African nations continue to grapple with the acute shortage of PhDs.
For example, South Africa produces 1,300 PhDs every year and yet the nation needs a minimum of 6,000.
On the other hand, Kenya produces less than 300 PhDs and yet the demonstrated need is 1,000. The quality of the doctoral programmes in most countries in Africa is also low, with students struggling to fund their research with meagre resources.
The quality of supervision and mentorship has dwindled over time with the few supervisors being stretched to the limits.
Timely completion of a PhD is more of a luxury than a necessity with most of the students taking between five to eight years to earn their doctorate. Some give up and move on to other issues of life.
According to a report published by England’s funding council, 80.5 per cent of the students complete their PhD between seven and 25 years. After 25 years, we give up on your probability of ever getting a PhD.
How can we improve the quality of PhDs that we produce in Africa? One of the tested solutions to this is a regional approach to PhD training.
The Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA) has developed a model that can be adopted for training PhDs in Africa and beyond.
Nine leading universities came together to form a consortium that focuses on population and health research.
How does this work? University faculty are selected through a competitive process that includes taking examinations in critical thinking, quantitative techniques and writing.
They then take four residential trainings in developing a research protocol, data collection and analysis leadership, translating research outputs to policy and career growth after PhD.
The regional approach comes with several benefits, including creating a critical mass of PhD holders that are networked and carry out inter-country studies, economies of scale since facilitators from member universities train students in one location.
Studying as a cohort also creates a forum where there is pressure for the student to make steady progress in their doctoral journey.
The regional programme provides opportunities for the students to undertake research in partner universities and research institutes.
Infusion of training in leadership, work-life balance, leading teams, translating research outputs to policy briefs, curriculum development and pedagogy prepares the students for a career in teaching research and community service.
There is a need to explore the establishment of more regional consortia that can address the challenges that African universities face in training PhDs.
Ngure is an Associate Professor and the programme manager, Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA)