In a world where knowledge is the new fuel that powers economic growth, academics have argued that shifting attention to doctoral education would lift Nigeria from its uneviable status in Knowledge Economic Index (KEI), Ujunwa Atueyi, writes.
DoctoraL degree is not only the most valuable asset that an aspiring academic can have, but its significant role in knowledge-based economy is undeniable. This perhaps explains why the Science and Education ministers in Africa recently called for an urgent need to increase the number of PhD holders being produced on the continent every year.
The ministers during their meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, resolved that countries should take concrete measures to increase the annual rate of PhD production, as the current number on the continent was inadequate.
According to a policy document produced at the meeting, which was hosted by the Next Einstein Forum (NEF) and the government of Rwanda, while undergraduate enrolments have expanded by 9.6 percent yearly, reaching over 10 million students, postgraduate enrolment, both in masters and PhD programmes, makes up only eight percent of the total enrolment.
Citing an 11-year study of eight flagship universities conducted by the Higher Education Research and Advocacy Network in Africa (HERANA), the policy brief noted that with the exception of institutions such as the University of Ghana, Makerere University and the University of Botswana, average annual increases in PhD enrolment were well below 10 per cent.
The group, therefore, charged participants to launch a comprehensive evaluation and analyses of the number of PhDs per field, and identify the strengths and weaknesses of national PhD training systems, including their design, so as to achieve greater number.
They unanimously agreed that greater number of PhD produced per country would aid in transforming and engendering socio-economic growth.
The Nigerian situation
Former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof. Julius Okojie, had mandated universities to upgrade the qualifications of academics to doctoral degrees. He lamented that of the 35,000 lecturers in Nigeria at the time, 21,350 of them representing 61 percent still did not have a doctoral degree.
To tackle this challenge, Okojie citing the Benchmark Minimum Academics Standard, (BMAS), directed that minimum qualification for lecturers in Nigerian universities should be doctorate degree. He, therefore, instructed all universities in the country to observe the new directive.
While the country is lamenting lack of doctoral degree holders in its higher institutions of learning, an article published by Political Scientist based in the United States, Tonye David-West, Jr, and titled “How Many PhDs Does Nigeria Have,” shows that of all the foreign groups in the U.S, “Nigeria, not India, not China, not Japan, has the highest number of PhDs and it is collaborated by many reliable independent sources.”
“Each year, American universities all across the length and breath of this great land mint Nigerian PhDs as though they were coins. Presently, in my academic department at the university, there are three Nigerians who have impressed the faculty to the level of candidacy. This means they have passed the all-important qualifying exams and have progressed to the dissertation writing phase of the degree. At this point, in most cases, (not always the case), the process is more in the hands of the student than it is in the hands of the faculty.
“One of my colleagues at The Ohio State University, an associate dean, estimates more than 100 Nigerians graduating (from his specific college, one of the largest) this year with PhDs in the various aspects of the general discipline. In the academic circle, Nigerian PhDs come aplenty. I have never come across a campus in the US and even in Canada (in all my travels to that beautiful country north of the US) that does not have a Nigerian on its faculty no matter how remote the campus might be.
“But the sad irony is that while Nigerians are enhancing the American technology and those of other countries, there is hardly anyone left to enhance the technology in their native land. It’s doubtful that these freshly minted PhDs will return to Nigeria and engage in meaningful work that would contribute to nation-building. There is a dearth of critical mass of scholars in Nigeria and this is the unfortunate aspect of this new brain-drain of which Nigeria is very much at the disadvantaged end. Those in Nigeria who have excelled are being wooed by foreign universities and yet their own country does not value them,” said David-West.
Doctoral degree and knowledge economy
Exploring the impact of doctoral education to national growth, Immediate past Vice Chancellor of Bells University of Technology, Ota, Prof. Isaac Adebayo Adeyemi, said the benefits are enormous considering the evolving knowledge-economy.
According to him, “We do not have adequate number of PhD holders in Nigeria. This is based on the number of approved universities currently operating in Nigeria. In most of the universities, in the last 10 years, between 30 and 40 per cent of the academic staffs are non-PhD holders. I cannot provide data on the exact number of PhD holders in Nigeria, which makes it imperative for the NUC to ensure the proposed portal to serve as data bank becomes operational. I expect this portal to take care of Nigerians at home and in diaspora, both in academics and all sectors. Such a portal should be updated on a regular basis.
“Globally, we are in the era of knowledge economy with Nigeria being at the bottom ladder of the ‘Knowledge Economic Index (KEI). Education at whatever level, especially at postgraduate levels, broadens the mind and gives room to critical analysis of issues. The ability to form an independent and unbiased opinion is partly affected by the level of education of an individual. Deep thinking and creativity could also be affected by the level of education as PhD training involves some elements of discipline, organisation and a measure of respect which are currently lacking in our society.”
“Active participation in politics should not be ruled out where academic and professional experience would be useful. The trend of turning politics into a profession would be minimised with the involvement of disciplined and dedicated individuals who are PhD holders who have truly gone through the rigours of real academics.”
Corroborating Adeyemi’s view, Vice-Chancellor, Redeemer’s University, Ede, Osun State, Prof. Debo Adeyewa, said there are indeed, socio-economic benefits of having a high number of doctoral degree holders in a country.
“This is because such highly trained and educated citizens carry out critical assignments in nation building especially in education, research and development. They are therefore as critically needed as doctors, engineers, and pharmacists, among others. The developmental stage of a country is often assessed in terms of the ratio of these highly educated individuals in the population. Some intercontinental companies like Samsung, even boast about how many PhDs are working in their R&D departments. It is a competitive world and you want to stay ahead of your competitors in terms of the rate of innovative outputs.”
On factors inhibiting the production of PhDs in the country, Adeyewa said, “The production of PhD holders is not a quantitative process; rather, it is a qualitative one in the best university environment. Adequate funding is, therefore, critical to ensure the availability of state-of-the-art equipment. This is generally lacking in most of our universities. Secondly, we are still struggling to retain our very talented and endowed professors to take the doctoral students through the necessary training. So many have been lost to greener pastures in advanced and more supportive and rewarding countries.
“Thirdly, there are no adequate incentives for doctoral students. We need to understand that in the truest sense of it, real (unadulterated) doctoral students are sacrificially going through the process by foregoing better packages in other sectors of the economy. The fourth is the combination of unfortunate environmental factors such as bureaucratic bottlenecks, endless strikes, lack of discipline in the system whereby the supervisor is not giving the totality of his/her commitment.”
He further explained that the fault could also be due to the lack of commitment on the part of the doctoral students as some of them tries to make ends meet, pursuing many goals simultaneously or not putting in the best.
Bridging the gap
Because postgraduate education is very expensive anywhere in the world, Adeyewa said to address the challenge, government should among others provide adequate funds for research equipment.
“University teachers should put incommensurate efforts to attract research grants. This is the norm in the university system. While the government is responsible for providing funds for research, institutions are often ranked by the ability of university professors to attract grants. But these eggheads should be generously rewarded in terms of salary and other packages.
“The working environment of our universities should be improved to retain and also attract the best talents from within and outside the country. Universities could also provide productivity bonus as incentives to encourage the mentoring efforts. This is our practice in Redeemer’s University. There should also be incentives for doctoral students. In most advanced systems, doctoral studies are encouraged by providing scholarships and grants. The fourth issue could be dealt with through a robust and systematic quality assurance system. The combination of these efforts would improve the enrolment and production of qualitative PhDs in Nigeria,” he said.
For Adeyemi who is presently at Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso, outdated equipment; poor planning and ageing professors and PhD holders in diaspora are some of the major factors hampering doctoral education in the country.
“Most of the old breeds of professors who have acquired international exposures and experience are gradually leaving the system due to age. It takes time to acquire research and supervision experience. You cannot give what you do not have. Mentorship is very important in research. In the last 20 to 30 years, there has been a mass exodus of academics with PhD out of Nigeria to other African and developed countries where the environment is highly conducive to productive and rewarding research activities. If the Nigerian environment has not been ‘hostile’, a large percentage would have stayed back not only to beef up the number but would have replicated themselves,” he said.
To ensure that the country addresses the challenge and tap from the benefits, he advised that research laboratories in universities should be fully equipped depending on the core disciplines of research of each institution, adding that maintenance of research equipment is a key factor to functionality.
He also suggested that in universities where there is shortage of experienced supervisors, arrangements could be made to have some retired professors and Nigerians in diaspora serve as co-supervisors provided there is an institution-based supervisor. “Funds from both the public and private sectors must be injected into the provision of scholarships, grants, fellowships, which postgraduate students can take advantage of.”
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