Need for central database of theses submitted in Kenyan universities
By Maurice N Amutabi
Kenya requires a dissertation and thesis database to be housed in one university or at the Commission for University Education (CUE) urgently to avert future crises in higher education. In the US, the dissertation and theses database is housed at Michigan State University, East Lansing, where all theses and dissertations presented in all universities in the US can be found. There is an urgent need for this because of the thousands of masters’ theses and PhD dissertations that Kenyan universities are producing may be products of massing plagiarism. The lack of central digital repository is worrying stakeholders in the education sector. Many scholars are now calling for a database of all theses and dissertations presented in Kenyan universities to be housed at NACOSTI or CUE or one trustworthy university.
The central database will allow supervises to use software such as “turn it in” to detect cheating. Kenya needs all graduate students to submit both electronic or digital copies as well as manual so that they can be subjected to checks against existing database before defences. There have been cases where students are said to change only the title, and key words, so that where the case was Siaya, they put Turkana and pretend that it is a different study. This is cheating and must be stopped otherwise we may have people getting masters degrees without mastery of any content or getting PhDs and contributing nothing new to knowledge.
At many American universities, all dissertations and theses are subjected to anti-plagiarism software at the library to make sure that at least 70% of the work is original and no more than 25% has come from outside. Students conduct due diligence to ensure that before submitting any work, it has gone through the necessary checks to be certified as original. I have been to universities where you find similar topics with the difference being the case study area or the place of special reference and researches are beginning to raise eyes brows.
Kenyan graduate education is at crossroads because of the manner in which projects, dissertations and theses are processed and examined in various universities, manually. Some of the supervisors do not use any anti plagiarism software and allow theses and dissertations for defence. There is also evidence to suggest that some theses and dissertations are too small to warrant masters or PhD and some fall below the 20,000 words recommended by the Commission for University Education (CUE) for masters theses and 50,000 words recommended for PhD theses by CUE. I have been to some defences in some Kenyan universities where students are not able to defend their work articulately; indicating that some else helped them to write them. There are also cases where supervisors begin to assist students during an active defence which should not be the case. Since defences are oral examinations, students are only supposed to have PowerPoint slides and not notes, but there are cases where they walk in and begin to read from prepared scripts.
There are also cases where students are not able to explain how they collected their data leaving examiners wondering how they wrote their theses. There are also reports suggesting that some postgraduate students in Kenyan universities are graduating with masters and doctoral degrees whose research has been presented elsewhere. There are reports that some are only changing the names and submitting them for examination pretending that it is their work. I am an external examiner in three universities in Kenya and three outside Kenya and cannot help to think that some of the theses and dissertations I have been examining need verification to confirm that they have not been presented elsewhere because there is no way of knowing without a central database to which one can use to crosscheck and verify any suspicions.
There are also claims that some graduate students in Kenyan universities are hiring cyber cafe attendants to write theses and dissertations for them, resorting to cut and paste without intellectual attribution. I have personally seen masters and PhD theses presented in different fonts such as Arila, Calibri, Courier or Times New Romans which are always one of the clearest indications of cut and paste. There are also cases where you find a thesis with a case study on Embu where you may find references to Kwale, a clear indication of cheating. There are genuine fears that the masters and PhD degree quality may go down as a result of the bad practices that are engulfing our higher education sector that need to be curbed immediately.
Prof. Amutabi is the Vice Chancellor of Lukenya University, Kenya and Professor of History – Amutabi@gmail.com