The mannequin of PhD examine at South African universities wants to vary | Training


In “The PhD quality debate has racist tones”, (Mail & Guardian, November 29 2019), Lukhona Mnguni writes: “I heard Professor Sioux McKenna of Rhodes College saying ‘the construction of the PhD has modified’ through the years when chatting with Radio 702. She did, nevertheless, not elaborate on how the construction has modified.
Was she insinuating that the construction has modified in ways in which may compromise high quality?”

I definitely don’t assume the change in construction has compromised high quality.
The truth is, my argument is that the doctorate hasn’t modified almost sufficient as a result of universities are basically conservative areas.


The dominant mannequin of PhD examine in South Africa stays the one-on-one mannequin the place a pupil works with one or two supervisors, fairly than in a venture group surrounded by friends and supervisors working collectively.

This “master-apprentice mannequin” is essentially discovered within the humanities and social sciences and is implicated within the poor throughput at PhD degree. The mannequin can exacerbate energy differentials between pupil and supervisor, which might be higher mediated in a group or cohort strategy the place everybody has a chance to be taught from one another.

One other title for this mannequin is the Oxbridge tutorial mannequin of examine and, because the title suggests, it’s a colonial legacy. The irony


is that almost all universities in the UK not rely completely on this mannequin and draw on a spread of approaches to PhD schooling.

PhD examine in South Africa is conservative in different methods too. Our laws states that coursework carried out at doctoral degree will not be for credit score, with the end result that few universities provide any coursework.

That is, for my part, a mistake as a result of coursework gives alternatives to transcend the confines of the particular PhD subject and in as we speak’s complicated world, working with expertise and matters throughout disciplinary boundaries is crucial.


Coursework may also present construction and an induction into the numerous mental necessities at doctoral degree.

Provided that lots of our PhD college students are finding out whereas holding down full-time jobs, such construction generally is a enormous assist.

Though I’m bemoaning the gradual tempo of change within the nature of the doctorate, I acknowledge that many shifts have taken place. For instance, increasingly college students are enterprise PhD examine for business and never for academia, which was the historic objective of the diploma.


This implies we have to give attention to totally different features of knowledge-making. Considerably, we have to ask questions on who the doctorate is for.

Provided that it’s subsidised by tax-payers, we have to know that the diploma serves the general public.

As to the difficulty of the forthcoming high quality overview, it must be borne in thoughts that it isn’t doctoral college students or their theses which might be being reviewed. The overview is a overview of universities.


Some universities in South Africa is perhaps tempted to enrol PhD college students to get the subsidy hooked up to them, even when they don’t have adequate supervision capability.

College students could properly not get the form of care and mental assist wanted and be left to sink or swim. As a rustic we can’t let this occur.

The rise in doctoral graduates has been important however the rise in PhD enrolments has been even steeper with increasingly candidates dropping out or getting “caught” within the system. Universities must account for the way they’re attending to this concern.


I’ve considerations about features of the forthcoming overview (and with high quality assurance on the whole), however I hope it is going to serve present and future doctoral candidates properly and guarantee they get a good deal from their establishments. They deserve it and the nation wants them.

Professor Sioux McKenna is the director of the Centre for Postgraduate Research at Rhodes College