Commentary: UWI and PhDs


By Oliver Mills

It was reported in the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper of October 14, 2010, that professor Paget Henry of Brown University in the United States, who is Antiguan born, stated that it is critical for the UWI to graduate more PhDs to teach students at degree granting colleges that are emerging throughout the Caribbean.

The professor stated that the areas should be Caribbean history, sociology, political science, economics, literature and the arts. He added that this self knowledge could only come from artists and scholars trained at the UWI.

Oliver Mills is a former lecturer in education at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus. He holds an M.Ed degree. from Dalhousie University in Canada and an MA from the University of London. He has published numerous articles in human resource development and management, as well as chapters in five books on education and human resource management and has presented professional papers in education at Oxford University in the UK and at Rand Africaans University in South Africa.

But what is the professor really suggesting? Is he intimating that these emerging degree granting institutions lack sufficiently well qualified lecturers in these areas? Again, is he saying that a masters degree or a post graduate specialist diploma are insufficient to teach at the level of these degree granting institutions? Or, is he stating that the UWI needs to, and is not graduating sufficient PhD students, and therefore needs to increase the completion and graduation rates of PhD students?

On the surface, this suggestion appears quite straight forward, but on close examination it is highly complex, as well as quite revealing concerning not only what is being done, but what should be done. It also implies that the degree granting institutions have sufficient persons with masters degrees, but what is now badly needed is more people with PhD qualifications. This is far from being the case, since many degree granting institutions do not have every staff member with a masters qualification, even though many may be working towards achieving this credential.

The further factor is that many degree granting institutions in the Caribbean only offer first degrees. Very few offer masters qualifications, unless it is done in collaboration with institutions within or outside the Caribbean. So what seems to be initially required, is to improve the quality of the first degree, so that it articulates with the higher requirements of other institutions abroad, particularly for persons pursuing higher studies. This is very important, since many students from some Caribbean institutions who go to schools in the United States, often have to either repeat the first degree, do make up courses, or spend an additional year, and score a particular grade, before they are accepted into the programme of their choice, even if their first degree is in the particular area.

I know personally of a Caribbean student who went to a North American institution with an upper second class honours degree in library science, but was told that her course concentration was insufficient to gain direct entry. She had to do a number of undergraduate courses over the period of a year, before her first degree was recognized as equivalent to that offered by this institution. The issue seemed to be that since the first degree in the Caribbean took three years, the degree at the foreign institution was a four year programme. After completing the additional year, the Caribbean student was allowed to enter the masters programme in library science. It means that some Caribbean institutions have to examine their first degrees in terms of equivalency with that of other institutions. We live in a global society that is highly competitive and connected, and so we need our institutions to offer qualifications that are accepted globally, and not just in the island where they are, or in the region.

There are also cases where Caribbean students with masters degrees who have applied to certain North American institutions to doctoral work in the area of their masters, were required by the institution they had applied to, to redo their masters programme, because it was not regarded as being at the level acceptable by that institution. Even in a certain European university, students with a first degree from their home institution who applied to do a masters programme were told they had first to do a post graduate diploma in the area with a “B” average, before they could be accepted, and those with masters who wanted to do a doctorate were told they had to do either the M.Phil. first, or do one year of this programme, and present an acceptable research paper of a particular quality, before being considered for a doctoral programme.

The whole issue here, is that before we can talk of graduating more PhDs, we in the Caribbean have first to critically and systematically look at our first degree and masters programmes in terms of global equivalency, so that when our students apply abroad to other institutions, they would not have to spend additional time and money repeating what they thought they already had in the bag. Degree granting colleges in the Caribbean therefore need to buck up, and look not only at the commercial aspect of their programmes, but their international currency. An important feature of their programmes should be what the student, after pursuing a course of studies is capable of doing. Does the programme fit appropriately with the job market and requirement of the wider society? And, does the programme ensure that the student would have acquired entrepreneurial knowledge and skills to not only qualify for a job, but to create and innovate new products and services to the benefit of the economy and society?

When the professor used the term ‘graduating more PhDs’ it gives the impression of the UWI being a factory, which churns out products, where, irrespective of quality control, still come out with certain defects, such as the student not being equipped with the right match of performance skills, along with not being educated with respect to how to transfer knowledge fit for purpose. It is not simply a matter of graduating more PhDs, but giving students a quality education reflected in a PhD. This means that supervisors of students must be highly credentialed, and must have published widely in local, regional and international journals. It also means that the work produced must be either highly original, or there is a creative reinterpretation of work already in the market, providing a new and different perspective, which not only adds further weight to the area, but gives it a new and transformative applicability. It is not a rehash, or a commentary.

Furthermore, when professor Henry says that the areas should be Caribbean history, the social sciences, literature and the arts, and adds that self-knowledge could only come from artists and scholars trained at the UWI, he misses the point and purpose of education completely. Education aims at a transfiguration of the human personality through the quality of the subject areas. It seeks to create thinkers, open-mindedness, and a cultured and humane people. What the professor does not say is how these areas would meet the criteria just suggested. He seems to be saying that more PhDs should be awarded in these areas. But why these, as opposed to others? Is this a reflection of his bias for these areas? Of the PhDs awarded in these areas, how have they helped the Caribbean economy and society? Have they given the emerging degree granting institutions further status and pull, with respect to students’ interest and competence? What about management studies? How many persons who have already done a PhD in any of the areas mentioned by the professor, have opted to work at these institutions?

When the professor further mentions that self-knowledge can only come from artists and scholars trained at the UWI, he fails to realize that self-knowledge is personal, based on the interactions of the individual with society, how he or she interprets these, and the responses that are given. You do not acquire self-knowledge from others. It is an individual, psychological thing that emerges from our transactions within the environment and not from entities external to us who bestow it on us. Artists and scholars can provide insights, based on their own analysis, but they cannot infuse self-knowledge into us. Self-knowledge is authentic to us. To also say these have to be trained at the UWI, is the ultimate fallacy. Any genuine institution anywhere which exposes us to the best that has be thought and taught, qualifies to facilitate the development of our intuitions, but not award us self-knowledge as the professor seems to think.

I am sure after further reflection, the professor would enhance his perspective on the issues he has promulgated, and arrive at a conclusion that is more rational, informed, and objective.



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