Professor Toyin Falola noted in his recent essay titled: “Is the diaspora now about rubbishing those at home?” that universities in the cultural West would not grant faculty positions to people holding Nigerian university doctorates unless they demonstrate exceptional talents. To support his point, I know a few people from Nigeria who had to do a doctorate again in Western universities for them to be employed as academics in the West. Professor Wale Adebanwi of the University of Oxford is a famous case in point. Adebanwi obtained a doctorate at the University of Ibadan and had to get another doctorate at the University of Cambridge to be employed at the University of Oxford. This does not suggest that Adebanwi is intellectually more curious than the rest of us that he opted for another doctorate. In fact, doing a second doctorate does not demonstrate intellectual curiosity. If anything, it suggests that there is something inadequate about the first doctorate.
The doctorate basically teaches one to be a researcher. As they say, the subject matter is almost incidental. Once you have the doctorate, you need published papers and funded grants to continue in the academia. The illogic in going for a second doctorate can be likened to a person who learned to drive a car on a Mercedes and earned a driver’s licence. The same person would then assume that the make of the car – rather than the skill of driving – was instrumental to the driver’s license they earned. On this logic, the person then goes for a second driver’s licence and insists that this time, they would use a Toyota rather than a Mercedes. But irrespective of the make of the car, the driver’s licence remains the same – it is a licence to drive a car, not a license to drive a Mercedes only or a Toyota only.
Though others can argue that a second doctorate may be necessary if a person desires to change their area of study or research. The argument may be legitimate in circumstances where the change in study or research focus is radically different from their area of initial interest. But in circumstances where the area of study is not appreciably different from the area of initial interest, then even without a second doctorate, the person can delve into and research on allied areas. For example, it is not impossible to have a scholar who earned a doctorate in chemistry in the 1970s when it was still modern to study say the catalyzed radical recombination and related effects in flames. But as the world progresses with emerging encounters, nothing stops the same scholar from shifting their research considering the prevailing challenges. Thus, the scholar who started their research career on flames could subsequently be found researching on newer areas like chemical looping, oxyfuels, steam reforming, carbonation, sorbents, hydraulic fracturing, and/or even carbon capture and storage. All these can be achieved with the initial doctoral training on flames without obtaining more doctorates.
I have heard of professors from African universities who go to the West as post-doctoral fellows. Normally, there is no reason for a professor to turn to a postdoctoral fellow unless there is something inadequate with their professorship. But these realities are not limited to Africa. Even within the European countries, there are issues about the strength of people’s qualifications depending on where they got their degrees and the scholarly output from those degrees.
My doctoral supervisor at Cranfield University earned his doctorate from the University of Belgrade, Serbia. Ordinarily, he would not be in a good stead to be employed by a UK university as a professor with a Serbian terminal degree. But he was exceptional in the sense that while he was researching toward his doctorate, he was publishing in the world’s best journals in chemistry. Upon completion of the doctorate, he left his job as an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Belgrade to move to Canada as a post-doctoral fellow at a foremost research institution in Ottawa. He might not have been selected for the Canadian postdoctoral fellowship based on his Serbian doctorate, but on the ability to demonstrate the research skills he had, which manifested into publishing in the world’s top chemistry journals.
The reality is that doctorates are not the same. Professorships are also not the same. A doctorate in one country may not necessarily be perceived as a doctorate in all countries. A professor in one country may not necessarily be perceived as a professor in all countries. This is because standards differ around the world. Thus, to rise beyond the perceptions, the individual must demonstrate that they can do the tasks expected of doctorates or professors in the most advanced societies.
The academia thrives on evidence. For example, in science, whenever an evidence is presented, it is expected to be done in a positive form – that is, you claim what you have done, not what you think you can do. This means that the people want to know what is, instead of what is not. Therefore, if you have a doctorate, the people want evidence of what you did, such as the publications and other valuable scholarly output. The people may not show interest in you if the claim is that you can do it even though you have not done it.
Accordingly, the bottom-line is that doctorates from Nigerian universities would not be taken seriously in Euro-America unless, largely, the graduates from Nigeria are able to match the research skills of graduates from Euro-American universities. There are so many reasons why this has not been the case in the present, so there is no need rehashing those reasons. What makes a university is not the teaching but the research. All schools in the world teach. Primary schools teach and secondary schools teach. What they do not do is the research. When universities do not do research, they are not different from primary or secondary schools irrespective of the advancement of the topics they teach.
It is essential to state that before Professor Toyin Falola was employed as an academic in America with a doctorate from the then University of Ife, he must have demonstrated to the foreign institution that he could publish his work where the academics in America published theirs. It is important to also realize that Falola’s doctorate could most likely only be obtained in Africa at the time he did it. This was also the time that some of the world’s best historians on Africa were domiciled in African institutions including Nigerian universities.
At the time my father attended Ahmadu Bello University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1978, he had a classmate who was an American but chose to enroll for a degree programme in Zaria. When my father attended the University of Jos and graduated with a master’s degree in 1981, the external examiner for the cohort’s dissertations was an American academic affiliated to one of the American universities.
Also, a cursory look at the courses Falola is teaching at the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of History suggest that the foreign institutions could have had to seek Africa-trained scholars to do the job at the time his services were sought after. But this may not be necessary today when the foreign institutions now train scholars in African history thanks to the good work of people like Falola. It is also important to have in mind that some of the points raised by Falola in his essay may not easily apply in the fields of science, technology, engineering, medicine, and mathematics (STEMM). This is because it is easier for American universities to hire Africa-based scholars to teach courses on African studies than to hire Africa-based scholars to teach STEMM. In other words, there is a good possibility that top Euro-American universities could hire Africa-based scholars to teach and research on say an African language as Hausa – but what perceptible prospect is there for the same universities to hire Africa-based scholars to teach and research on any of the STEMM subjects?
MD Aminu is an Assistant Professor of Petroleum Chemistry at the American University of Nigeria (AUN), Yola – email@example.com