By Ndoeyop Bennet Inibehe –
It was on a hot Tuesday afternoon, November 22nd 2015, that I resumed studies at the University of Uyo for my Master of Arts programme. Like many of my mates, I was hopeful about the prospect of getting a higher degree. The Masters programme at UNIUYO has a minimum duration of four semesters of which the first two are for the coursework and the last two for the research work. The programme is research-oriented and intensive. Many of the members of staff know their onions and the entire coursework phase went by smoothly.
There are little to no difficulties for any full time student in the coursework phase of the programme. I finished the coursework and even saw my results on time (I later found out that other departments are not as fast as mine in the handling of the coursework and the timely release of results).
In the research phase, the student is expected to write a seminar paper, present a proposal, write a dissertation and defend the dissertation both internally and externally (and I have done all of these). The process appear to be simple, time-efficient and effective. Ideally, students are not supposed to overstay in the system but in UNIUYO, nothing is ideal.
Like many other universities in Nigeria, UNIUYO and all its intelligentsias seem to be ignorant about how a postgraduate programme ought to be run. The system is disorganised, haphazard and designed to inevitably keep PG students in the programme ad infinitum (as long as fees are paid, of course).
It is one thing when a student keeps him/herself in the system due to laziness and failure to meet up. However, 70% of students pursuing Masters degrees cannot all be lazy as to warrant the type of delays that they face in UNIUYO (70% is only my way of coming up with a modest figure. I daresay that 90% of PG students overstay in the school by more than 2 semesters, at the least).
Unlike other universities where delays are as a result of needless bureaucracies and overzealous supervisors, the problems in UNIUYO seem to be unique to UNIUYO and I will explicate some of these problems with regard to my experience and those of others stuck in the system.
At the University of Uyo, every department is free to run the postgraduate programmes as they see fit. The Postgraduate School operates like a detached overseer (and not even a very good one at that). Departments deviate from the PG school calender and run programmes as they wish. This is evident in the fact that many departments do not commence lectures or write examinations at the stipulated time in the PG school’s calender.
Some departments do not even recognise the oversight of the Postgraduate School. In the research phase, it is even worse as departments do not follow the PG school’s minimum duration of 4 semesters. Departments are supposed to create the enabling environment to allow students complete their studies as and when due, as well as to advice or suggest withdrawal for students that are not serious. However, the departments encourage overstay through their nonchalant attitude towards the PG students. I have seen and heard of numerous instances where departments fail to schedule defence sessions on time or fail to enforce strict observance of PG school’s duration for students.
In some universities, defence sessions (or PG seminars) are organised almost every week but in UNIUYO, sessions are irregular and many students wait for months before they defend their works. Students in every set ought to start and finish at the same time (save for the unserious ones) but the departments deliberately create the environment that encourages non-uniformity and many students tend to graduate before others (in some cases, 1-3 years apart).
At the time I started my programme in 2015, I met many students from 2010 who are still in the system and no one from their class has even graduated. A close look at convocation brochures reveals that many departments produce only one or two (none for some) at every convocation and convocations in UNIUYO are usually combined!
The second issue that I want to address is that of overzealous supervisors. We have these types in almost all Nigerian universities. At the University of Uyo, Masters and PhD supervisors do not care about the stipulated duration for the PG programmes. All they care about is how to frustrate the students and elongate the duration of their programmes. Supervisors often delay Masters students for years without any form of regard for the PG school calender or the student’s attempts at completing the programme as and when due.
I was fortunate enough to get a fairly good supervisor whose main problem was excess workload, rather than sheer wickedness. Many others, however, had supervisors that read a chapter submission for more than 10 times over a period of 10 months, with new corrections coming up each time the work is corrected. A work cannot be so perfect and that is why it is always presented before a panel of specialists at the end. Perfectionist supervisors need to be curtailed by the PG school and the departments.
There is no point in delaying a Masters student for 4 years or more because you want a “perfect work” (if there is any such thing). Many of the lecturers fail to realise that a Masters degree is not a terminal degree like the PhD. They make the prospect of getting the degree elusive to the student through their disrespect for the duration of the programme. Many of my colleagues are still stuck in chapter one since last year because their supervisors can’t bear to let them graduate at the time PG school says they should. There seems to be a serious disconnect between the lecturers and the PG school.
The third issue is based on the external examination of candidates. In many universities, external examiners operate strictly with the PG school calender and fix dates for examination based on laid down principles and timelines. At the University of Uyo, external examiners fix dates for examinations of thesis and dissertations arbitrarily. Some external examiners keep research works in their hands for months and in some cases, over a year or more. The examiners seem not to care about the student’s expected date of graduation. They fix examinations whenever they deem fit and sometimes, students are made to pay outrageous amounts of money if they want to fast-track the whole thing. I have seen cases (as in mine) when students pay over N100,000 to make external examiners come quickly. Let us not forget that the examiners are paid for their duties!
The fourth issue I will discuss is the unneeded bureaucracies and delay-tactics of UNIUYO’s Postgraduate School. The PG school is supposed to oversee how programmes are run in the departments. Far from doing this, they even deliberately implement policies and tactics that frustrate students.
Apart from the fact that the PG school does not care about the welfare of the students, especially in terms of how they are faring in the programme and the issues they are facing, the PG school also adds to the weight of the students through a frustrating and delay-tactic known as “vetting”. Essentially, vetting was conceived to create uniformity and high standards in the research works submitted to the school. It involves the PG school appointing someone in every faculty to vet a thesis or dissertation (after the student’s internal and external defence). As if that is not bad enough, the Dean of the Postgraduate School also vets all the theses and dissertations across all faculties in the university. The vetting wouldn’t be much of a problem if it was a timely affair.
The entire process sometimes takes about a year or more to accomplish. A student that has “managed” to do his/her external defence in four or five semesters has to spend another year or two waiting for his work to be vetted. My grouse with the vetting is that it betrays the need for an internal defence and an external defence.
Why would students go through all the stress only for the PG school to imply that they don’t have trust in the panel of examiners and have to “vet” all the works that external examiners have okayed? It is a very provocative act! My own research on this vetting shows that other universities that are also known for delaying students do not add fuel to the flame via vetting.
The PG school and the university expect someone at the faculty to read all the theses and dissertations in that faculty (apparently to look for issues that missed both the internal and external examiners). The work may stay in the hands of this so-called vetter for about 3-6 months (and longer, in some cases). After the faculty vetter is through with vetting, the Dean of PG school, apparently not satisfied with what the faculty vetter he/she appointed may have done, still vets all the theses and dissertations that are presented for higher degrees.
The theses and dissertations can remain in the Dean’s hands for another 6-12 months (and longer, in some cases). In my experience, I was certified by the external examiner early this year but my work is still in the hands of the faculty vetter up till now (about 6 months). And even when a student manages to scale through the hurdle of vetting (a needless delay-tactic), results are not approved on time. In many cases, students get their results, after all the years of struggling, a year after graduation and I am not even talking of certificates but statement of results! Before the results are compiled, presented to the senate, approved and all, more than 1 year may have passed. Such is the trauma that PG students go through at the University of Uyo.
The University of Uyo has every right to maintain a certain standard in terms of quality of research. However, students should not be unnecessarily delayed by their departments, supervisors, examiners or the PG school. Many universities in the world have high academic standards! Even here in Nigeria, there are some universities that are known for high academic standards.
However, despite the presence of quality of research output, students graduate on time because the system encourages it. The PG school, in many universities, regulates everything that happens in the departments as long the PG students are concerned. If UNIUYO can graduate Bachelor degree students in 4 years, why should it be so difficult to graduate Masters students in the stipulated duration of 4 semesters (or two years)?
Many schools graduate Masters students in 12 calender months. Others do so in 18 calender months. Many of my colleagues in other schools have started PhD programmes and I am still stuck in the M.A. programme, after braving the department, my supervisor, the internal examiner and the external examiner. Why must the PG school punish me and many others by keeping us in the system deliberately in the name of vetting?
It should also be noted that we have a Graduate Students Association (GRASA) that collects dues of about N1,800 every year, as well as a non-functional Faculty of Arts Graduate Students Association (FAGRASA) that collects the exorbitant fee of N5000 for dues and many departments also charge around N3000-N7000 as levies every year. These bodies seem not to care about the plights of those it collects money from. The issue of delays in the system has been discussed far too many times in congresses and other fora but they have never done anything decisive on it. My only means of protesting against UNIUYO’s PG school’s delay-tactics is by writing this for all to see. The PG school de-markets itself by delaying students for years after they are supposed to graduate. It encourages the departments and supervisors to delay students. It encourages internal and external examiners to delay students. In fact, it delays students itself through a needless and unnecessarily long process of vetting.
I write this for all to see. I call on the Vice Chancellor of the University of Uyo to wade into the issue. I also plead with the Dean of the PG school to trust in the examiners appointed by the board and allow students graduate after their external examination or create an environment whereby the so-called vetting can be accomplished in a matter of days. There is no sense in keeping students in the system for months or years after their external examiners have deemed them worthy of a higher degree. It doesn’t happen anywhere else but the University of Uyo. Make UNIUYO the citadel it ought to be and encourage the best brains to come to the school for research by making the programmes fast, even while maintaining high standards.