Supervisors of doctoral students who saw their students as ’competitors’ offered insufficient support, failed to facilitate the relevant training and were partly to blame for delays in the completion of doctoral programmes and high student drop-out rates, a recent seminar for doctoral mentees heard.
According to Chacha Nyaigotti-Chacha, chairman of Kenya’s Commission for University Education, some professors viewed doctoral students as competitors, making the experience of pursuing a doctorate a “punishment” for the student.
“Simple procedures such as proposal writing training that ideally should take a short period to complete are, in some cases, taking three years,” he told the opening session of a seminar for doctoral mentees hosted by the College of Senior Academic Mentors of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) in Nairobi, Kenya at the end of last month.
Nyaigotti-Chacha said a lack of adequate support by supervisors meant doctoral studies had become an open-ended affair with no timeline for completion – a problem that called for an urgent resolution.
“Doctoral students are crying because studying for a PhD has become like rocket science because of the many obstacles encountered by students, yet some have even postponed starting a family to devote time to their studies,” Nyaigotti-Chacha said.
Like other levels of education, doctoral studies should have a strict timeline for completion. He said this was an attainable objective when supervisors extended the requisite support to students.
According to the professor, student supervision was also at risk of being “monetised”, with professors being paid according to the number of students they supervised.
This encouraged some lecturers to take on more students than they can ideally handle so as to earn more money, putting quality of supervision at risk.
“Universities must be vigilant against this emerging practice since monetising supervision will work against quality,” he told the session.
There was also a need to nurture a scholarly culture at all stages of graduate training, not simply at the thesis-writing stage, he said.
According to various studies, it takes up to six years to complete a PhD programme in many African universities with most of the candidates also being involved in active teaching, as opposed to full-time research – a situation which makes it more difficult to complete the studies on time.
In South Africa, which has some of Africa’s highest-ranked universities, the average completion time is between four and five-and-a-half years, according to Professor Chika Sehoole, dean of the faculty of education at the University of Pretoria.
CODESRIA Executive Secretary Dr Godwin Murunga said it was important to re-introduce a seminar culture in PhD training in addition to other forms of support and mentoring. Students should be able to attend at least three such seminars and, where possible, receive mentorship support from a person other than their primary supervisor in the course of their PhD programme, he said.
This kind of mentorship results in a higher completion rate, he said, particularly as the external supervisor also helps to resolve conflict between a student and their primary supervisor if and when it arises, he said.
College of Mentors
According to Ibrahim Oanda Ogachi, senior programme officer and head of training, grants and fellowships at CODESRIA, the body’s College of Mentors programme is meant to support doctoral education in the social sciences and humanities in African institutions.
It aims to complement the work of primary supervisors and ensure successful completion of doctoral studies by fellows, and their subsequent development into faculty members in various universities.
Under the mentorship programme, fellows are supported with various intellectual resources, including feedback on their work, in addition to exposing them to skills such as academic writing, public presentation-making and publishing, he said.