OPINION: Unreasonable Requirements for Ph.D. Candidates

Friday January 24 2020

Richard E. Mshomba is Professor of Economics,

Richard E. Mshomba is Professor of Economics, La Salle University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. 

By Richard Mshomba

A few days ago, an article published by The Citizen titled, “Tougher conditions for Master’s and PhD Scholars” reported that Ph.D. candidates must publish their findings in a recognized peer-reviewed journal as a requirement to graduate. The requirement is unreasonable.

First, here is some clarification regarding what is actually required. The latest edition (December 2019) of the Handbook for Standards and Guidelines for University Education in Tanzania stipulates that (a) a candidate for a Master’s degree by Coursework and Dissertation “shall produce at least one draft paper manuscript based on his/her research results intended for submission in a peer-reviewed journal;” (b) a candidate for a Master’s degree by research and thesis shall have “at least two paper manuscripts based on his/her research submitted to a peer-reviewed journal;” and (c) a candidate for a Ph.D. degree “shall have at least one paper published and at least two accepted manuscripts (articles/papers) in a peer-reviewed journal.” In all cases, it is required that “the journal shall be acceptable or recognisable by the respective University.”

 

The requirement that a Master’s degree candidate intends to submit his/her paper or needs to have submitted papers to a peer-reviewed journal is unnecessary, but rather inconsequential. Editors of journals do not preempt submission of articles, because they have the discretion to reject an article immediately.

 

However, the publication requirement for Ph.D. candidates is unreasonable. Not even Harvard University and other top universities have such a requirement. This requirement will unnecessarily delay Ph.D. candidates from graduating and will ultimately dissuade people from pursuing Ph.D. degrees in Tanzania.

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A Ph.D. program in economics by course work and dissertation, for example, at the University of Dar-es-Salaam (UDSM) is supposed to take four years. According to the UDSM’s Postgraduate Prospectus 2018/19, students are required to take a total of ten courses in the first two years. In the third and fourth year, they are to devote their time to working on their dissertations. It is unrealistic to expect them to meet the publication requirement in just two years. Not only does it take time to research and produce a publishable article, the peer review process from submission to actual publication can easily take two years and, in most cases, longer. As a side note, publications in some fields, such as medicine, typically have multiple authors. If there are three authors, including a Ph.D. candidate, I would assume it would still count as a full article for the candidate.

 

It is important to note that the publication requirement is also unwarranted. The requirement presupposes that the candidate’s dissertation committee is not adequately qualified to make an appropriate determination about the quality of the dissertation and whether it should be accepted or not. Should that be the concern, the solution is not to place the burden on the candidate, but instead, for each university to assess its ability to offer a Ph.D. degree program in the first place.

 

An additional question would arise if this publication requirement is reinforced – would Tanzania now stop recognizing PhDs conferred by universities in other countries where, for the most part, publication is not a prerequisite?

Certainly, Ph.D. students should be encouraged and given support that can lead them to publish their work in peer-reviewed journals or as academic books. In addition, universities and colleges in Tanzania should allocate more resources to supporting faculty research, thereby enhancing faculty members’ ability to supervise dissertations. Many faculty members are constrained from conducting research. They teach large classes and have many preparations, and sabbaticals and research leaves are rare. However, making publication a requirement for graduation for Ph.D. students is placing an unfair burden on them.

 

Richard Mshomba is Professor of Economics at La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA 19141, U.S.A. (mshomba@lasalle.edu)