What you must do to ensure you're earning PhD of the right quality

PhD graduands before receiving blessings during the 34th Graduation Ceremony of Moi University. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]
It is now a notorious truism that there are good and bad PhDs in Kenya. In the face of this reality, Kenyans pursuing doctoral studies need to be quite circumspect as be able to spot when they are reclining to a bad PhD.

It all starts with the learner and their choice. So, how is a learner to tell - in good time - that they are about to get a good or bad PhD? Before delving into the answers, it is important to lay down the ground rule. And this is that a PhD process is an intricate scientific investigation of phenomena that requires thorough preparation and adherence to established standards and measures of quality. It engenders rigour and vigour and students are expected to prepare thoroughly.

The first thing a PhD student ought to do is find out if their university has what it takes to produce quality graduates at PhD or any other level. This points to the issue of quality of education on offer. With the world shrinking into a village with help of technology, the quality of education one obtains matters a lot in a highly competitive environment. To make a quality judgement about a degree, you have to scrutinise the entire quality assurance process in the value chain and how a given university enforces set standards in every important aspect. You must invest your time in this investigation.

Your critical examination of the key issues must start with the accreditation of a university and its programmes. Has your degree programme been accredited by a credible body such as Commission for University Education (CUE) in Kenya or Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) in the USA or other credible bodies? If your programme has not been accredited then you should be worried.

Find out if your university is a member of such bodies as the Association of Africa Business Schools (AABS) and the Global Business School Network (GBSN) that help to advance the delivery of quality education in universities.

The second issue entails supervision. If your supervisor has many PhD students you are most likely getting a raw deal. Supervising more than three PhD students in an academic year is a tall order. Does your supervisor encourage rigorous quantitative analysis? Exceptions relate to some social sciences that are best based on qualitative analysis. Also, find out if your supervisors encourage active students’ involvement in academic associations such as the Doctoral Association of East Africa (DAEA) that is renowned for holding workshops for PhD students at all levels to encourage them to grow. Is your supervisor published in peer refereed journals or not? You must learn to manage your supervisor. Find out about his/her teaching and supervision philosophy and beliefs about the Doctoral process.

Third, what is the quality of student leadership and how do they relate to quality assurance? The cumulative effect of the student body can be an important determinant of quality in regard to how they influence the delivery of teaching and quality. The student body must play a role in quality assurance and must always ask hard questions about quality and examinations integrity, especially of the Doctoral Comprehensive examinations. They must have the academic freedom to play an active role in their learning. Does your university encourage active students’ interaction and discussion with other doctoral students?

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Fourth, use of technology is a critical issue today. Do your classes have IT support and has your university encouraged the teachers to use IT in the delivery of their lectures? There must be evidence of the use of Power Point, videos and films, and simulations in the delivery of teaching. Lecturers who do not use modern IT support are most likely to give or are giving you a raw deal.

Finally, we must recognise that there are many imponderables facing the education sector in the efforts to graduate as many Doctoral holders as possible. There are dwindling finances, the competition for students has increased and quality lecturers are rare commodities among other challenges.

These are common challenges in the higher education sector in all countries in today’s globalised world.

The challenges may sometimes lead to hurried and poor preparation of students because of the wish to graduate as many students as possible.

The Doctoral students must be in the forefront in demanding quality preparation. Students must demand active involvement. They must have a voice.?

Dr Lewa is the outgoing Dean, Chandaria School of Business, USIU-Africa and a Consulting Professor of Management and Strategy.

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PhDsKenya or Western Association of Schools and CollegesCommission for University Education