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Questions raised over quality of JKUAT's 118 PhD degrees

Chacha Nyaigoti
Commission for University Education chairman Prof. Chacha Nyaigoti. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Fresh details have emerged on the 118 doctorate degrees that were awarded by Jomo Kenyatta University last week.

Analysis of the awards shows a lecturer supervised 16 doctorate students, which is against the Commission for University Education (CUE) requirement of one lecturer per three PhD students.

Another lecturer supervised 14 students while another one had 10 candidates.

There is also a lecturer who supervised six PhD students.

The university based in Juja, Kiambu County, also graduated 660 Master’s students which means they were also supervised by some of the lecturers who checked the work of PhD students.

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Doctorate and master’s students are supposed to be supervised by lecturers with doctorate degrees.

According to CUE, an academic staff shall be assigned students to supervise on thesis or dissertation based on a combination of his or her teaching load, administrative duties, and supervision experience and capacity.

“The maximum number of students an academic staff shall supervise in any given academic year shall be: master’s – 5 and doctorate – 3,” reads the regulations.

PhDs awarded

The rules also provide that the maximum lecturer workload will be 40 hours per week and will include teaching; preparation of examination papers; marking of examination scripts; tutorials; preparation of teaching; supervision of academic work; administrative work; laboratory and laboratory preparation; and research or research assignments.

At JKUAT, out of the 118, PhDs awarded, the College of Human Resource Development had the biggest number of PhDs (89) of which 40 were Doctor of Philosophy (Business Administration).

The fewest doctorates were in the fields of science and technology, areas which the university is best known for.

School of Engineering only managed to produce four PhDs, College of Agriculture, for which the university is named, only produced six PhDs, and College of Pure and Applied Sciences produced seven PhDs while College of Health Sciences produced 10 PhDs.

CUE has since announced that it will investigate how the whole process that led to the award of the doctorate degrees was conducted following public outcry.

In its investigations, CUE will be looking at the defence procedures, supervision of the programmes among others as it moves to protect the credibility of doctorate and master’s   degree programmes in Kenya.

CUE has powers to revoke such degrees.

Kenyans had questioned why the university was producing many PhDs with no innovations despite being an agriculture and technology institution.

Experts in education also questioned the quality of the thesis submitted by the doctorate graduates noting that at PhD level, students cannot talk about effects and influence of an issue in a research topic.

“Some of these research theses are supposed to have been undertaken by undergraduate or masters students,” said a lecturer of a public university who did not want to be named for fear of victimization.

The theses are supposed to be published in two reputable academic journals but some of the publications where the JKUAT graduates published their works have also been put to question.

On its website, JKUAT says its mission is to offer accessible quality training, research, innovation and entrepreneurship in order to produce leaders in the fields of agriculture, engineering, technology, enterprise development, built environment, health sciences, social Sciences and other applied sciences to suit the needs of a dynamic world.

This was the highest number of candidate the institution has ever conferred with PhDs in its history in a single ceremony.

Last year in September, it conferred 100 PhDs to students.

This year, 32 of the Doctor of Philosophy degrees were conferred to female candidates in an event that saw a total of 3,545 candidates conferred with degrees and  diplomas.

Doctorate students are required to do one year of course work then start the project work, which is supposed to be concluded three years.

However, JKUAT the acting deputy vice-chancellor (academic affairs), Prof Robert Kinyua, has since defended the quality of their graduates.

“All degrees of the university are meritoriously earned and no student is allowed to graduate without going through the due process regarding coursework, seminars, original research, external examination and publications,” he said.

University of Nairobi

Vice Chancellor Victoria Ngumi said the university remains committed to providing quality and market-driven programmes in various disciplines. 

University of Nairobi is also among institutions that have produced many doctorate degrees and which has been facilitated by its huge number of professors.

Last year, UoN produced 89 PhDs for its two graduations while 2017 it had 109 PhDs in two graduations.

Since 2015 to date, the UoN has produced 422 PhDs.

Between 2013 and 2017, the University of Eldoret only managed to produce 99 PhDs in various fields out of 16,000 students that it graduated.

CUE requires that all graduate students publish at least a paper or two before they graduate.

According to CUE regulation, by the end of this year, only lecturers with doctorate degrees will be allowed to teach in universities.

The curiosity around the veracity of the degrees seems to have exposed another dark side of academic publishing.

There appears to be briefcase or cash-for-publication journals in the country.

One such journal purports to be American though it was registered in Nairobi complete with an Equity Bank account.

It claims to have an impact factor of 3.0 and charges anyone who wishes to get published $100.

However, a close scrutiny of the outfit smacks of academic fraud.

A visit by the Nation to its purported address at Avenue House confirmed all suspicions about it.

“They are no longer here. They left in August last year,” a security guard at the premises said.

Their website is still live, complete with the payment options through which they receive cash from those desperate to get published, a much-coveted achievement among academic staff.

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