How academics in Kenya abet research dearth



Kenyans, from the bustling shores of the Indian Ocean to the serene waters of Lake Victoria, champion education.

We largely see educational pursuits as a ticket to level the playing field for reducing uncertainty and improving economic and life well-being. We hold brilliantly robust literacy rates and university completion levels. Our professional class of workers dominates the region.

However, in academia across our great country, we can often find nitpicker blockers whose sole mission seems to revolve around frustrating collegiate students and preventing them from either graduating or reaching their full potential.

Despite our national accomplishments, a bewildering proportion of academic staff obfuscates undergraduate projects and master’s and doctoral dissertations.

One can tell the character of someone by how they treat others who hold limited power over them. Observing how many academics treat a visiting parliamentarian or CEO guest speaker as opposed to their treatment of their own project or dissertation students is staggering.

In academia, a largely liberal profession, surely we should believe in the egalitarian equality of all humanity.

Despite the destabilising pride found in much, though not all, of the profession, Charon Duermeijer, Mohamed Amir, and Lucia Schoombee find that less than one percent of world research occurs here in Africa.

But stop and notice the arrogance through which numerous doctoral committees and masters panels operate. One may think those interrogating students won Nobel Prizes yet sadly never published original research in their lives.

The famous Russell Group of the top research universities in the UK requires its elite members to publish high proportions of research as original, cutting-edge, and world-leading. But in most of our institutions, the vast majority of research is extremely derivative.

Just taking the same conceptual frameworks and variables but all with unreliable scales to replicate decades-old proven theories and hypotheses does not qualify as acceptable research in most of the international universities of the world. We need to originate original research. Original results. Unique solutions.

Working together we Kenyans surely have the capacity, intelligence, and wherewithal. But working to show off to colleagues, belittle students, and nitpick will not get us to produce the type of research that solves societal problems.

In comparing nitpicking, great research powerhouses of Durham University and Northumbria University provide virtually no formatting commands. Students present their projects and dissertations in a way they feel is most appropriate. Dissertation chapters are the international norms.

But margins, section titles, internal chapter ordering, etc, are flexible. But many supervisors and panels here limit our students to straight jackets with few options and limit their learners to non-rigorous non-international standards.

When giving dissertation responses, anytime a comment is so general as to leave the student confused on how to proceed, then that faculty member either does not know how to author impactful research or has failed through their inability to concisely educate the next generation.

Clarity must be provided such as: “on page 143, the third paragraph, add a sentence about X”. Not something so general like “rewrite Chapter Two to be more reflective of the industry”.

Let us try to uplift each other, not push others down. Students must demand respect and us in academia should provide it. Let us celebrate the hundreds of faculty who do indeed honour and support research students.

In Kenya, we have the brains, work ethic, and networks to not only change our country but change the world. Life is not a zero-sum game whereby someone must lose for one to win. We can all win. Proverbially, a rising tide lifts all boats, not just one.

Dr Scott may be reached on [email protected] or on Twitter: @ScottProfessor