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Africa experiences PhD shortage

Updated Wednesday, June 15th 2011 at 00:00 GMT +3

By Wachira Kigotho

The time is near when all permanent academic teaching and research staff in universities globally will be required to have doctorates degrees in their fields of specialisation.

However, the situation could be delayed in Kenya and elsewhere in academe in Sub-Saharan Africa where there is a shortage, but the writing is on the wall since worldwide there is a glut of PhD degrees. Statistics recently released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development indicate already there is competition among leading universities in Europe, United States, Singapore, Japan and Australia to hire only PhD degree holders.

The issue is that there are too many doctoral programmes, producing far too many PhDs and other doctorates for the job market. According to Dr Mark Taylor, Head of Department of Religion at Colombia University in New York, PhD crisis has been caused by refusal by universities to severely scrutinise admissions to doctorate studies.

"Even after slowing of the academic job market over the years, PhD programmes in many countries still conform to models defined in the middle ages," says Dr Taylor.

Consistent growth

According to OECD statistics, doctorates handed out in member states between 1998 and 2006 grew by 40 per cent, while in the United States, the number of PhDs rose by 22 per cent during the same period. Significant production of doctorates was also recorded in Mexico, Slovakia, Poland, China, Japan and India, among other countries globally.

In those countries, production of PhDs has outstripped demand for university academic cadres. For instance, in the United States figures of students graduating with doctorate degrees has almost hit 50,000 mark annually. "So far, there are no signs of slowing and the problem is that most PhD graduates may never get the chance of taking advantage of their qualifications," says OECD position report on the status of higher education. But while the developed countries are worried about what to do with all the PhDs they produce each year, Sub-Saharan Africa is concerned about massive deficits in doctorates.

According to the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa, the continent’s largest factory for PhDs is Egypt, where last year over 35,000 students were enrolled in doctoral programmes. But pursuing a doctoral programme in Egypt is almost worthless, except for those already working in universities and research centres. Critics of the Egyptian trained PhD graduates say many of them find it hard to transfer their skills into the job- market.

The PhD student in Egypt suffers from shortage of highly qualified teaching staff, equipment and poor compensation for researchers, says Prof Mounir Hana, a leading food scientist at Minia University, Egypt.

Subsequently, most PhDs awarded are of poor quality and most graduates lack skills in proposal writing and project management.

But elsewhere in Africa, it is absence of PhDs in universities that is most worrying. "Leaders of African universities acknowledge the devastating impact of lack of qualified lecturers at doctoral level and warn that if something is not done very soon, African academy will collapse or lose its ability to produce the countries’ personnel needs," says Dr Wisdom Tettey of University of Calgary and a researcher with PHEA.

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