New book interrogates doctoral training across continent

African universities are designing doctoral training to drive development and innovation; create an informed knowledge base equipped to tackle local challenges and fit distinctly African needs as well as contexts.

This is one of the main messages that has emerged from a new book, Doctoral Training and Higher Education in Africa, that was published in May.

“Despite the critique of higher education as being ‘made in the West’, the current doctoral training in Africa is by and large embedded in the framework of the post-colonial continuum,” the book states.

The book was edited by Christine Scherer, an academic coordinator of early career and equal opportunity in the Cluster of Excellence ‘Africa Multiple’ at the University of Bayreuth, Germany, and Radhamany Sooryamoorthy, a professor of sociology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and a research fellow at the Department of Science and Innovation-National Research Foundation (DSI-NRF), Centre of Excellence in Scientometrics and Science, Technology and Innovation Policy, or SciSTIP, Stellenbosch University, South Africa.

Aim and outline

The book aims to fill a gap in the knowledge of doctoral training in Africa through investigating the history, present and future potential of doctoral training on international, regional, national and institutional levels.

It also analyses the frameworks and structures of the doctoral phase, and how institutions, supervisors, mentors and young scholars meet the challenges of training in real life.

In addition, the book covers issues such as access to education, proactive recruitment, funding issues, practitioner expertise, enrolment and drop-out, across a range of countries including South Africa, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Benin, Ghana and Morocco, which represent the four regions (North, South, East and West) of Africa.

Furthermore, the book “looks retrospectively and prospectively at the doctoral training in Africa to see how it can move forward in establishing sound doctoral programmes which can overcome the challenges and difficulties”.


The book notes that, while the Global North is able to expand doctoral training and, as a consequence, increase the production of doctorates, the Global South is struggling to overcome challenges in doctoral education.

It points out the rich diversity of doctoral education models across the African continent, which reflects the different historical and colonial legacies.

It reveals that the major impediments to doctoral training in Africa include the strategic positioning of the doctoral school, insufficiently equipped higher education institutions to maintain and expand the infrastructure, inadequate supervisory capacity, lack of research and scholarship, shortage of funding for students and inadequate facilities, equipment and research infrastructure, the problems associated with high drop-out rates, low quality of doctoral education and lack of comprehensive and accurate data on many aspects of doctoral training on the continent.

Developing quality doctoral training programmes

The book states that doctoral training has great significance for African countries today, particularly for higher education systems, societal well-being and possible economic development.

“The question is not only about introducing new doctoral programmes in disciplines that are of specific importance to the countries on the continent. It is about developing strong and quality doctoral training programmes that contribute to the advancement of the knowledge base of scholars, institutions and countries.

“The particular ‘African’ quality of training that doctoral candidates receive in Africa is, therefore, vital to the student and to the larger context,” the book stresses.

Therefore, the book provides viable options for quality training and throughput of doctorates in Africa that will have a positive impact on the higher education systems of the respective countries and on their development.

The book also stresses “the need for Africa to critically examine the challenges, potential and benefits of the models that are found in other parts of the continent”.

Uniqueness of Africa in doctoral training

However, the book indicates that “the efforts towards strengthening doctoral programmes should take into account the unique context of Africa which is not necessarily similar to that which exists elsewhere” because, “compared to other regions, Africa is endowed with its own colonial legacy and current issues with regard to higher education and doctoral training”.

“Despite the many scholars that have left Africa to set the pace for the project of decolonising the university in Africa, or discuss matters of gender, diversity and intersectionality from a distance, such approaches are still seen as an ‘academic exercise’ and a luxury versus the existing difficulties, lacks and scarcities that accompany higher education and doctoral training within the respective institutions in Africa today,” the book points out.

Revitalising doctoral training

“Although thinking from the unique contextual ‘African’ standpoints is crucial, certain basic requirements are unavoidable,” the book stresses.

Therefore, it points at the need for reliable data covering all aspects of doctoral education and training as “it is a basic requirement for any country to revitalise its doctoral training and output”.

The book indicates that the approach towards developing and strengthening doctoral programmes should be to adopt successful models from within the continent. Models are not restricted to countries or continents but ‘travelling’ knowledge. Some African continental models that have been successfully implemented seem to be more relevant than Western ones.

International partnerships with institutions outside the African continent are also beneficial to doctoral programmes run by several institutions on the continent.

The way forward

“An ‘Africa we want’ will need an open scholarly engagement that brings fresh ideas, means and pathways of disciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary scholarly creation into higher education and doctoral training in Africa which addresses the multiple aspects of Africa’s past, present and future.

“All this is possible only when African countries and their governments are fully prepared to see this potential,” the book concludes.

Professor Juma Shabani, director of the Doctoral School at the University of Burundi and former director of development, coordination and monitoring of UNESCO programmes with a special focus on Africa, told University World News: “This book is important because it takes stock of the major achievements and challenges of doctoral education in Africa.

“Given the current state of development of higher education in Africa, these challenges should include at least the lack of world-class human resources to supervise theses in priority areas of development and the inadequacy of laboratory equipment and other research facilities,” Shabani said.

To address these challenges, Shabani indicated that “African universities should rely on the use of e-learning and video-conferencing platforms, particularly to involve the best experts from Africa and beyond in supervising theses and to provide doctoral students with access to virtual libraries and open educational resources”.

“Doctoral training should also include mobility programmes to enable doctoral students and their supervisors to access the best laboratories and research facilities available in Africa and beyond,” Shabani pointed out.

“Finally, the research projects proposed to doctoral students should be designed to contribute effectively to implementation of the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] at the national level through the production of new knowledge and the adaptation and implementation of international good practice to African development through innovation,” Shabani concluded.