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Motivating through graduation success. A story of change from KNUST, Ghana:


RESUME: For years, the School of Graduate Studies at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana was not delivering the intended quality of postgraduate training and research in spite of this officially being the driving force of the university mandate. There was a general lack of commitment amongst students and supervisors alike, and even on the part of the university itself. The Building Stronger Universities programme assisted the university in establishing why this was so. Their analysis pointed to factors such as the absence of appropriate administrative structures and support services.  Students and staff were invited to participate in defining the remedies and in the preparation of the recommended tools. This has led to a remarkable transformation; improved relationships between students and their supervisors, a higher graduate student intake, more visible research outputs, and an appreciation for the role of BSU in the process amongst many other things, not forgetting the Graduate Student Handbook!

By Robert C. Abaidoo, Professor and Director of Office of Grants and Research, Kwame Nkruma University of Science and Technology

The Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in the city of Kumasi, Ghana is currently among the top ten universities in Africa. Its strategic mandate is to provide higher education, and to undertake and disseminate research to enhance development at all levels. The driving force is postgraduate education, training and research.

Be that as it may, the quality of postgraduate research and training in the past was far from satisfactory.  There were many issues: deadlines were not being met, student-supervisor relationships were poor and there was a general lack of commitment amongst supervisors, to name just some of them. This resulted in low research productivity, poor university visibility and strained relations with external partners.

The university decided to address this situation by revisiting its graduate education programme, given its key role in the fulfilment of the university’s mandate.  If graduate training programmes are to be effective, it is necessary to create the requisite environment and institutionalise global best practices. It is an established fact that knowledge creation is enhanced in an environment where knowledge creators are free to express themselves, where they are treated fairly and where output is shared. It is therefore in the university’s best interests to produce well-trained specialists with a high sense of responsibility and integrity.

Drivers of Success
A preliminary analysis revealed the absence of support services for postgraduates despite the fact such services were in place for students engaged in undergraduate studies. Accordingly, the programme staff of the Building Stronger Universities (BSU) partnership, between a consortium of Danish universities and KNUST, identified specific areas that needed attention and supported the development of various new administrative structures and tools. These included

  • a graduate student handbook, which spelled out the consequences of defaulting on delivery of specific milestones,
  • a guide for graduate student supervision,
  • materials to improve the soft skills of students,
  • submission requirements for doctoral students including the obligation to submit articles for publication in scientific journals prior to the completion of their doctoral dissertation.

The beneficiaries turned up in large numbers for the workshops and writeshops that were held in the preparation of these interventions. Students and prospective supervisors experienced a personal transformation. They changed from being passive learners to becoming active enthusiastic learners thanks to the effective coordination of these BSU-led activities.

A survey conducted among doctoral students at KNUST revealed that half of the respondents characterised their supervisory committee members as team players, while one in five considered them to be coaches and mentors. As for supervisory styles, 51% of the students found them to be directional, while 46% described them as contractual. Students are now more inclined to discuss their relationships with their supervisors with their appropriate administrative heads. There are also fewer cases of misunderstandings between students and their supervisors. The requirement of doctoral students to prepare manuscripts for publication contributed to a rise in KNUST’s publication numbers in Scopus journals from 245 in 2013 to 1,603 in 2022.

Sustaining these developments is essential for the continuous improvement of graduate education and training and for the attainment of KNUST’s vision. In this regard, the School of Graduate Studies organises regular workshops on supervisor-students relationships and has reinforced the operationalisation of the quarterly reporting policy on supervision. There has been a paradigm shift at the university that has led to the development of other institutional guidelines for ensuring fair assessment. All of these improvements have given graduate students the sense that there is transparency and they have now an appreciation of the formalised systems, of students-supervisory team dynamics, and the necessity for the time-bound completion of graduate programmes.

The impact of these changes is that supervisors no longer feel threatened by what they used to feel was the administration’s defence of insubordinate students and what they saw as the betrayal of non-performing supervisors, something that they considered to be unacceptable. Stakeholders have recognised the need to increase the visibility and delivery of the institutional mandate by strengthening the system. This has led to improved relationships between students and their supervisors, a higher graduate student intake, more visible research outputs, and an appreciation for the role of BSU interventions.

Edited by Kate Girvan


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