There is a good wind blowing out there. Some of us have hoped that such winds would visit this country’s academy for so long. This wind is forcing Kenyans – but more important those in the education sector – to talk about the quality of our teaching, learning and research. There is the talk about re-engineering the primary and secondary school curriculum. All that is good. One hopes that the good old mafia that has destroyed the 8-4-4 system won’t take charge of the new one.
Then there is the talk about charlatanry in the academy and the public. It is good to read about people who masquerade as ‘doctors’ of this and that, and as ‘professors’ of whatever being asked to say where they got these honours from. This isn’t just idle talk. Such fellows earn millions of shillings from both the government and private sector by simply claiming to be doctor or professor.
But why can’t we just let only medical doctors call themselves doctors? As for professorship, real professors do not announce their professorship; they just profess.
For me, it is the third issue that matters most. The supposed requirement by the Commission for University Education of Kenya (CUE) that all graduate students have to publish at least a paper or two before they graduate is likely to make the administrations of many universities jittery. Professors will become worried about throughput rates.
Post-graduate students who have been complaining about the number of years it takes to graduate in a Kenyan university will give up spirit. Many departments will not be able to register post-graduate students.
Actually, promotions, which have lately been tied to supervision of graduate students, will stall. But to look at these suggestions, which are meant to improve the quality of teaching, supervision and research in our universities this way is to highlight the negatives and hide the positives.
Prof John Habwe may be right in saying that such demands are too much for someone pursuing a Master’s degree. But isn’t an MA student seeking to be the ‘master’ of a particular subject?
So, to be asked to publish just one essay from what is generally understood these days to be a ‘long essay’ project report is asking very little of someone who wishes to be inducted into a community of specialists.
As for the PhD, we shouldn’t be debating the question of publishing just two papers from the whole document. We should be asking the candidate to do at least three. Why? Because it takes an average of four years in Kenya to complete a PhD. If the research is of good quality, and it is properly supervised, it should result into a book. Yet I have read PhD theses in this country that can’t be published anywhere in the world.
The student may be poor, and like many Kenyan students, in a hurry to get the PhD. But the crook is the supervisor. I have no doubt that there are professors out there who sign students’ theses for submission to the examiner without reading them. If you doubt, visit the digital theses and dissertation portals on the library websites of some universities to see for yourself the tragicomedy called post-graduate research in Kenya.
We aren’t producing thinkers. As Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Mahmood Mamdani, Achille Mbembe, among other celebrated African scholars, would say, what we are producing today are largely mere ‘native informants’ to ‘international researchers.’ Yet these same people come back into the lecture hall, to repeat the cycle of mediocrity.
The obvious question that will be difficult to answer is: Where will the research be published? Granted, there are few quality publications in Kenya today. But this demand is a challenge to serious scholars in our universities to launch local journals or re-launch those that have been in abeyance for some time.
The demand to publish in ‘international, accredited and refereed’ journals is a sign of inferiority complex. Any journal — wherever in the world — is first local before it is international. The big idea is to network with scholars from elsewhere and establish benchmarks that define quality research.
So, if at all CUE insists that these requirements be cast in the rubrics for graduating with an MA or a PhD in Kenya, they will be doing a great service to the taxpayers who fund university education.
This might just weed out the fake professors and PhD holders; stem the tide of hundreds of MA degree holders teaching all manner of courses in Kenyan universities; justify the huge salaries paid to senior management in the research divisions of Kenyan universities; cut off the thousands of NGO reports, term papers or absolutely ‘fake’ research papers from ‘research and theses bureaus’ found all over the country; streamline research at the departmental level; and justify the titles Master of … or Philosopher’s Degree.
The worry that briefcase publishers will thrive can be addressed with time. If quality assurance were to work, then the journals will be refereed, the books will be evaluated and the research will be rated by peers, locally and internationally.
It is in the interest of our universities to be involved in all these efforts to make higher education worthy. They should institutionalise mentorship and pupilage, and seminars/conference culture; and invest more money in research.
CUE should engage more with lecturers; regularly share their research and policies; establish local rating standards for teaching, research and publications; and lead the way in innovative thinking about higher education that goes beyond the current obsession with science, technology and mathematics, and the market.