Dangers of Executive and Terminal Degrees in Kenya
By Maurice N. Amutabi
Kenyan students and society at large should be careful with executive and terminal master’s degrees. Many universities are now offering these degrees without telling the students the limitation of such degrees. As universities expand in Kenya, some may end up employing such graduates as lecturers only for them to fail to deliver. The two degrees are as different as an orange and a lemon, the only similarity they share is that they are both citrus fruits. A student with an executive MBA cannot match the qualifications and conceptual knowledge of a regular MBA graduate. One is superficially introduced to basic concepts in the area and a short project paper at the end, while the other is taken through a methodical interrogation of central issues in the discipline and strong research component with a thesis or dissertation at the end.
In many countries, people holding executive degrees are not allowed to teach at universities. This is because the qualifications for one to pursue an executive degree are often lowered in the understanding that the people need the degree to improve their performance in their present roles. In some cases, admission may not even demand a first degree as a requirement to enter masters program. In many cases only a string of certificates, diplomas and experience may be required for admission. It is not expected that such people will use the master’s degree to seek new employment opportunities. The expectation is usually that they will not change jobs. The other reason is that executive degrees are less rigorous and those studying under them are not expected to fail. They are helped to pass, even if minimally.
In the USA for example, executive degrees are given to CEOs of leading companies and community leaders and supervisors in industry. These are people who rarely have the time and scholarly capacity to commit to a more rigorous curriculum, whose expectations and demands they are not likely to meet. What happens in such cases is that they are given watered down material and expected to scheme through main but lighter content issues compared to regular degree seekers who are given more demanding and rigorous material. In such degrees, the students write projects and not theses or dissertations. This is because they are not expected to have enough time to conduct field research.
In many American universities, such students are given gentleman’s ‘C’ at the end of the duration and made to pass even when they perform below per. Some of them are very rich or are children of rich people and require the degrees so that they can go and manage family enterprises or corporations where they supervise workers who hold real degrees. The former President of the United States of America George W. Bush got an MBA with a gentleman ‘C’ grade at Yale largely because he was already an oil company executive and his father President George H. Bush was a major donor to Yale University. Ivy League universities (Harvard, Duke, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Cornel, etc) which are all private, have such degrees only for major donors and senior company executives and tycoons who just want to have a degree from such prestigious universities for ornamental purposes.
In Kenya, executive degrees are given in disciplines such as commerce where the MBA program is the most popular in almost all the universities in Kenya. It is not bad to give executive MBAs. The only problem is when those with executive degrees start proceeding to Ph.D programs, or even worse, start to teach at universities. In Kenya, this is a disaster in the making because there are now executive degree holders applying to teach at universities and get into Ph.D programs. The problem is that these people do not have proper content in whatever area the degree is being offered.
In many serious Ph.D programs, people with master’s projects (i.e. without dissertations) are not admitted because they belong to terminal or executive degree category. However, because of competition for students, some of these individuals end up in some Ph.D programs and God forbid, end up in front of our students as lecturers or in some such responsibility. Then we start to wonder why standards at our universities are going down. People with executive and terminal degrees cannot teach at the university because they lack deep knowledge of content in their disciplines. They cannot teach in the university because many of them hold inferior and lower qualifications than those demanded in regular programs. They do not have the conceptual and theoretical thrust and gravitas necessary to continue and complete a PhD program.
Prof. Maurice Amutabi teaches at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa. Amutabi@yahoo.com