Why PhD students spend a decade in school
SEE ALSO :Let us reform Kenya’s PhD supply chainFrom a class of 40 students who enrolled in her PhD class in 2011, only seven are remaining. She says the rest dropped out of the class citing frustrations from their supervisors. Ms Kariuki who completed her coursework the very year she enrolled for PhD says her project has been delayed by a supervisor who was unavailable to guide her through the project. “One of my supervisors was a director at a certain educational institution and was always out of the country whenever I wanted to meet him over my research project. At some point, I met him only twice in two years and on both occasions, it was obvious he had lost touch with the project,” she says. A request to have the supervisor changed, she says, was overlooked. Her challenges are what a majority of university students in Kenya face when they enroll for a PhD program. In fact, it emerged earlier this month during a conference organised by Commission for University Education (CUE) on the state of higher education in Kenya that completion rates of postgraduate students were low in most universities in Kenya.
SEE ALSO :JKUAT awards 118 PhDs“During the coursework, a student is supposed to clear payment for their doctoral studies. When it is the turn of the university to give the student quality time through guided thesis, the supervisors start playing hide and seek with the student and the problem is that the university administration never intervenes when the student suffers at the hands of an uncommitted supervisor,” says Mwaniki. He says lack of co-ordination between the two supervisors that one is assigned also sthe student on the receiving end. “It is always hard to make the two supervisors agree on most things as each one of them is always looking to assert themselves to you. When one corrects you on something, the other one takes the argument in a different direction leaving you stuck in the middle unable to move,” says Mwaniki. According to Mwaniki, it is unfair that students are made to wait for long to get their PhDs. “Most PhD students enroll for their classes in their late 30s and 40s. It is, therefore, unfair that they are made to wait for ten years to graduate when they are in their 50s as they can’t have satisfactory return on investment at such an advanced age,” says Mwaniki. Lazy students to blame But Dr Kiende says postgraduate students in Kenya are also to blame when they fail to complete their studies in good time. She says most PhD students are usually busy people under work-study arrangements and are sometimes not available when a supervisor requests to meet them. Where online supervision of a project is easier and cheaper than face to face interactions, Dr Kiende says some students are not tech-savvy, ruling out the possibility of online engagement. “Certain aspects of the supervision process can easily be completed online without physical meetings. But some of the students we get are those who can’t sustain an online conversation and insist on meeting physically with hard copies of their projects,” she says. Other PhD students, according to the Kenyatta University don enroll for studies just for promotion, which she says waters down the essence of doctoral studies. “The aim of doctoral studies is to churn out policy makers but when a student only wants a PhD for a promotion, it becomes difficult for them to internalise simple issues let alone write a proper thesis. They memorise their coursework and pass exams but are unable to write their thesis when they embark on the actual project,” she says. To manage her workload, Dr Kiende says she supervises most of her students online. “I encourage supervisors to embrace online supervision of their students. I do it all the time and when I find out that one of my student is finding a problem understanding a concept, I request to meet them physically to guide them through their project,” she says. She says Kenyatta Univerity has also introduced tracking forms that assess a student’s interaction with their supervisors. The forms have details of successful meetings between supervisors and their students and reasons are indicated against every aborted meeting to inform necessary punitive measures. But according to Mwaniki, completion rates of postgraduate studies in universities can only improve if universities enrolled only students that they can handle. “Some programmes such as medicine and engineering admit few students who are given full attention by their supervisors during their doctoral training. The same should happen across all university programmes,” says Mwaniki. CUE CEO Prof Mwenda Ntarangwi says universities were pushed to allocate a high number of postgraduate students to a single supervisor. “The heavy workload points to the few experts with the highest degrees in their respective fields that we have in the country and hence the challenge of individuals able to provide adequate supervision to their students. There is also a need for effective preparation of supervisors so as to be able to offer good supervision to their students,” says Prof Ntarangwi. He says the heavy workload was harming the quality of postgraduate training in Kenyan universities. According the CUE boss, a supervisor should have a maximum of five masters and three PhD students at a time. Prof Ntarangwi did not comment on the commission’s position on an earlier directive CUE gave to universities to ensure that they hire only PhD holders by 2018. [email protected]
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