CUE has set the bar too high for master's degree students - Daily Nation

Commission has set the bar too high for master's degree students

Sunday May 8 2016

Graduates follow proceedings during a graduation ceremony. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Graduates follow proceedings during a graduation ceremony. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By JOHN HABWE

I appreciate the contribution of the Commission for University Education (CUE) in making sure universities in Kenya perform their role of teaching and undertaking research as their mandate dictates.

It must be admitted that some of the controls CUE is putting in place to ensure that high standards are achieved in universities are starting to bear fruit. This is quite commendable.

However, the requirement that master's students should publish a paper in a referenced journal before they can graduate is setting the standard for a master's degree far too high.

It is common knowledge that most of our universities are poorly funded and are struggling with heavy financial burdens, poor teaching facilities and lack of research resources.

Because of the basic problems, even lecturers and professors are not able to conduct internationally competitive research in their fields of specialisation and publish their findings in referred journals. How, then, does CUE expect master's students, who are barely training to grasp issues of research, to publish a paper before they could graduate?

A refereed journal only publishes a paper borne out of extensive reading and research and which may take a long time to conceive. It may take two years or even more.

Even after this is done, a refereed journal takes even longer to peer-review such a paper before it could accept it for publication. It is possible to wait for five years before a paper of this kind is published. It must be noted that one journal may reject a paper for one reason or another, for example, house style, prompting the writer to try a different journal, where it may be published or even rejected again. The scholar will continue trying until the paper is published eventually.

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that a paper is accepted in a refereed journal. The journal could get the scholar to correct the paper three times, or even more, before such a paper is published. Does CUE mean master's students will have to go through such a tedious process before they can graduate? Does CUE mean that lecturers will have to oversee such publications? Have various senates discussed this proposal conclusively?

REFEREED JOURNAL

Is it true that a paper during a master's  program is as important to a political science student as it is to a medical student? What would be wrong if a student of literature wrote poems, a play or even a novel? What choices and alternatives do various schools, faculties and institutes have in this matter? Or is it already cast in stone?

Some countries have this requirement for their graduate students, especially PhD students. Such countries have well-equipped libraries and laboratories and most students are well funded. These universities have well-funded regular journals where students could publish.

Local universities may have a journal out of print for a long time. I can foresee a situation where quacks will set up publishing outfits for profit to bail out this lot of students, hence killing the purpose of research.

In my view, CUE needs to ensure that all Kenyan universities have enough facilities, libraries and laboratories first before they can make such a demand. Does CUE know the numbers of master's students per class these days? Some master's classes have over 1,000 students. How feasible is this?

When I read through the requirements and see the term "refereed", I keep thinking that CUE needs to rethink this position. A refereed journal is a high-calibre journal with a reputable board of scholars and a well-established publishing tradition. There is a clear policy regarding the papers such a journal publishes.

There has to be a problem that a researcher is contributing in solving; at least in a seminal way. A researcher, for instance, may challenge some known tradition, and establish a new approach in solving some intricate problem. Such a paper needs a clear methodology and sound theoretical apparatus with a neat analytic procedure or formula acceptable to the journal in question.

There has to be good technical language for the field in question as well. I doubt master's students can do this. I even doubt many lecturers can do it effectively. I even doubt that master's students can do it in the short time they are at university. Remember, they have to take exams and write their theses or projects. This alone is a big task already and many students fail to complete their programs because of this.

How many more will fail to complete because of this additional burden? What is it CUE wants to establish? That the students can conduct research? That is what a thesis is meant to establish. What happens to a student who completes their work and is unable to write a publishable paper in the so-called refereed journal? Is he denied graduation forever? What justification is there in doing this? And, by the way, a thesis can have many publishable chapters and a student does not have to do anything beyond this, at least during their master's program. Who tells  CUE that publishing a paper is indicative of a good master's?

CUE may have to rethink this requirement, important as it may be. PhD candidates are at a different level of training, they could be subjected to this rigour, but even then it is still a hard requirement for them to fulfil because of lack of good research facilities at our local universities.

Senates must discuss it conclusively so that their mandate is respected.

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