Why Master's, PhD students take long to graduate in Kenya

Thursday April 26 2018

Kenyatta University PhD students during the 38th graduation ceremony. A higher education conference in Rwanda has been told that shortage of PhD holders in Kenya is the main reason behind low graduation rates among PhD students. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Inadequate lecturers with PhD in public universities in Kenya has been cited as the major reason that delays post-graduate students from graduating.

This is because the few lecturers available supervise far too many students, therefore, giving less attention to PhD students, a higher education conference under way in Rwanda has been told.

“Supervisors should be more transparent to students and should carry them along throughout the research design and data collection as well as monitor their activities to ensure they don’t deviate from research project plan. Supervisors should not [be assigned to] too many students at the same time,” the report recommends.

The details, contained in a report by the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA) that has been tabled at the conference, indicates that post-graduate students do not access their supervisors easily, especially at the early stages of their doctoral programmes.


The report reveals that a lecturer with a PhD serves 94 students against 30, the number recommended by higher education experts.


Besides, revised regulations require public universities to hire only PhD holders as lecturers beginning December this year despite doctoral students constituting only one per cent of student population in the country.

But the decision to hire only PhD holders as lecturers has temporarily been deferred to allow for more negotiations with education stakeholders following outcry.

The data indicates 45,571 students have enrolled in master’s programmes while 5,604 are registered PhD students.

So far, Kenya has less than 10,000 PhD holders with only 369 students graduating last year yet the country needs at least 1,000 annually.

Students’ concerns have also captured in a report by Commission for University Education (CUE) that was released last year highlighting their frustrations.

On student progression, the CUE report showed that half of master's students completed their studies while less than 20 percent of PhD students completed their programmes


The IUCEA report, tabled by Deputy Executive Secretary Mike Kuria, also explained challenges experienced by supervisors, key among them pressure to graduate students - which is the promotion criteria.

Other challenges experienced among supervisors include: lack of experience, failure to read thesis, language competence, lack of expertise in area of supervision, delay in reading thesis, and lack of availability or accessibility.

The Ministry of East African community Chief Administrative Secretary Ken Obura, who attended the forum, observed that quality of supervision in institutions of higher learning is a critical issue.

“Whereas every year, and even twice a year in some institutions, we release so many graduate and post-graduate students to the market, the feedback from the industry as well as the frustration of prolonged job search and discouraged job seekers give a disturbing scorecard to the players in this industry,” he said.