How Kenyan universities can boost their quality of research

Graduands during Kabarak University's 19th graduation ceremony on December 15, 2023. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

On January 1, 2024, I read an article by Sam Chege, Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kansas State University in the US, in one of the dailies expounding on the need to review requirements for Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and Master’s students to publish peer reviewed journal articles before graduation.

I agree with the Prof Chege on a number of issues that he raised, especially that the publication process may have been compromised by a few individuals. Indeed, some students do not invest the time required to produce high quality journals, perhaps due to their rush to graduate.

Secondly, some supervisors who have a responsibility to guide the students sometimes do not pay much attention to the papers being published due to time constraints.

The Commission for University Education (CUE) provides clear guidelines on the requirements for a student to graduate with a PhD or MA/MSc. Among them is that the candidate should publish at least two academic papers for a PhD and one paper for a Master’s degree to qualify for graduation. In my view, this is a noble and well-thought-out policy guideline that should be upheld.

This requirement ensures that graduate students’ scholarly output is shared with the international community and as such I do not concur with the proposal to scrap the requirement on the premise that universities are not managing the process well. Instead of scrapping this requirement, I would propose a reformist approach to make the process better.

The Kaizen philosophy encourages continuous improvement to get to the optimum and thus we need analyse what is not working with a view to ensuring that corrections are adopted for better results. This Japanese business philosophy concerns the processes that continuously improve operations and involve all employees.

The following are my thoughts. Universities should develop and implement guidelines that are closely monitored to ensure that quality research papers are extracted from the research works of students. Research is a process, not an event, and therefore procedures must be followed and adhered to and supervisors should guide students to extract publications, just as they do in thesis/project supervision.

Universities can implement a raft of measures to ensure that quality is assured through quality assurance departments. Among these measures can be that candidates defend their academic papers, just as they do during thesis/project defences.

Moreover, to ensure that the shortcomings are overcome, universities should ensure that empirical research is encouraged. Empirical research enhances the chances of novel findings which are the basis of arriving at patents. In the process of meeting graduation requirement, the same research will help solve the many challenges/problems facing our society. Universities should not allow rushed research to merely meet the CUE requirement but should, through laid down regulations, ensure that quality papers are produced.

It is concerning that Kenya did not feature recently in the top-10 list of universities’ ranking in Africa. But this is expected because our universities have been ‘out-published’ by the higher-ranked institutions. Research contributes a great deal to such ranking.

The proposal to scrap the publishing requirement for candidates therefore is a sure way to make our universities to continue sinking deeper into oblivion in terms of ranking on continental and international stage. We cannot compete at all with other top-notch global universities if we do not publish. 

In the same vein, universities are required to allocate 2 per cent of their budget towards research. This has not been forthcoming. Scholars have ideas that need to be developed into research output but they cannot do so due to poor funding. Candidates need to be funded to produce high quality research.

Once the papers are authored and quality output is guaranteed, a knowledge management framework should be put in place to systematically disseminate the findings to the relevant stakeholders.

Research whose findings are on Climate Change for example should be shared with the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Forestry and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development Climate Prediction and Applications Centre, among other stakeholders. This way, solutions will be proffered towards solving problems in society. This will also bring to visibility the research output from Kenyan universities which will in turn improve on the ranking index of universities regionally and globally.