Varsities face staff crises as half of PhD students quit

Report says supervision of many students by one lecturer contributes to the high dropout rates

In Summary

• Kenya has about 10,000 PhD holders and produces about 400 graduates annually, against a national target of 900

• Most of them take too long to complete their programmes because of busy schedules

Moi University
PhD PROGRAMMES: Moi University
Image: FILE

Kenyan universities have pitiable PhD programmes as half of the students registered drop out.

A new report shows that 50 per cent of students seated in a PhD classes drop out. This paints a grim picture of the number of doctorate degree holders in the country.

Kenya has about 10,000 PhD holders. About 400 applicants graduate annually, against a national target of 900. Most of them take at a long time to complete their programmes.

Ordinarily, a doctorate programme should take three years. But data from the Commission for University Education shows that those enrolled spend up to six years. The higher education regulator demands that university lecturers be PhD holders.

The data is contained in a report of a study by CUE and the Kenya National Qualification Framework Authority.

Yesterday CUE chief executive officer Mwenda Ntarigwa blamed the high dropout rate to the prohibitive cost of training, poor supervision, and busy schedules, as most students have to balance their studies with family and work life.

"There is an inadequate number of lecturers and supervisors in our universities, not just for PhD holders. This has led to frustrations among some students, possibly explaining the high dropout rate," Ntarigwa told the Star.

The Kenya National Qualification Framework Authority — the agency mandated to regulate education in the country — describes doctorate degrees as delicate and need constant engagement between lecturers and students. This means a PhD lecturer needs to handle a lean number of students. The government recommends a maximum of 30.

This is, however, not the case. The majority of lecturers handle between 80 and 100 students, raising questions on the quality of those who  complete their programmes. This is partly blamed on the high dropout rate.

“PhD supervisors should not attend to many students because this is purely research work that is delicate, heavily demanding and needs regular monitoring. So, when a lecturer works with many students, which is the case in our universities, the quality is compromised and some are not able to move with the pace of the lecturer,” KNQFA director Juma Mukhwana told the Star on Tuesday.

The problem is common in rest of Africa. The continent has a 51 per cent dropout rate compared to US whose dropout rate is 17 per cent and Europe with 20 per cent. 

"We ask universities to address these problems not just to improve the level of doctorate holders, but also to drive the economy," Mukhwana said.

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