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Friday, 11 September 2009 10:38

Vacancy For Lecturers: Professors and Professor Drs Only

By Benjamin Tawiah

ACCRA, Ghana, Sept 11 (Ghanaweb) - The University of Ghana directive that lecturers appointed to teach in the university must have a higher research qualification, preferably a doctorate degree, made the news last week. But it was no news at all. Or perhaps, it was so much news that it wasn’t news after all. According to the Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University, Prof Kwesi Yankah, it is an old directive that the university sought to activate.

The university relaxed the regulation because of the ‘crunch’ of lecturers at the time, which saw applicants with Master of Philosophy degrees hired to teach at the lecture theatres of the premier institution. To improve standards, the university has decided to ‘reactivate’ the existing regulation. “So nothing has really changed much,” the venerable Prof Yankah, adds.


The Legon University is an institution that progresses with integrity (Intergri Procedamus), so it has put in place programmes to help lecturers improve themselves and by extension the university’s standards. Existing senior lecturers who do not have doctorate degrees have not been demoted to assistant lecturers.


And, despite the directive, the university is still appointing people with research based MPhil degrees to teaching posts. From August last year when the directive was activated, some 30 teachers have been appointed assistant lecturers, a position which isn’t particularly lower than a lecturer, except that a full lecturer has a slightly higher salary notch.


In addition, the University has made available considerable amount of money for research towards promotion and further education of lecturers. It has through the Dean of Research and Graduate studies laid out several programmes to enable existing lecturers take advantage of opportunities to get quality doctorate degrees.


There have been several workshops on staff career development, and about 30 lecturers have taken advantage of avenues such as Fulbright scholarships, ACU fellowships and the university of Ghana staff development scheme for fellowships, to improve themselves. The university is still creating more avenues for the academic and professional enrichment of lecturers.


This position is not different from what happens in other universities in Ghana and the world. For instance, a recent Harvard University advertisement for a director of choral activities requires applicants to possess a Masters Degree, but a Doctorate is preferred. Among other things, the successful candidate must have expertise in conducting symphonic choral works, demonstrate knowledge in the practices of prior eras, and show evidence of the ability to achieve the highest artistic standards in performance. Excellence in teaching is also desired.


At Oxford, the requirements for appointment to lectureships are not very different. An opening for lectureship in comparative social policy, which is tenable in 2010, requires applicants to have completed a doctorate in social policy or a closely related social science discipline.


The 42, 351 – 56, 917 post (Oxford scale for university lecturers without tutorial fellowships) requires applicants to have a track record of internationally excellent social policy research and publication in highly ranked, peer-reviewed academic journals, and have an outstanding programme in one or more areas of comparative social policy.


The vacancy advertisement does not give any consideration for Masters Degree holders. It states that the post of University Lecturer is the main career grade for academic faculty at Oxford and it is the equivalent to an American associate professorship. The title of professor (Reader) may be awarded through the regular recognition of distinction exercises conducted by the University.


In many cases, it appears only a Masters Degree is not adequate to be a university lecturer. Universities are very mindful of the wording of their vacancy publications. They are always careful to insert the word “preferably” in their ‘preference’ for a Doctorate Degree. And it makes sense, because lecturers are required to have good research ability and an insightful understanding of the theoretical foundations of the disciplines they teach.


While an experienced lecturer with a Masters Degree is eligible to supervise the dissertations of his Masters students, it is assumed that a professor or a lecturer with a Doctorate Degree would have greater authority and experience in advising such students. Besides, professors are expected to profess knowledge in their areas of expertise, and sometimes in other unrelated fields, whereas most Masters Degree holders (these days everybody has one) can afford to be slaves to the subjects they have mastered.

Years ago, a Masters degree set you apart from others, but these days it is only a natural progression from the Bachelors level. Many 24 year olds with a brain the size of a peanut can boast of a graduate degree. So, it is not as prestigious as it used to be. Two Masters Degrees can be done online at the same time.


And because standards are generally considered low, even though they are not any lower than the standards of yesterday, there isn’t much confidence in even important degrees from very good institutions. PhDs now seem to be the new Masters, as an internet blogger puts it. But a PhD, especially a good PhD, leaves an impression, often a good impression about the holder.


The process of acquiring a PhD is a laborious one. Choosing a researchable topic is like chasing the wind. Unlike a Masters degree, where supervisors are sometimes randomly chosen to guide student research, a PhD student looks for his own supervisor, usually by expressing interest and writing a good proposal in the supervisor’s area of expertise.


Acquiring good references is also very difficult. There are professors who seal bad news in white envelopes and pass them off as references for their students. Additionally, students apply for their own funding to help pay for the high cost of a PhD programme. A 2007 Statistics Canada report found that PhD students usually pile up debts exceeding $22,500 before they complete their studies. Graham Cox, Chair of the Canadian Federation of Students, says: “It used to be that you could graduate from university with a bit of debt and then get a good job. But there are bleak opportunities for those with PhDs.”


Even when they do find jobs, PhDs do not command a salary any higher than those with one of those hurriedly acquired Masters Degrees. A 2009 University World News article blames the problem on the “casualisation of the university labour force” as the reason.


The Statistics Canada report also states that the difference between a PhD’s income and that of a Masters degree is sometimes just $5,000. Thus, while a PhD holder takes home about $55,000, a Masters Degree graduate gets some $50,000, even though the difference between the two degrees is very wide.


So, it is not surprising that more than 50% of those who sign up for PhD’s abandon the prospect midway. It simply does not pay, at least not as it should. Most universities in Northern America require PhD students to write a comprehensive examination, a venture that a friend of mine described as the most critical stage in an otherwise responsible adult life.


There is also an oral defence after that. The progress of the research does not depend entirely on the hard work of the student; you are at the mercy of an academic who may not see the human side to a very inhuman enterprise. When you have half of your research work cancelled because it is not relevant to the discussion, there is often very little reason to go on. But, often, there is joy at the end of it all if the final defence goes well. And pray that it goes well, because the professors determine how well it goes.


So, why would anybody bother with a PhD when the rewards are not commensurate with the hard work involved? It is an honour that you cannot quantify in money, so the material reward is not the motivation. Being a PhD candidate clears a lot of doubt, because it is not every Masters Degree holder who can do a PhD. Daring to complete it and getting accepted onto a body of knowledgeable folks, is even more honourable. It is not a terrain for buffoons who dot not have discipline and composure. Presently, I am the only Mr among a wide circle of ‘professorial’ friends.


They do not want to be addressed by their titles, at least not by those very close to them but they occasionally draw the line. And their business cards, which authoritatively state their credentials, add to it. But the line is only a faint one that ends where the mean graph of capitalism begins. Our truck driver and mechanic friends (those who have no diplomas in front of their names) own the big houses and the best cars.


They get twice as much as a professor makes. They are also those who own the gas stations in their home countries. Well, a good library, such as the one I have in the basement of my house, produces a lot of gas in the form of knowledge. I can only hope that it compensates for my inability to sometimes fuel my car.


Still, there is something indescribably gorgeous about a doctorate Degree. These days, it is possible to download one from the computer at a very low cost. I don’t know if the University of Ghana accepts online PhDs. Those who have done degrees online say they are as good as sitting before a boring lecturer who would wax rhapsodic on 15th century theories and ask you to go and read books he did not author.


A PhD is basically research, and most researchers hardly get to meet their supervisors. The University of Ghana is interested in doctorate degrees, those usually (most of them are) supported by evidence of research; it does not specify where they should come from or how they are done.


PhDs are not the same. North Americans usually call British PhDs Baby degrees. And that is perhaps because PhD students in Britain are not required to write comprehensive examinations, that important marker that determines whether a candidate has a quality brain to undertake a PhD. But there is more to the differences between the two PhDs than just the comprehensive examination, because the British system makes up for it in other meaningful ways.


Michael Pahl, a Canadian scholar who has experienced the educational systems in both North America and Britain, says: “The difference in PhD program(me)s reflect differences in the educational systems as wholes. The British system is geared much more toward specialisation, while the North American system is geared more toward generalisation.”


Legon PhDs may be a bit of both, since our educational system, although modelled on the British, takes some inspiration from the American style. Our universities boast of teachers with degrees from western countries. Maybe the intriguing part of the Legon PhD story is that very few lecturers did their degrees in Ghana.


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