The PhD Journey at Addis Ababa University: Study Delays, Causes and Coping Mechanisms

Getnet Tizazu Fetene, Wondwosen Tamrat
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 16  •  2021  •  pp. 319-337

This study was conducted to examine the rate of delay, explanatory causes, and coping strategies of PhD candidates at Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia’s premier university, over the last ten years.

Delayed graduation is a common theme in doctoral education around the world. It continues to draw the concern of governments, universities, and the candidates themselves, calling for different forms of intervention. Addressing these challenges is key to resolving the many obstacles into doctoral education.

Ten-year archival data consisting of 1,711 PhD students and in-depth interviews with ten PhD candidates were used as data-generation tools. The data collection focused on progression patterns, reasons for study delays, and the coping mechanisms used by doctoral students when they face challenges. While the candidates were interviewed to narrate their lived experience pertinent to the objectives of the study, the archival data regarding the PhD students were collected from the Registrar Office of the University under study.

Amid an ongoing global debate about best practices in doctoral education, the research on study delays contributes not only to filling the existing empirical gap in the area but also in identifying factors, for example, related to financial matters, family commitment, and student-supervisor rapport, that help address the challenges faced and improving the provision of doctoral education.

The findings of this study revealed that the cumulative average completion time for a PhD study was 6.19 years— over two years more than the four years given as the optimum duration for completing a PhD program. The institutional pattern of delays over the last ten years indicates that doctoral students are requiring more and more years to complete their PhDs. The study further revealed that completing a PhD in time is a process that can be influenced by many interacting factors, which include student commitment and preparation, favourable academic and research environment, and positive student-supervisor rapport.

It is important for practitioners and higher education institutions to find ways to improve the on-time completion of doctoral programmes in order to minimise the continued financial, emotional, and opportunity costs the higher education sector is currently incurring.

The fact that this study was limited to a single institution by itself warrants more studies about time-to-degree in PhD programs and causes for study delays as well as studies about successful interventions in doctoral education. Future research should particularly explore the nature of the advisor/advisee relationship and other critical factors that appear to have a significant role in addressing the challenges of study delay.

The expansion of PhD programmes is an encouraging development in Ethiopia. The findings of this study may help improve completion rates of doctoral students and reduce program duration, which would have significant implication to minimise the ensuing financial, emotional, and opportunity costs involved at individual, national, and institutional levels.

Given the growing number of universities in Ethiopia and their possible diversity, PhD students’ profiles, backgrounds, and expectations, more research is needed to examine how this diversity may impact doctoral students’ progression and persistence.

PhD studies, doctoral education, PhD study delay, delayed graduation, Addis Ababa university
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