The need to fight ‘fast-food’ scholarship in public universities has become urgent

A graduation ceremony at one of Kenya's public universities April 25, 2014. The human resource is limited and facilities are almost absent in most of these institutions. Consequently, the products of these universities both at undergraduate and post-graduate levels will be lacking in the ingredients that truly constitute a learned person. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • A further problem will be the generation of graduates who are unemployable and the attendant hopelessness of shattered expectations.
  • One encounters numerous submissions that contain few citations – even though the areas in question have a rich body of published scholarship. These authors mention only one or two works that buttress (or oppose) the basis of their article, while ignoring a large set of literature on the subject.
  • Not long ago, I reviewed a book chapter manuscript that made large claims with no related citations. In careful and rigorous scholarship, the scope of your evidence must match the scope of your claims, but in this case, the author simply asserted claims without evidence.

Major challenges face our country as we establish more universities and the consequences for the future will have greatly negative implications.

The human resource is limited and the facilities are almost absent in most of these institutions.

Consequently, the products from these universities both at undergraduate and post-graduate levels will be lacking in the ingredients that truly constitute a learned person.

The education-production-function model in economics postulates that inputs or investments in the education system are expected to lead to a greater economic efficiency of a nation.

My fear is that products from a system that is both deprived in intellectual stimulation and basic instructional resources will be poorly equipped to meet the expectations of skill provision.

A further problem will be the generation of graduates who are unemployable and the attendant hopelessness of shattered expectations.

This will be further exacerbated by these graduates (PhDs, for example) taking over the teaching and research function in these new universities and thereby perpetuating mediocrity.

This point can be best illustrated by the kind of publications that are now coming out of our universities. Being one of the editors of a scholarly journal, I review a sizeable amount of new scholarship in education and entrepreneurship regularly. While many academics in these disciplines are still producing substantive, rigorous, high-quality scholarship, a growing trend is emerging: Too many academics are producing scholarship that appears to have swapped carefully crafted intellectual work for quick and publications.

HALF-BAKED DONS

Today, some of our universities are dishing out promotions to senior lecturer, associate professor and even full professor based on publications that are not worth the paper they are published on.

Such half-baked work can be equated to the undesirable “fast-food” that is quickly made without reference to nutritional value. In short, “fast-food scholarship” is characterised by the following shortfalls:

Today it is not uncommon to come across works that have minimal selected citations.

One encounters numerous submissions that contain few citations – even though the areas in question have a rich body of published scholarship. These authors mention only one or two works that buttress (or oppose) the basis of their article, while ignoring a large set of literature on the subject.

They cite works to further their theses, but the ones they choose are often less influential than others that could have been included. Clearly, the authors deliberately fail to engage in the hard labour of accounting for the full range of scholarship on the topic.

Since our graduates/faculties are not being exposed to the rigours of intellectual pursuit, there is a tendency for them to depend on minimal or undependable evidence.

Not long ago, I reviewed a book chapter manuscript that made large claims with no related citations. In careful and rigorous scholarship, the scope of your evidence must match the scope of your claims, but in this case, the author simply asserted claims without evidence.

Another symptom of poor preparation by our universities relates to hazy or ambiguous arguments. It is common today to view manuscripts that struggle to bring out an argument out of context in order to force it to align to the author’s own position.

This represents a type of intellectual dishonesty that is antithetical to scholarly enterprise. When the author of a manuscript fails to account for the complexity or progression of thinking (through citations) and simply uses a shallow and ambiguous line of thought to develop strong point, it is, at best, sloppy scholarship, and at worst, unethical.

The proliferation of unripe manuscripts is also symptomatic of the danger of losing sight of quality. Too many academics submit articles with half-developed arguments as if they were ready for publication.

Some graduate students and faculty members present a paper at an annual conference and then simply mail it to a journal rather than undertaking the hard intellectual work of transforming it into a fully developed publishable work. The earlier mentioned journals will gladly publish these miserable papers which will subsequently be presented as evidence of scholarship for promotion or employment. 

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