NIGERIA: Top medical college rejects PhD directive

The governing council of Nigeria's National Postgraduate Medical College has rejected moves by the National Universities Commission to undermine its autonomy on the issue of academics needing doctoral qualifications. Many lecturers at the country's only postgraduate medical college possess post-degree fellowship qualifications from the institution rather than PhDs.

According to recent postgraduate guidelines issued by the National Universities Commission (NUC), all teachers in institutions awarding masters and doctoral degrees must have a minimum PhD qualification.

But on the eve of its annual conferment of fellowship awards, the National Postgraduate Medical College (NPMC) registrar Dr Obot Antia-Obong called a press conference and warned that the college would defy the NUC's minimum criteria for teaching posts.

"The NUC cannot insist that the PhD takes precedence over the fellowship degrees of our college," Antia-Obong said. "What we offer is of very high standard and a list of our fellows is testimony to the type of training we offer."

College president Dr Michael Olu Taiwo said he could not understand why NUC Executive Secretary Professor Julius Okojie would smear the NPMC's reputation.

"The college will not allow any organisation to debase the fellowships it awards," Taiwo said, adding that the medical college had existed since the promulgation of Decree 67 of 1979 which clearly defined its roles and responsibilities: "We have been functioning within the guidelines of the law, which accords legitimacy to our existence."

He pointed out the relevance of the college to medical education in Nigeria, saying that for nearly three decades around 75% of teachers in Nigeria's medical and dental schools had been NPMC graduates and that they were the bedrock of the health care system in Nigeria and some other West African countries.

"Without the medical and dental specialists we are training, the health care delivery system would have ground to a halt as a result of the mass exodus of medical personnel to greener pastures abroad," Taiwo stressed.

NPMC programmes indicate their postgraduate offerings are tailored to the needs of Nigerian medical education. All students are admitted to the college with a minimum first degree in the sciences. At the end of their studies, after at least two years, all students write a dissertation on a topic related to issues affecting medical and health services.

The college's functions include conducting professional examinations for candidates in medical and dental faculties, accrediting professional postgraduate programmes for other higher education institutions, curriculum development, research and academic publications.

"Through accreditation and reaccredidation of Nigeria's teaching and specialist hospitals, the college is able to ensure that adequately qualified medical and dental trainers as well as supporting staff are available for the health care system," Taiwo said.

Some observers of the unfolding controversy believe the NUC's directive on qualifications for lecturers in postgraduate schools spells danger if applied in its entirety. They point out that each academic discipline has its own requirements and specificities that are not applicable to other disciplines.

The Medical Council is the apex body defining programmes in all medical faculties. It is dominated by university professors who know the implications of fellowships with poor standards.

"It was university professors in medical and dental schools who set up the NPMC," said Dr Chriatiana Onome, a consultant gynaecologist in Lagos. "Professor Julius Okojie is a professor of agriculture and should have consulted his peers in medical and dental schools before dishing out the directive. I am of the opinion that he should tread softly on this issue."

According to reliable sources, the Nigeria Medical Association and the Nigerian Dental Association, umbrella bodies for doctors and dentists, will meet soon to take a policy position on the lingering controversy. It is likely the associations will oppose the directive of NUC because they are satisfied with the performance of the NPMC and its staff.