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East Africa mulls harmonising postgraduate training

Countries in east Africa are considering harmonising standards of postgraduate training, observing that there exists no clear standards of either training or supervision at graduate level, among a myriad of other challenges.

Officials in Kigali, Rwanda have echoed calls from across east Africa for PG standards. Photo: Flickr/ Sean J.

Establishing quality assurance at the PG level will remain a key part of DAAD's partnership

The East African Community countries of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan want minimum standards developed for postgraduate training, as well as basic qualifications for supervisors set, to ensure they produce quality employable graduates and lecturers.

“PhD training is the engine room of the university system”

At the forefront of the efforts is the Inter-University Council for East Africa, the region’s higher education authority, with the support of German Academic Exchange Service, and the African Population and Health Research Centre — through its program, the Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa.

Postgraduate studies in East Africa faced a myriad of problems including an uncontrolled growth of postgraduate student numbers, and a corresponding lack of supervision capacity, according to Rwanda’s minister for education, Eugene Mutimura.

Other challenges included lack of a mechanism for selecting and evaluating competencies of supervisors, and a lack of an “enabling departmental or institutional culture”, to support effective supervision of students, the minister told a workshop held in Kigali Rwanda, convened to craft ways of developing a regional approach to postgraduate education.

Even more worrying is a shortage of manpower for teaching and supervision, made worse by poor infrastructure according to Evelyn Gitau, director of research capacity strengthening at APHRC, a leading African think tank.

This has had a negative impact on the universities’ capacity to sustainably train the next generation of university lecturers and researchers, Gitau noted.

“Therefore, there is need to address this through harmonisation of standards and guidelines for postgraduate training. This I believe should be the minimum standards for postgraduate training in the region,” she told the workshop.

Recommendations on harmonisation will be presented by IUCEA, vice chancellors, other university administrators, and commissions of university education among other policy makers.

“[There is a] lack of departmental or institutional culture to support supervision”

The harmonised principles and guidelines for postgraduate studies and systems will later be institutionalised in higher education institutions and countries, she said.

According to Mike Kuria, deputy executive secretary, IUCEA, there existed no curriculum on how to supervise or teach at postgraduate level in east Africa, with every country and university following its own set guidelines and principles, which ultimately affects standards of training, mobility and recognition of qualifications.

“The future of the quality of higher education in the region depends on the current quality of postgraduate studies. This relies on the number of qualified postgraduate teachers and supervisors, this effort will try fill that critical gap,” he told the workshop.

According to Helmut Blumbach, director of DAAD’s Africa regional office in Nairobi, the organisation will make graduate training and quality of supervision part of its focus of engagement with countries in the region.

Establishment of regional standards in the field and quality assurance in higher education in general, will remain central to the longstanding and current collaboration between DAAD and the regional higher educational body IUCEA, Blumbach asserted.

“There is no quality university education without sufficient numbers of well-trained PhDs, PhD training is the engine room of the university system. If the engine splutters, universities will not meet expectations,” noted the director.

Such an effort should take advantage of the foundation already laid by the May 2017 declaration of east Africa as a Common Higher Education Area, said Ken Obura, chief administrative secretary in Kenya’s ministry of East African Community affairs.

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