best practices in Pakistan is that the “policy-makers and HR managers repeatedly talk of bringing about revolutionary changes in the HRM system, but do little to implement it. This has left employees frustrated, demotivated and largely dissatisfied” (Khilji, 2003:136).

Husain (2007:8) argued that recruitment at all levels and cadres of public services needs to be made open, transparent and merit-based. Performance needs to be evaluated based on quantifiable objectives and according to well-defined key performance indicators.

Today in Pakistan, there is a dire need for a smaller but efficient government machinery. Such a government, in the contemporary world, is essential for developing a competitive advantage over other nations of the region. To accomplish these ideals, public sector institutions require potential and talented human resources which are equipped with knowledge and skill sets congruent with the compulsions of the twenty first Century (Qureshi, 2014).

2.4 An overview of HRM in the Universities

Managing human resource has become ‘a critical issue for contemporary universities’ as a result of mounting pressures from government, society at large as well as global academic market. In fact, the autonomous status has entrusted the capacity of the employer upon the universities resulting in enhanced expectations of faculty and administrative staff and constituent institutes about terms and conditions of employment, working conditions, as well as broader aspects of work-life balance ultimately affecting academic and professional identities (Gordon & Whitchurch, 2007:1).

Dubosc & Kelo (2012:7) in their study found that managing and developing human resource is becoming a key challenge in the institutes of higher education worldwide. Complex academic communities need appropriate career management procedures as well as national HR policies underpinning the institutions of further education in recruiting, motivating and retaining qualified and committed academic workforce.

Guest & Clinton (2007: 6) in their study noted that in the institutions of higher education, HRM has remained merely an administrative activity. In the same vein Larkin & Neumann (2012:4) argue that universities, in general, have only partially adopted HRM practices ranging from career development, performance evaluation to retirement preparation and succession planning. By and large, HRM policies and practices in the universities are “reactive and ad-hoc, designed to respond to immediate needs and lack an organizational strategy to workforce planning”.

For that very reason, universities are castigated for viewing HRM in operational and not in strategic terms (Archer, 2005). Dubosc & Kelo (2012:7) observed that the ongoing reflections and analyses by the researchers, academicians, and practitioners concerning modernization of the educational institutions highlight among many other impediments, the human factor and the trouble to make people change their attitude and adhere to new approaches and methods. They conclude that structural reforms often fail because of lack of commitment and motivation of individual actors.

2.5 HRM in the universities in Pakistan

Public sector universities in Pakistan, by and large, share symmetrical organizational structure having a top-down hierarchy. The governor of the respective provinces or the president of the country, in the case of federal universities, used to be the chancellors of these universities by virtue of their designation. Vice-chancellor being the chief executive, principal accounting officer and chief academic officer of the university wields overwhelming authority. He chairs almost all key decision-making forums (i.e. the Syndicate, Academic Council, Finance and Planning Committee and Advance Studies & Research Board).

Qadeer et al ., (2011:230) found that highly centralized HRM structure, a colonial legacy still prevails in public sector universities in Pakistan. Abbas & Ahmad (2011:21) arguably underpinned these findings stating that HR units do not effectively exist in the universities and HR functions have been made perplexed and complicated which is mainly looked after by the administration with no expertise and training to deal with it. Strong resistance to integrate HRM practices and the high power distance culture in Pakistan are detrimental in framing HR policies and practices (Qadeer, Ahmad & Rehman, 2010).

Very limited research can be found on HRM practices in universities in Pakistan (Shazad et al., 2008:302; Iqbal et al., 2011; Qadeer et al., 2011:231). Not a single research endeavor has been made to address HR issues in the institutions of higher education in a holistic fashion. However, discrete studies can be found taking up HR practices in the institutions of higher education.

2.6 Recruitment and Selection

Recruitment is the process through which organizations hunt for the potential applicants for productive employment while selection implies the process by which organizations attempt to identify the most suitable applicant with the desired knowledge, skill and ability to perform the desired task to help the organization realize its goals (Searle, 2009:151).

Huselid (1995:635) asserted that HRM practices influence employees’ skills by means of acquiring and nurturing human resources in an organization. The staffing function in an organization predominantly encompasses the process of hunting, attracting and selecting right people for the right jobs, the people who shall serve the organization, productively and for a longer period of time. Armstrong (2009:515), believes that staffing function is the exercise of looking for the most suitable candidate so that selection of the right person with the right qualification and right frame of mind can be made. Staffing function or the hiring phase include hunting for the prospective and potential candidates for the available vacant slots, assessing their suitability from various aspects, and ultimately selecting those who are deemed to be the most suitable candidates to serve the organization (Itika, 2011:75).

Research has established that organizations perform better when the process of selection is systamtic, straight and transparent (Rehman, 2012:77). According to Decenzo, Robbins & Verhulst (2010: 134), the overall performance of an organization invariably hinges on employees productivity, therefore, selection of a right person for the right slot has remained the utmost priority for the dynamic organizations. The more effective and transparent the process is; the better the performance of the organization shall be. Otherwise, competitive advantage, goodwill, and quality of working environment shall be highly compromised (Hays & Sowa, 1998: 98).

As a matter of fact, recruitment and selection cannot be undertaken in sequestered fashion in any set up in any environment. This function is impinged upon, not only by the nature and size of an organization but also by the outside forces that affect the organization as a whole (Catano et al., 2009:6). Since general systems theory has been evolved over the years, its basic tenants can still be applied to the recruitment and selection in any organization. Its sense of holism provides a synopsis for the entire HR system by encompassing various relationships and interaction persisting within the subsystem of recruitment and selection (O’Meara & Petzall, 2013:26).

2.7 Recruitment and selection in the universities in Pakistan

The modern university is a multi-million dollar enterprise, operating in a highly complex landscape, immensely competitive global marketplace and an increasingly challenging economic environment. The quality of university management, especially the administrative staff comprising of top management and midcareer level managers, has thus never been more significant, and it follows that appointing the best candidates has become indispensable (Shepherd, 2011: 3).

Bibi et al., (2012:5) argued that staffing function includes various activities of recruiting employees such as defining evaluation mechanism, designing screening tests and conducting interview before the final decision of selecting the right candidates is being made. Recruitment in public sector organizations involves ensuring that the organizations adhere strictly to established government laws and regulations in order to avoid discrimination.HR managers in the public sector universities are responsible to follow the established procedure and put down the entire hiring and recruiting process in black and white to best serve the organization, protect the candidates, avoid complications and reduce chances of lawsuits.

Similarly, Nabi, Wei, Husheng, Shabbir, Altaf & Zhao (2014:12), analyzed the effectiveness of fair recruitment and selection procedures in the public sector universities in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan and found that organizational politics and line management have greater influence on the effectiveness of fair recruitment and selection system which are detrimental to organizational success and affect the overall productivity of the universities. The study made suggested that a comprehensive research is needed to analyze the recruitment and selection of the administrative cadre specially the relevant officials of human resource department and their functioning on modern lines.

2.8  Gaps in the literature and propositions

Modern organizations, as envisaged by Ployhart (2006:868) are struggling with staffing challenges stemming, essentially from “increased knowledge work, labor shortages, competition for applicants, and workforce diversity.” Nevertheless, in spite of its immense significance and critical needs for an effective employment system, staffing research continues to be neglected altogether or misconstrued by many decision makers in a great deal of organizations taking up its more constringed outlook. Solving these challenges requires staffing scholars to expand their focus from individual-level recruitment and selection research to multilevel research concentrating on business unit standpoint and organizational level perspective.

As a matter of fact, the staffing function does not take place in isolation in any organization. The other internal HR subsystems, size, structure, leadership styles and the events occurring outside the system that affects the organization as a whole are some of the most climacteric influencing factors. This dynamic relationship between the organization and its environment is having last longing impact upon the organization and its employees (Catano et al., (2009:6). French & Rumbles (2010:171) have rightly pointed out “that recruitment and selection do not operate in a vacuum, insulated from wider social trends, so it is very important to keep abreast of current research”.

While systems theory is developed over the years, its basic principles can still be employed to the recruitment and selection system in any organization (O’Meara & Petzall, 2013:26). The concept that how the HRM subsystems are influenced by external challenges such as globalization, technological revolution, new legislations, political intervention, unionization, labor market conditions, national cultures and accountability is yet to be explored (Jackson & Schuler, 1995:237). Within the system if HR managers fail to acknowledge the contributions of others or if they fail to coordinate closely with other parts of the system or sub systems, senior management may begin, to question the added value that HR brings to the organization. This underline the need, to study recruitment and selection in the context of a system, not simply as an isolated function divorced from other functional areas in the organization but as a sub-system embedded in a larger organizational system (Catano et al., 2009:6).

Limited research studies are available on HRM in universities with a focus on recruitment and selection. These studies only underline the significance of the area as critically important HR function; nevertheless, much further investigation has not been undertaken with the intentions to explore its dynamics with the changeling times. For example Nabi et al., (2014:12) mention recruitment and selection as being vital to organizational performance in the public sector in Pakistan but there is no in-depth analysis of how it is linked with the rest of HRM functions or how to make the current system of recruitment and selection more transparent, accountable and systemic. Similarly, Iqbal & Ahmad (2006:629) in their study with a focus on public sector governance in Pakistan, highlighted the lack of systemic approach and structural issues as the major bottlenecks in civil services reform initiatives in the country. In view of the above discussion, this study propounds the following proposition:

Proposition 1:   The Recruitment and Selection in public sector u niversities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is not managed systematically since it is not linked with other HR subsystems in a systematic manner.

Van den Brink, Benschop, & Jansen in their qualitative study (2010: 1459) provided insight in multiple ways to understand the notions of transparency and accountability in academic recruitment and selection in the universities in Netherlands stating that recruitment and selection processes in academia are characterized by ‘bounded transparency’ and ‘limited accountability’ at best.

High frequency of internal recruitment, lack of transparency, corruption, nepotism, use of flawed selection methods favouring poorly qualified and inferior candidates at the cost of  best‐suited candidates for the jobs, and restrictive legal frameworks are some of the grey areas identified by Dubosc & Kelo (2012:9) in the recruitment and selection of academic staff in the universities. Khilji (2002:238) argued that decisions involving fresh hiring are made in Pakistani public sector organizations in a dubious manner. The merit-based system of selection does not prevail. Family relationships receive preferential treatment, thus guiding major decisions involving hiring and promotions. Given this, the second proposition for this study is:

Proposition 2:     The Recruitment and Selection system in public sector u niversities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is not merit based, impartial and transparent.

In public sector universities in Pakistan, the colonial legacy with highly centralized structure and the traditional personnel management system still prevail. There is hardly any university in the public sector in the country that has a full-fledged HR section staffed by HR professionals to address and look after HR affairs (Qadeer et al ., 2011:230). Abbas & Ahmad (2011a:21) have similar findings. They observed that separate HR unit does not exist in the universities, and the HR functions have been made intertwined and complex mainly looked after by the staff having no requisite qualification, capacity, and experience to deal with it. This state of affairs call for a detailed, in-depth research study in order to unearth real issues so that corrective measures may be undertaken in light of the same (Qadeer et al., 2010). This leads to the third proposition:

Proposition 3:   Public sector u niversities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa do not have any specialized Human Resource Department or S ection to look after HR functions such as Recruitment and Selection.

Similarly, there exist no independent statutory body such HR council or HR board to have an oversight role in the HR domain in universities in Pakistan. A closer examination of all the relevant legislations such as University of Peshawar Act, 1974, North-West Frontier Province University of Engineering and Technology Ordinance, 1980, Khyber Medical University Act, 2007, University of Peshawar Act, 2011, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Universities Act, 2012 and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Universities (Amendment) Act, 2015 and detailed scrutiny of intrinsic material revealed that there are various authorities looking after administrative, financial and academic business in the public sector universities across the Province. Nevertheless, no legal entity subsists in public sector universities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to address HR issues.

Proposition 4:   Public sector u niversities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa do not have an HR Council on the analogy of Academic Council in universities, to keep an eye on HR affairs in the universities .

Hence, an empirical research study is needed to explore the recruitment and selection system of the administrative cadre in public sector universities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as there is a wide scope to investigate the matter further. This study is the pioneering work to address these issues by adopting systems approach to fill this gap. While using general systems theory as a theoretical framework, this study endeavors to find answers to some of the most critical questions researchers and academics raised as mentioned earlier.

  • Theoretical Framework

Current discourse on employment practices enunciates that staffing function does not take place in isolation in any organization. This is shaped not only by internal environment, but it is also molded by external forces. While undertaking recruitment and selection in any setting, HR managers must be cognizant that the new appointees are properly trained. They have plentiful of opportunities for growth and promotion. Their hard work is acknowledged, and once they quit, they are praised formally and eloquently for their contribution. At the same time, HR managers have to keep an eye on external challenges such as globalization, technological advancement, socio-economic pressures, legal and judicial activism, political interloping and accountability impacting staffing function. These are some of the critically important questions that must be addressed by HR managers. To understand these dynamics, a theoretical lens is needed. While General Systems Theory evolved over the years, its basic principles can still be applied to the system of employees’ recruitment and selection in an organization.  This theory is used to build up theoretical foundation of this research study.

3.1 General Systems Theory

The theoretical lens for this study is provided by Bertalanffy (1950, 1968).  General systems theory is one of the contemporary theories of management postulated first by Ludwig von Bertalanffy in the 1930s as a means of explaining the complexity, interaction and relationship among various groups. While propounding his theory, Bertalanffy was reacting against reductionism and attempting to revive the unity of science (1968:49). He is considered to be the founder and principal author of general systems theory. In general systems theory (1950a:23) the unit of analysis is empathized as a complex whole of interdependent parts.

The systemic perspective of Bertalanffy (1968:38) postulates that comprehending a phenomenon in its entirety merely by splitting it up into basic components and then reconstituting is impracticable; instead, global vision is needed to apply in order to underscore its functioning from a strategic point of view in a holistic fashion.

Bertalanffy premised the idea of a systems approach as part of his general systems theory which he introduced to scrutinize the interaction between organisms and the environment. His systems approach was founded on the theories of Stafford Beer and Kenneth Boulding, both management scientists. The basic idea of general systems theory entails its focus on interactions and relationship. The preeminence of interconnection leads to believe that the conduct of a single autonomous element is different from its behavior when the element interacts with other elements in unison (Mele, Pels & Polese, 2010:127). “General system theory, therefore, is a general science of wholeness.” “The meaning of the somewhat mystical expression, the whole is more than the sum of parts is simply that constitutive characteristics are not explainable from the characteristics of the isolated parts” nevertheless, “the total of parts contained in a system and the relations between them, the behavior of the system may be derived from the behavior of the parts” (Bertalanffy, 1968:55).

3.2 General Systems theory and its application to diverse disciplines

Von Bertalanffy (1968) put forward general systems theory and applied the same in a variety of contexts (Weinberger,1998:88). Its initial application was in numerical sciences, biological sciences, and physical sciences but has since been applied to a wide range of other disciplines such as organizational theory (O’Meara & Petzall, 2013:23), marketing and management (Mele, Pels, & Polese, 2010:126). This theory presumes that there are universal principles of organization which holds for all systems, whether they are physical, chemical, biological, behavioural, cultural and social (Kast & Rosenzweig, 1972: 447) . This is considered to be a ‘grand’ theory for having universal relevance and applicability. “Systems theory is a broad view which far transcends technological problems and demands, a reorientation that has become necessary in science in general and in the gamut of disciplines from physics and biology to the behavioral and social sciences and to philosophy” (Bertalanffy, 1968: vii).

Katz & Kahn (1966) applied systems theory to organizations. The organization is seen as a system, built by energetic input-output where the energy coming from the output reactivates the system. Jacobs (1989:65) argues that systems theory is the unifying theory for HRD and “forms the most underlining structure for the HRD profession.” Using a systems approach to realize organizational and individual goals, Jacobs (1988:2) proposed a domain of human performance technology and used the theory for the development of human performance systems and the management of the resulting systems, which is another dimension of performance improvement within the systems concept.

Capra (1997) contended that systems theory is an ‘interdisciplinary theory’ about every system in nature, in society and in many scientific disciplines, as well as, a framework with which one can investigate a phenomenon from a holistic perspective. Before going into minute details of this theory and it application to organizational HR practices with a focus on recruitment and selection, it is important to explain what the system entails and how it works for better understanding the theoretical framework.

3.3 General systems theory and its application to organization

The didactics of general systems theory are quite basic. Notwithstanding, decades of management training and practices in the workplace, HR managers have not followed this theory in letter and spirit. However, in recent times, in the face of tremendous changes taking place all around, the way organizations function and the way they operate, academics and managers come across this new lens of looking at things. This new overture has brought about a paradigm shift in the thought process of academicians, researchers, managers and the way they approach or manage the organizations.

The effects of systems theory on organization espouse managers to look at the organization from a broader perspective. Systems theory has brought home a very impertinent aspect for the managers to interpret patterns and events in the workplace. They recognize various parts of the organization, and, in particular, the interrelations of these various parts, cognized as subsystems. This encompasses coordination at all levels, for instance: i) Coordination of central administration with its subsidiaries, programs, projects, departments and other administrative units; ii) Coordination within the departments for example engineering and manufacturing and iii) Coordination among supervisors and workers. This is regarded as a major breakthrough in the organizational life. In the past, managers typically took one particular unit of the organization and focused on that. Then they moved their attention to other parts. Here, the predicament was that an organization could, have a strong central administrative system and an incredible set of body parts, but the individual units/departments were working in isolation as these same were not synchronized at all.

3.4 General systems theory and its application to HRM

Systems theory carries a momentous effect on the discipline of management sciences and understanding organizations. Mowday (1983) was one of the first HRM researchers who applied systems model to HRM practices. Katz & Kahn (1978:189) argue that HRM is a subsystem embedded in a larger organizational system. The open systems approach towards HRM has been further developed by Wright & Snell (1991:203).

In the same vein, the description of HRM as a controlled system postulated by Snell (1992: 292) is based upon open systems theory. A more refined discourse on the system theory led us to believe what Kozlowski & Salas (1994: 281) argued to be a multilevel organizational systems approach for better understanding of the implementation and transfer of capacity building initiatives. Many of the more specific theories delineated by Jackson & Schuler (1995:239) in their review to broaden understanding of HRM in context assume that organizations function like open systems.

Alsabbah & Ibrahim (2014:11) used General Systems Theory while studying HR practices in the organizations postulated that certain HR practices if implemented intuitively lead to overwhelming organizational outcome. They found the theory as exceedingly pertinent to the HR domain as it envisages HRM as a vast system blending various processes. The study, establishing the viability of the General Systems Theory when applied to HR practices and employees competence, concluded that understanding the theory assist in improving HR performance in many ways. Hence, the application of the theory elucidates the effectiveness of HR practices in raising employee’s competence in an organization.

3.5 Application of General Systems Theory to recruitment and selection

Since Aristotle’s assertion that knowledge is extrapolated from comprehending a phenomenon in its entirety and not from its individual parts, scholars have been painstakingly engaged in the discourse on systems, its constituent components and their comparative dynamics (Mele, Pels, & Polese, 2010:126). The employees who work in an organization are drawn from the external market, and they add new knowledge, skills, abilities and competencies to the organization resources to enable it to respond to indigenous, national and global innovative market trends, growth and sustainability. Systems theory is having a critical and useful function in comprehending the dynamic connection between the organization and its environment through recruitment and selection (O’Meara & Petzall, 2013:26).

Catano et al., (2009:6) in their study contended that recruitment and selection do not take place in isolation in any organization. They are influenced not only by the context and type of organization, its type, size, structure, leadership styles, strategic objectives but also by the events occurring in the surroundings that affect the organization as a whole.

While systems theory has germinated over the years, its basic principles can still be employed to the recruitment and selection system in any setup. Its holistic approach offers a synopsis of the entire HR system by encompassing various relationships and interaction persisting within the subsystem of recruitment and selection (O’Meara & Petzall, 2013:26).

Catano et al., (2009:6) in their study postulates that there are a number of questions that must be addressed by any HR manager or practitioner in setting up a recruitment and selection system in any organizations. Some of these are: i) How do employers ensure that the people they hire will have the desired knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for the best performance of the job?; ii) How do employers ensure that the recruitment and selection system function in a transparent and unbiased manner?; And iii) How do employers ensure that their hiring policies and procedures are gender sensitive and treat candidates from different ethnic groups fairly and accommodate people with disabilities?.

In fact, “recruitment and selection set the stage for other human resources interventions. If recruitment and selection are done properly, the subsequent movement of the worker through the organizational system is made easier, and the individual makes a long-term, positive contribution to organizational survival and success”. When this happens, HRM makes a positive contribution to the organizational system as a whole. On the other hand, if a new employee enters the firm on a ‘flat trajectory’ because of a flawed recruitment and selection system then the smooth functioning of the entire structure of the organization, including HRM, is adversely affected (Catano et al., 2009:7).

This study shall combine general systems theory with strategic human resource practices with a prime focus on recruitment and selection in order for talent acquisition to have maximum impact. It stresses the importance of continual improvement in attracting talent and engaging, motivating and retaining staff in line with best practices in the face of unbridled market pressures and global challenges. This furthers the concept that how the HRM subsystems are influenced by interal as well as external challenges (Jackson & Schuler, 1995:237).

  • Methodology

Review of literature revealed scarcity of research studies, addressing HR issues in a methodical manner in developing countries (Budhwar & Debrah, 2001; Yeganeh & Su, 2008:203), including Pakistan (Aycan, Kanungo, Mendonca, Deller, Stahl & Khurshid, 2000: 217; Khilji, 2001). In the same vein, very few studies can be found exploring employment practices with a focus on staffing function in the field of higher education in Pakistan (Shazad et al., 2008; Qadeer et al., 2011). Since little empirical evidence is available in the area of recruitment and selection of administrative staff in the context of public sector universities in Pakistan for quantitative analysis and theory development, this study is aimed at bridging this gap by espousing qualitative research paradigm.

Qualitative research generates new insight into a situation and behaviour so that the meaning of what is happening around can be easily understood. It lays emphasis on the interpretation of behaviour from the perspective of the participants, in view of their personal experiences (Smith, 2007: 53). It is based on evidence that may not be effortlessly reduced to numbers. It makes use of interviews, archival record and observations as data collection methods (Armstrong, 2009:181).  

Qualitative research paradigm has been selected for the study for a variety of reasons. The most compelling among those are the conspicuous lack of previous conclusive research on the subject matter (Creswell, 2011; Morse, 1991). Qualitative approach is valuable for the in-depth understanding of a phenomenon, exploration of new dimensions and discovering their interrelationship (Creswell, 1994). As not much background information was available on the theme for empirical analysis, choosing a qualitative approach provides a strong rationale for exploring and describing the phenomenon in minute details for developing a theory (Gay, Mills & Airasian, 2005).

The constructivist worldview of Creswell (2009) regarded as paradigms by Lincoln, Lynham, & Guba (2011), epistemologies and ontologies by Crotty (1998), or broadly conceived research methodologies by Neuman (2009) shall be used for the study believing that individuals seek understanding of the world in which they live and work and develop subjective meanings of their experiences. Hence, the processes of interaction among individuals with focus on the specific contexts in which they work in order to understand the historical and cultural settings of the participants.

Moreover, the case study approach adopted for the study aids in developing a profound understanding of contemporary employment issues confronted by Pakistani public sector universities in a systematic manner with a prime focus on recruitment and selection of administrative staff. The study involves probing a small number of key informants through extensive and prolonged engagements in order to develop patterns and relationships of key themes and subthemes for further analysis (Nieswiadomy, 1993).

4.1 Case Study

This is basically a case study research. Being one of the most challenging of all the social sciences research endeavours, case study method digs deeper into the situation for a better understanding of prevailing capacities and dynamics of a particular case (Yin, 2003:1). Case study research helps in developing a deeper understanding of a complex issue and may add strength to what is already known through previous research (Stake, 1995). Yin (1993) argues that the case study is appropriate when the aim is to define a topic broadly and not narrowly. Similarly, case study research is recommended by Yin (1989) when little previous research has been carried out within the context, and there is a gap that needs to be filled in the research examining a situation (Bonoma, 1985; Stake, 1995).

As Yin (2003:13) argues that empirical inquiry “investigates a contemporary phenomenon in-depth and with its real-life context when the boundaries between the context and the phenomenon are not clearly evident.” Hence, taking the above into consideration the research design used for the said study is a multiple case study design . Hence, this study employs a six case research design- all from the public sector with three from among the first generation and three among the second generation universities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan for data collection. The justification for selection of these universities is discussed in the next section.

4.2 Case Selection and Design

The study will be carried out with prime focus on public sector Universities and Degree Awarding Institutes of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the north-western province of Pakistan. According to the data, available on HEC website, there are one hundred and sixty-three universities and degree awarding institutes in the country. Amongst those, ninety-four are public sector (HEC, 2015). In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, there are nineteen public sector universities and DAIs, with five established in the last seven years, whereas, the establishment of four new universities is in the pipeline. These universities/DAIs are government chartered, self-governing and autonomous bodies established and regulated under the law enacted by the Provincial Assembly and funded by the federal government through HEC.

For the study, a total of six universities (three among the first generation and three among the second generation universities) shall purposefully be selected out of the total 19 public sector universities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Among the ‘first generation’ of the universities, University of Peshawar, University of Engineering and Technology Peshawar and Agriculture University, Peshawar shall be chosen. Whereas, among the ‘second generation’ universities/DAIs, Islamia College University Peshawar, Khyber Medical University Peshawar and Institute of Management Sciences Peshawar shall be selected. To maintain anonymity these universities were designated as University-A, University-B, University-C, University-D, University-E and University- F.

4.3 Data collection

For data collection, three sources of information shall be used: i) Interview; ii) Non-participant observations, and iii) Documents and archival records. These are discussed in detail in the following:

4.3.1 Interview

Semi- structured interviews were held with low, middle and top management as multiple key informants. The key informant is an expert source of information (Marshall, 1996:92). Since, the Establishment and the Meetings Sections are the two main HR sections/departments in the universities, therefore, the top, mid and low career level manager/administrative officers working in these sections (i.e. Registrar, Additional Registrar, Deputy Registrar and Assistant Registrar) were selected for the purpose.

These units of analysis are highly pertinent for obtaining the type of data required for the study, and this is one of the most important considerations for selection of respondents for the study.

Semi-structured interviews shall mainly be conducted for looking into the phenomenon from the perspective of participants assuming that the respondents explicitly demonstrate their understanding of the phenomenon (Patton, 1990). The interviews will be organized in an open-ended manner to allow participants’ perspectives to emerge but will be having closed-ended questions to provide some structure to the interview to allow for comparability of findings across cases if required.

Thus, a total of thirty semi-structured, in-depth interviews with open-ended questions given at Appendix-I shall be conducted with the purposefully selected individuals. The interview guide shall be designed and each interview session shall span over two to three hours of duration. The interviews shall be tape recorded and transcribed in a narrative format accordingly. Overall, field notes shall be taken during interview sessions and data will be analyzed once this stage of data collection is completed.

4.3.2  Observation

Furthermore, the non-participant observation shall also be used for triangulation of data gathered from primary source as well as secondary sources. “Nonparticipant observation is a data collection method used extensively in case study research in which the researcher enters a social system to observe events, activities, and interactions with the aim of gaining a direct understanding of a phenomenon in its natural context.

4.3.3 Documents and archival records

In addition to semi-structured interviews and non-participant’ observations, archival records and official documents shall also be consulted for the collection of data. These sources include annual reports of the universities and their official websites, as well as official website of HEC. These sources provide information about the act, statutes, rules and regulations of these universities apart from their size, vision and mission statement, structure, their number of faculty members, and the number of the student population.

Using the secondary source, accessible official documents of the universities shall also be thoroughly reviewed such as official letters, appointment orders, office notes, memoranda, agenda and minutes of the meetings, complaints, inquiry reports, court cases, statutes, rules, regulations, acts and published/unpublished reports of the World Bank, HEC, Planning Commission of Pakistan, Ministry of Education, Government of Pakistan and provincial higher education department.

4.4 Data Triangulation

Interview being the primary source of data collection, for the study, shall not solely be relied upon and shall be substantiated from multiple sources, as discussed in the preceding section. This shall serve as a cross-check for the validity of the conclusions drawn, and the additional sources of information shall gave more insight into the topic and shall also serve as a means of assessing the researcher’s interpretation, and the conclusion drawn and recommendations made.

Two other sources of data collection (i.e., archival records and non-participant observations) shall also used for triangulation purposes. The researcher shall also confirm such information from official documents and archival record of the university. All this shall also be done in order to confirm and revalidate the original interview responses of the participants.

4.5 Data Analysis

The data analysis process involves determining categories, subthemes, main themes and the essence from the participants’ descriptions (Braun & Clarke, 2006:79). For analysis of data thematic analytic approach propounded by Braun & Clarke shall be adopted (2006:79). Under this approach analysis is not a linear process. The steps outlined by Braun & Clarke (2006:87) shall be followed for the data analysis include: i) Becoming familiar with the data; ii) Generating initial codes; iii) Searching for themes; iv) Reviewing themes; v) Defining and naming themes, and vi) Producing the report.

Once data is collected, the same will be transcribed, accordingly. In this very first step, the task will be to get familiar with the data and comprehend the nature and meaning of the data. The second step will be to generate initial codes. Then data relevant to each code shall be organized. This exercise will be done manually. In the process, all the potential themes shall be coded and patterns will be established from the codes. The third step will be searching for sub-themes and themes. In this step, codes become categories, subthemes and central themes. Reviewing the themes will be the fourth step. Defining and naming themes will be the fifth step. In this step, the emerging themes will be described in a way that captured the essence of the theme. Here, the themes will be defined and will ultimately be keyed out. Writing the analysis will be the last and final step. Here, an analytic narrative of the data will be presented.

4.6 Ethical considerations

Ethical considerations for this study shall be the participants’ right to informed consent, autonomy, confidentiality and anonymity which are discussed in detail here.

4.6.1 Informed consent

For the study, informed voluntary consent of all the respondents shall be obtained in writing beforehand. Participants’ information sheet shall be provided to all of them and their queries shall be addressed before the commencement of interview sessions.

4.6.2 Autonomy

While following the spirit of autonomy, it shall be scrupulously elucidated to the participants that their participation in the research study was entirely voluntary. In addition, their willingness to participate or otherwise would not affect them in any way. Even, it will be assured that they were free to back out from the study any time at any stage of the study if they desire so.

4.6.3 Privacy and confidentiality

The personal information of the participants shall be recorded on demographic data sheet gathered during the interview process and all the information provided by the participants shall be kept confidential if they desire so.

5.  Significance, expected outcome and contribution of the study

Appreciating that human resource is one of the most valuable assets, effective recruitment and induction system is critically important for organizations to ensure that the new employees become productive in the shortest possible time. Indeed, the benefits which can be derived from a merit-based selection system are widely established and frequently reported in the body of knowledge (Ulrich & Allen, 2009:33). This helps in developing intrinsic capabilities; organizations direly need to acquire, nourish and nurture to compete and win. This study is not only about undertaking fresh induction in a transparent manner but also focused on stimulating academic success and adding value to the academic business by connecting all HR functions in a systematic manner rather than simply reckoning recruitment and selection as a function in isolation.

The study will unearth gray areas in the staffing function in the institutes of higher education in the public sector in Pakistan. The study will give new insight to the academicians, university administrators, researchers, practitioners, and HR professionals. The study will provide useful guidelines for social scientists working in the field of higher education and policy makers at the national level. It will add, not only to the body of knowledge but will also help in unleashing reforms in the higher education sector by paving the way for standardization of recruitment and selection practices in universities in Pakistan.

The study will be helpful in persuading the people at the helm of universities’ affairs to manage employment practices strategically, in order, to avoid a total collapse of higher education sector, in the days to come. The study shall enable the universities, to put the recruitment and selection system according to the demands and challenges of the contemporary academic world. The study holds immense significance for the university administrators, researchers, decision makers and HR practitioners. The study will help the universities in revisiting recruitment and selection system, to make it more transparent, unbiased and meritocratic, thus, minimizing personal influence, political clout and external pressures.

6. Implications of the study

This study shall provide rich insight, in multiple ways, in which the notion of fair play, transparency and accountability required to be put in practice while pursuing fresh hiring, at all the levels, in public sector universities. The study shall contribute to the system of HR in the higher education sector, by discerning shortcomings mainly in various areas.

The study shall highlight multiple gray areas in the system of recruitment and selection in the institutes of higher education in Pakistan. This study is not only about performing recruitment and selection function in a better way but also focused on building academic success and adding value to the academic business rather than simply optimizing HR as a function. The study shall make certain recommendations postulating; how the institutes of higher education in this part of the world learn from best practices prevailing in developed countries. In light of the participants’ suggestions, the study shall come up with concrete, practical recommendations to regenerate staffing function in public sector universities in the country.

7. Outline of the Thesis

The thesis shall be divided into three major parts, comprising of nine chapters including Chapter 01- Introduction. These shall be structured as follows. Chapter 02 shall present an overview of the available literature on HRM concentrating on the historical perspective of the discipline. The first section of this Chapter shall discuss basic concepts of HRM, its historical evolution and its application in the public sector. This Chapter shall outline how HRM is designed in the public sector. A brief historical background of HRM in the public sector and working of HRM in both developing as well as developed countries shall be taken up in this section. The second section of Chapter 02 shall talk about the background of the study, hence, setting the stage for the thesis. This section shall discuss organizational structure of the universities in Pakistan. This Chapter shall cover HRM policies and practices in the public sector universities across the globe, with a particular focus on the public sector universities in Pakistan. The third section shall divulge a brief review of the basics of the system of recruitment and selection. Here, the focus shall rest on the public sector in Pakistan, and this further converges at the public sector universities in the country.

Chapter 03 shall focus on the theoretical framework of the study considering the interplay of competing demands, changing trends and varied aspirations of the competitive academic world where university top management has to set the strategic directions of institutions of higher education to survive in the competitive academic world.

The second part shall include the empirical Chapters. Chapter 04 shall present methodological underpinnings of the study starting with a brief description of the research paradigm, elucidating case study research and research design pursued in the study, drawing attention to case study methodology and data collection mechanism. This Chapter shall present the method of data analysis, the scheme of coding, interpretation of data to develop themes and patterns and define headings and subheadings for a systematic presentation of data.

The final part of the thesis shall consist of Chapters 05, 06, 07, 08 and 09. These chapters shall elucidate and provide further reflection on the outcomes of the study. Chapter 05 shall outline, how the staffing function, starting from job analysis to final selection of a candidate, is undertaken in the selected public sector universities.

Chapter 06 shall describe various loopholes in the staffing function. Chapter 07 shall explain various factors responsible for these loopholes. Chapter 08 shall discuss various suggestions made by the respondents to address these issues. All the three finding Chapters shall be assembled and discussed succinctly in Chapter 09 with implications and recommendations of the overall research study.


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Set of Questions for Interview Session

Personal information of the respondent

Name of the university           :                                                                      

Name of the interviewee         :                                                                       

Designation                               :          _______________________

Qualification                           :             _______________________         

Total experience in the university:   _______________________       

Experience in HR department :         _______________________       

Email & Contact No               :             _______________________

Questions to be asked from interviewees during interview session

  • How the staffing function (i.e. recruitment and selection) of administrative staff is carried out in your university?
  • Please describe briefly the typical recruitment and selection system of administrative staff in your university?
  • Do you think your university has clear policies and procedures relating to recruitment and selection?
  • Do you think your university adheres to these policies and procedures?
  • How for the recruitment and selection of administrative staff in your university is carried out in a transparent manner?
  • Do you think politics play an important role in the selection process of administrative staff in your university? Please elaborate.
  • How far the recruitment and selection in your university is aligned with other HR subsystems such as training and development, career development, compensation and succession.
  • How far the recruitment and selection system in your university is developed keeping in view challenges of the contemporary world.
  • How far the recruitment and selection system in your university is in line with new legislation introduced by the government.
  • What are the major gaps/loopholes in recruitment and selection system of administrative staff in your university? Please elaborate.
  • What are the implications of these gaps/loopholes
  • What efforts have been made by your university in the past to improve it? Please elaborate.
  • How the recruitment and selection process of administrative staff can be improved in your university?

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Dr Syed Hafeez Ahmad

Learning from a sample PhD Research Proposal: A step by step guide.

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I am a research blogger, YouTuber and content writer. This blog is aimed at sharing my knowledge, experience and insight with the academics, research scholars and policy makers about universities' governance and changing dynamics of higher education landscape in Pakistan.

Grad Coach

How To Write A Research Proposal

A Straightforward How-To Guide (With Examples)

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Reviewed By: Dr. Eunice Rautenbach | August 2019 (Updated April 2023)

Writing up a strong research proposal for a dissertation or thesis is much like a marriage proposal. It’s a task that calls on you to win somebody over and persuade them that what you’re planning is a great idea. An idea they’re happy to say ‘yes’ to. This means that your dissertation proposal needs to be   persuasive ,   attractive   and well-planned. In this post, I’ll show you how to write a winning dissertation proposal, from scratch.

Before you start:

– Understand exactly what a research proposal is – Ask yourself these 4 questions

The 5 essential ingredients:

  • The title/topic
  • The introduction chapter
  • The scope/delimitations
  • Preliminary literature review
  • Design/ methodology
  • Practical considerations and risks 

What Is A Research Proposal?

The research proposal is literally that: a written document that communicates what you propose to research, in a concise format. It’s where you put all that stuff that’s spinning around in your head down on to paper, in a logical, convincing fashion.

Convincing   is the keyword here, as your research proposal needs to convince the assessor that your research is   clearly articulated   (i.e., a clear research question) ,   worth doing   (i.e., is unique and valuable enough to justify the effort), and   doable   within the restrictions you’ll face (time limits, budget, skill limits, etc.). If your proposal does not address these three criteria, your research won’t be approved, no matter how “exciting” the research idea might be.

PS – if you’re completely new to proposal writing, we’ve got a detailed walkthrough video covering two successful research proposals here . 

Free Webinar: How To Write A Research Proposal

How do I know I’m ready?

Before starting the writing process, you need to   ask yourself 4 important questions .  If you can’t answer them succinctly and confidently, you’re not ready – you need to go back and think more deeply about your dissertation topic .

You should be able to answer the following 4 questions before starting your dissertation or thesis research proposal:

  • WHAT is my main research question? (the topic)
  • WHO cares and why is this important? (the justification)
  • WHAT data would I need to answer this question, and how will I analyse it? (the research design)
  • HOW will I manage the completion of this research, within the given timelines? (project and risk management)

If you can’t answer these questions clearly and concisely,   you’re not yet ready   to write your research proposal – revisit our   post on choosing a topic .

If you can, that’s great – it’s time to start writing up your dissertation proposal. Next, I’ll discuss what needs to go into your research proposal, and how to structure it all into an intuitive, convincing document with a linear narrative.

The 5 Essential Ingredients

Research proposals can vary in style between institutions and disciplines, but here I’ll share with you a   handy 5-section structure   you can use. These 5 sections directly address the core questions we spoke about earlier, ensuring that you present a convincing proposal. If your institution already provides a proposal template, there will likely be substantial overlap with this, so you’ll still get value from reading on.

For each section discussed below, make sure you use headers and sub-headers (ideally, numbered headers) to help the reader navigate through your document, and to support them when they need to revisit a previous section. Don’t just present an endless wall of text, paragraph after paragraph after paragraph…

Top Tip:   Use MS Word Styles to format headings. This will allow you to be clear about whether a sub-heading is level 2, 3, or 4. Additionally, you can view your document in ‘outline view’ which will show you only your headings. This makes it much easier to check your structure, shift things around and make decisions about where a section needs to sit. You can also generate a 100% accurate table of contents using Word’s automatic functionality.

sample phd research proposal in entrepreneurship

Ingredient #1 – Topic/Title Header

Your research proposal’s title should be your main research question in its simplest form, possibly with a sub-heading providing basic details on the specifics of the study. For example:

“Compliance with equality legislation in the charity sector: a study of the ‘reasonable adjustments’ made in three London care homes”

As you can see, this title provides a clear indication of what the research is about, in broad terms. It paints a high-level picture for the first-time reader, which gives them a taste of what to expect.   Always aim for a clear, concise title . Don’t feel the need to capture every detail of your research in your title – your proposal will fill in the gaps.

Need a helping hand?

sample phd research proposal in entrepreneurship

Ingredient #2 – Introduction

In this section of your research proposal, you’ll expand on what you’ve communicated in the title, by providing a few paragraphs which offer more detail about your research topic. Importantly, the focus here is the   topic   – what will you research and why is that worth researching? This is not the place to discuss methodology, practicalities, etc. – you’ll do that later.

You should cover the following:

  • An overview of the   broad area   you’ll be researching – introduce the reader to key concepts and language
  • An explanation of the   specific (narrower) area   you’ll be focusing, and why you’ll be focusing there
  • Your research   aims   and   objectives
  • Your   research question (s) and sub-questions (if applicable)

Importantly, you should aim to use short sentences and plain language – don’t babble on with extensive jargon, acronyms and complex language. Assume that the reader is an intelligent layman – not a subject area specialist (even if they are). Remember that the   best writing is writing that can be easily understood   and digested. Keep it simple.

The introduction section serves to expand on the  research topic – what will you study and why is that worth dedicating time and effort to?

Note that some universities may want some extra bits and pieces in your introduction section. For example, personal development objectives, a structural outline, etc. Check your brief to see if there are any other details they expect in your proposal, and make sure you find a place for these.

Ingredient #3 – Scope

Next, you’ll need to specify what the scope of your research will be – this is also known as the delimitations . In other words, you need to make it clear what you will be covering and, more importantly, what you won’t be covering in your research. Simply put, this is about ring fencing your research topic so that you have a laser-sharp focus.

All too often, students feel the need to go broad and try to address as many issues as possible, in the interest of producing comprehensive research. Whilst this is admirable, it’s a mistake. By tightly refining your scope, you’ll enable yourself to   go deep   with your research, which is what you need to earn good marks. If your scope is too broad, you’re likely going to land up with superficial research (which won’t earn marks), so don’t be afraid to narrow things down.

Ingredient #4 – Literature Review

In this section of your research proposal, you need to provide a (relatively) brief discussion of the existing literature. Naturally, this will not be as comprehensive as the literature review in your actual dissertation, but it will lay the foundation for that. In fact, if you put in the effort at this stage, you’ll make your life a lot easier when it’s time to write your actual literature review chapter.

There are a few things you need to achieve in this section:

  • Demonstrate that you’ve done your reading and are   familiar with the current state of the research   in your topic area.
  • Show that   there’s a clear gap   for your specific research – i.e., show that your topic is sufficiently unique and will add value to the existing research.
  • Show how the existing research has shaped your thinking regarding   research design . For example, you might use scales or questionnaires from previous studies.

When you write up your literature review, keep these three objectives front of mind, especially number two (revealing the gap in the literature), so that your literature review has a   clear purpose and direction . Everything you write should be contributing towards one (or more) of these objectives in some way. If it doesn’t, you need to ask yourself whether it’s truly needed.

Top Tip:  Don’t fall into the trap of just describing the main pieces of literature, for example, “A says this, B says that, C also says that…” and so on. Merely describing the literature provides no value. Instead, you need to   synthesise   it, and use it to address the three objectives above.

 If you put in the effort at the proposal stage, you’ll make your life a lot easier when its time to write your actual literature review chapter.

Ingredient #5 – Research Methodology

Now that you’ve clearly explained both your intended research topic (in the introduction) and the existing research it will draw on (in the literature review section), it’s time to get practical and explain exactly how you’ll be carrying out your own research. In other words, your research methodology.

In this section, you’ll need to   answer two critical questions :

  • How   will you design your research? I.e., what research methodology will you adopt, what will your sample be, how will you collect data, etc.
  • Why   have you chosen this design? I.e., why does this approach suit your specific research aims, objectives and questions?

In other words, this is not just about explaining WHAT you’ll be doing, it’s also about explaining WHY. In fact, the   justification is the most important part , because that justification is how you demonstrate a good understanding of research design (which is what assessors want to see).

Some essential design choices you need to cover in your research proposal include:

  • Your intended research philosophy (e.g., positivism, interpretivism or pragmatism )
  • What methodological approach you’ll be taking (e.g., qualitative , quantitative or mixed )
  • The details of your sample (e.g., sample size, who they are, who they represent, etc.)
  • What data you plan to collect (i.e. data about what, in what form?)
  • How you plan to collect it (e.g., surveys , interviews , focus groups, etc.)
  • How you plan to analyse it (e.g., regression analysis, thematic analysis , etc.)
  • Ethical adherence (i.e., does this research satisfy all ethical requirements of your institution, or does it need further approval?)

This list is not exhaustive – these are just some core attributes of research design. Check with your institution what level of detail they expect. The “ research onion ” by Saunders et al (2009) provides a good summary of the various design choices you ultimately need to make – you can   read more about that here .

Don’t forget the practicalities…

In addition to the technical aspects, you will need to address the   practical   side of the project. In other words, you need to explain   what resources you’ll need   (e.g., time, money, access to equipment or software, etc.) and how you intend to secure these resources. You need to show that your project is feasible, so any “make or break” type resources need to already be secured. The success or failure of your project cannot depend on some resource which you’re not yet sure you have access to.

Another part of the practicalities discussion is   project and risk management . In other words, you need to show that you have a clear project plan to tackle your research with. Some key questions to address:

  • What are the timelines for each phase of your project?
  • Are the time allocations reasonable?
  • What happens if something takes longer than anticipated (risk management)?
  • What happens if you don’t get the response rate you expect?

A good way to demonstrate that you’ve thought this through is to include a Gantt chart and a risk register (in the appendix if word count is a problem). With these two tools, you can show that you’ve got a clear, feasible plan, and you’ve thought about and accounted for the potential risks.

Gantt chart

Tip – Be honest about the potential difficulties – but show that you are anticipating solutions and workarounds. This is much more impressive to an assessor than an unrealistically optimistic proposal which does not anticipate any challenges whatsoever.

Final Touches: Read And Simplify

The final step is to edit and proofread your proposal – very carefully. It sounds obvious, but all too often poor editing and proofreading ruin a good proposal. Nothing is more off-putting for an assessor than a poorly edited, typo-strewn document. It sends the message that you either do not pay attention to detail, or just don’t care. Neither of these are good messages. Put the effort into editing and proofreading your proposal (or pay someone to do it for you) – it will pay dividends.

When you’re editing, watch out for ‘academese’. Many students can speak simply, passionately and clearly about their dissertation topic – but become incomprehensible the moment they turn the laptop on. You are not required to write in any kind of special, formal, complex language when you write academic work. Sure, there may be technical terms, jargon specific to your discipline, shorthand terms and so on. But, apart from those,   keep your written language very close to natural spoken language   – just as you would speak in the classroom. Imagine that you are explaining your project plans to your classmates or a family member. Remember, write for the intelligent layman, not the subject matter experts. Plain-language, concise writing is what wins hearts and minds – and marks!

Let’s Recap: Research Proposal 101

And there you have it – how to write your dissertation or thesis research proposal, from the title page to the final proof. Here’s a quick recap of the key takeaways:

  • The purpose of the research proposal is to   convince   – therefore, you need to make a clear, concise argument of why your research is both worth doing and doable.
  • Make sure you can ask the critical what, who, and how questions of your research   before   you put pen to paper.
  • Title – provides the first taste of your research, in broad terms
  • Introduction – explains what you’ll be researching in more detail
  • Scope – explains the boundaries of your research
  • Literature review – explains how your research fits into the existing research and why it’s unique and valuable
  • Research methodology – explains and justifies how you will carry out your own research

Hopefully, this post has helped you better understand how to write up a winning research proposal. If you enjoyed it, be sure to check out the rest of the Grad Coach Blog . If your university doesn’t provide any template for your proposal, you might want to try out our free research proposal template .

Literature Review Course

Psst… there’s more!

This post is an extract from our bestselling short course, Research Proposal Bootcamp . If you want to work smart, you don't want to miss this .

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Mazwakhe Mkhulisi

Thank you so much for the valuable insight that you have given, especially on the research proposal. That is what I have managed to cover. I still need to go back to the other parts as I got disturbed while still listening to Derek’s audio on you-tube. I am inspired. I will definitely continue with Grad-coach guidance on You-tube.

Derek Jansen

Thanks for the kind words :). All the best with your proposal.


First of all, thanks a lot for making such a wonderful presentation. The video was really useful and gave me a very clear insight of how a research proposal has to be written. I shall try implementing these ideas in my RP.

Once again, I thank you for this content.

Bonginkosi Mshengu

I found reading your outline on writing research proposal very beneficial. I wish there was a way of submitting my draft proposal to you guys for critiquing before I submit to the institution.

Hi Bonginkosi

Thank you for the kind words. Yes, we do provide a review service. The best starting point is to have a chat with one of our coaches here: https://gradcoach.com/book/new/ .

Erick Omondi

Hello team GRADCOACH, may God bless you so much. I was totally green in research. Am so happy for your free superb tutorials and resources. Once again thank you so much Derek and his team.

You’re welcome, Erick. Good luck with your research proposal 🙂


thank you for the information. its precise and on point.

Nighat Nighat Ahsan

Really a remarkable piece of writing and great source of guidance for the researchers. GOD BLESS YOU for your guidance. Regards

Delfina Celeste Danca Rangel

Thanks so much for your guidance. It is easy and comprehensive the way you explain the steps for a winning research proposal.

Desiré Forku

Thank you guys so much for the rich post. I enjoyed and learn from every word in it. My problem now is how to get into your platform wherein I can always seek help on things related to my research work ? Secondly, I wish to find out if there is a way I can send my tentative proposal to you guys for examination before I take to my supervisor Once again thanks very much for the insights

Thanks for your kind words, Desire.

If you are based in a country where Grad Coach’s paid services are available, you can book a consultation by clicking the “Book” button in the top right.

Best of luck with your studies.


May God bless you team for the wonderful work you are doing,

If I have a topic, Can I submit it to you so that you can draft a proposal for me?? As I am expecting to go for masters degree in the near future.

Thanks for your comment. We definitely cannot draft a proposal for you, as that would constitute academic misconduct. The proposal needs to be your own work. We can coach you through the process, but it needs to be your own work and your own writing.

Best of luck with your research!

kenate Akuma

I found a lot of many essential concepts from your material. it is real a road map to write a research proposal. so thanks a lot. If there is any update material on your hand on MBA please forward to me.

Ahmed Khalil

GradCoach is a professional website that presents support and helps for MBA student like me through the useful online information on the page and with my 1-on-1 online coaching with the amazing and professional PhD Kerryen.

Thank you Kerryen so much for the support and help 🙂

I really recommend dealing with such a reliable services provider like Gradcoah and a coach like Kerryen.


Hi, Am happy for your service and effort to help students and researchers, Please, i have been given an assignment on research for strategic development, the task one is to formulate a research proposal to support the strategic development of a business area, my issue here is how to go about it, especially the topic or title and introduction. Please, i would like to know if you could help me and how much is the charge.

Marcos A. López Figueroa

This content is practical, valuable, and just great!

Thank you very much!

Eric Rwigamba

Hi Derek, Thank you for the valuable presentation. It is very helpful especially for beginners like me. I am just starting my PhD.


This is quite instructive and research proposal made simple. Can I have a research proposal template?

Mathew Yokie Musa

Great! Thanks for rescuing me, because I had no former knowledge in this topic. But with this piece of information, I am now secured. Thank you once more.

Chulekazi Bula

I enjoyed listening to your video on how to write a proposal. I think I will be able to write a winning proposal with your advice. I wish you were to be my supervisor.

Mohammad Ajmal Shirzad

Dear Derek Jansen,

Thank you for your great content. I couldn’t learn these topics in MBA, but now I learned from GradCoach. Really appreciate your efforts….

From Afghanistan!

Mulugeta Yilma

I have got very essential inputs for startup of my dissertation proposal. Well organized properly communicated with video presentation. Thank you for the presentation.

Siphesihle Macu

Wow, this is absolutely amazing guys. Thank you so much for the fruitful presentation, you’ve made my research much easier.


this helps me a lot. thank you all so much for impacting in us. may god richly bless you all

June Pretzer

How I wish I’d learn about Grad Coach earlier. I’ve been stumbling around writing and rewriting! Now I have concise clear directions on how to put this thing together. Thank you!


Fantastic!! Thank You for this very concise yet comprehensive guidance.

Fikiru Bekele

Even if I am poor in English I would like to thank you very much.

Rachel Offeibea Nyarko

Thank you very much, this is very insightful.

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Research Proposal on women entrepreneurship

Profile image of Md. Lutfur Rahman

It is now an undeniable fact that without economically and socially empowering women who constitute almost half of the world population, development is impossible. Women entrepreneurship is considered as an influential means of achieving women empowerment. There has been an increasing trend of women entrepreneurs actively launching and managing businesses worldwide (Bruin, Brush, & Welter, 2006). While entrepreneurship has been a growing area of research globally, women entrepreneurship being an important area of development studies has been understudied. Why this is the case is the central question in the proposed research. Women entrepreneurship is one of the fastest growing area of development, making considerable contribution to poverty reduction worldwide through innovations and the creation of wealth as well as employment opportunities (Bullough & Abdelzaher, 2013). In the United States, one-third of the private enterprises are proudly owned by women majority whereas at least 50% shares of more than 45% of these enterprises are owned by them (Bruin et al., 2006). These trends are almost comparable to other countries. Despite the considerable size of this field of development and its growing comprehensive impact on the economies across the globe, it has been understudied for one reason or another. It is not even surprising that only 6-7% of total publications were on women entrepreneurship in the top eight journals of entrepreneurship from 1994 to 2006 (Bruin et al., 2006).

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Abstract: “Women Entrepreneur” is a person who accepts challenging role to meet her personal needs and become economically independent. Increasing numbers of women are becoming leaders of their own businesses, and many are struggling to achieve success. Women entrepreneurship is considered an important tool inenabling women empowerment. This paper looks at the literature around women entrepreneurship. It is hoped that it will be useful to fellow researchers who are undertaking studies in this area. In the light of recent world events, this has become a crucial area to study and understand especially with respect to motivations, constraints and consequences. The factors that affect women’s participation roles are differentacross the world, changing with the dynamic nature of the environments in which theylive. The efforts are on it to uplift the social and economic status of women. The development of women as an entrepreneur will generate multifaceted socio-economic benefits for the country

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ABSTRACT The number of women entrepreneurs is increasing all over the world but the rate of increase is not the same for all the countries. In some of the developed countries women entrepreneurship is growing at a very low rate on the other hand in some developing countries entrepreneurship amongst women is growing at a very fast rate. It is postulated that the disparity in growth of women entrepreneurs in various countries is due to the diversity in the perception of the social and economic milieu prevailing in the society. This paper attempts to explore the characteristics, motivation and challenges faced by the women Entrepreneurs. The paper also explores the factors that differentiate women entrepreneurs in developed countries from women entrepreneurs in developing countries.

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Examples of research proposals

How to write your research proposal, with examples of good proposals.

Research proposals

Your research proposal is a key part of your application. It tells us about the question you want to answer through your research. It is a chance for you to show your knowledge of the subject area and tell us about the methods you want to use.

We use your research proposal to match you with a supervisor or team of supervisors.

In your proposal, please tell us if you have an interest in the work of a specific academic at York St John. You can get in touch with this academic to discuss your proposal. You can also speak to one of our Research Leads. There is a list of our Research Leads on the Apply page.

When you write your proposal you need to:

  • Highlight how it is original or significant
  • Explain how it will develop or challenge current knowledge of your subject
  • Identify the importance of your research
  • Show why you are the right person to do this research
  • Research Proposal Example 1 (DOC, 49kB)
  • Research Proposal Example 2 (DOC, 0.9MB)
  • Research Proposal Example 3 (DOC, 55.5kB)
  • Research Proposal Example 4 (DOC, 49.5kB)

Subject specific guidance

  • Writing a Humanities PhD Proposal (PDF, 0.1MB)
  • Writing a Creative Writing PhD Proposal (PDF, 0.1MB)
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sample phd research proposal in entrepreneurship

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Create your own research proposal

A research proposal is a short document that summarises the research you want to undertake. If you cannot find a suitable advertised project, this is a route to create your own.

When creating a research proposal, you’ll need to consider the question or issue you want to address with your project. Think about the background of the subject and how your research will be an original contribution to the field. You’ll also need to think about the methods you'll use to conduct this research. Your proposal helps us assess your suitability for a research degree and decide if we can offer you the right supervision.


You may want to make contact with 1 or more potential supervisors to discuss project ideas. They may also be able to help with funding your degree .

You can search our academics to find a supervisor whose research interests align to yours. When you find a match, contact them to discuss your proposals. Allow time for responses and to consider their feedback.

Learn how to make a supervisor enquiry

Writing your research proposal

You should keep it clear, objective and realistic. Include:

  • an outline of your research interests
  • your initial thoughts about your topic
  • clear objectives of what you aim to achieve or the question you want to address
  • references to previous work
  • why the research is relevant and original
  • your proposed method and general approach
  • why you believe the research should be funded
  • how your skills will help to conduct the research
  • any training you may need to undertake the project

How to structure your proposal

Your research proposal should include:

  • a working title for your project
  • up to 1,500 words (excluding a bibliography)

It’s best to write with short paragraphs and sentences. You can use images and diagrams if it’s appropriate.

Example structure:

  • introduction statement (200 words)
  • your background reading and the area you want to contribute to (400 words)
  • your research question or issue to investigate (200 words)
  • data sources, research methods and critical approaches to use (500 words)
  • conclusion on how your project will contribute to the field (200 words)
  • bibliography

Submit your proposal

Your potential supervisor will inform you of when to start the application process and how to include the details of your agreed project.  

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  1. Well-Written PhD Research Proposal Sample

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