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Between Academics, Medical Fellowship holders and race for vice – chancellorship

By Iyabo Lawal
04 November 2021   |   2:46 am
There appears no end in sight to the supremacy battle between doctorate degree holders in the university system and medical professionals in the academia over prerequisite for appointment into the position of vice chancellor.

National President, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof Emmanuel Osodeke

There appears no end in sight to the supremacy battle between doctorate degree holders in the university system and medical professionals in the academia over prerequisite for appointment into the position of vice chancellor.

Already, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and medical professionals have locked horns as they disagree on whether or not medical professionals in academia can present medical fellowship in place of PhD as requirement for appointment as vice chancellor.
The union maintained that medical fellowship is not the same as PhD, hence holders of such certificates are not qualified to vie for the position of vice chancellor.

But medical professionals argued that Ph.D was inferior to the post-doctoral medical fellowship of the National Medical College of Nigeria (NMCN), West African Postgraduate Medical College (WAPMC) or any recognised foreign postgraduate medical college as its content is already over represented in depth and research.  
They maintained that qualifications from NMCN and WAPMC are internationally recognised for practice, teaching and advanced research in medical schools and beyond, and wondered why it is not acceptable by authorities concerned.
This year, many institutions had advertised for the position of vice chancellor at the expiration of  incumbents’  five-year single term tenure. Regularly, when a vacancy is declared, leaders of the Nigerian Medical Association and ASUU come up with entrenched positions on the qualifications issue.

In developed democracies in Europe and North America, processes for selecting university leaders have long been settled and become entrenched. This is not the case in Nigeria and some African countries, where criteria to appoint vice chancellors have been undergoing changes for decades.

The medical view
According to Dr Olu Aluko, the medical postgraduate fellowship far outweighs any PhD, both in content and context, adding that the fact that medical fellowship holders are the most qualified to become vice chancellors is incontrovertible.
Aluko noted that the entry standard into medicine was higher than for other academic disciplines and the academic year for the bachelor of medicine and the bachelor of surgery was 11 months, against eight months for non-medical fields.
“Unlike PhD, entry into the fellowship programme is through  a very competitive international common entrance and selection process, whereas  the content of medical postgraduate fellowship studies and training programmes require at least six years to complete, those of the PhD need only three years, a whole 100 per cent  difference.

“The credit units for fellowship calculated in education metrics and curriculum training programmes have been adjudged by experts to be at least thrice that of a PhD,” he stated.

Aluko added that holders of medical postgraduate fellowships have track record for efficiency, capability and meritorious achievement in university governance in Nigeria.
A professor of public health and former provost of the medical college at Lagos State University (LASU), Olumuyiwa Odusanya, on his part, said the fellowships versus PhD issue had been blown out of proportion as there is no fundamental difference between holders of the two degrees,” he said.

But James Ekpo of Nnamdi Azikwe University, Awka, argued that while the PhD was an academic degree awarded by a university, the medical fellowship was a professional diploma awarded by a non-university.
“It must be clearly stated that the National Postgraduate Medical College is not a university and is not equivalent to a university. It is not an affiliate of any university. Any certificate issued by such a body is not and cannot be equivalent to a doctorate,” he argued.
Ekpo wondered why people do masters degrees after obtaining fellowships of the West African College of Physicians or the National Postgraduate Medical College, saying the reason is because the fellowship is not at par with academic degrees.
The controversy stalled the selection processes for appointment of vice chancellors in some institutions and at a point, some universities had to bend the rule to accommodate medical fellowship holders.
For instance, when the position of vice chancellor at Bayero University Kano
(BUK) was declared vacant, the advertisement for interested applicants was very clear: only those with a PhD could apply.
As expected, professors with medical fellowships sent a protest letter demanding a reversal of the stipulated guidelines to enable interested medical fellowship holders apply.
According to Abdullahi Sule Kano, a political science professor, the management explained to colleagues with medical fellowships that it was the university’s tradition that “only professors with PhDs are eligible to apply because they understand issues of postgraduate training and development. This argument was accepted.”
Sule recalled that before the advent of military rule, it was only professors with PhDs from colleges of medicine who could aspire to be vice-chancellor or chief medical director of a university teaching hospital. “Since the military intervention, our colleagues with medical fellowships have been flexing muscle,” he said.

Recent developments in favour of PhD holders
Just like in the College of Medicine, where it is gradually becoming mandatory to obtain a PhD to enter into the circle of academia, virtually all faculties of law in Nigerian universities have made it compulsory for an academic who aspires to become a professor to have a PhD.
National Universities Commission (NUC), the regulator of the Nigerian University System has declared that Fellowship of the NPMCN and other fellowships are not equivalent to PhD degree.

The NUC declaration has laid to rest the contentious argument among academic staff and university management that holders of the Fellowship do not need to go for doctorate programme because the fellowship is equivalent to PhD. Aside from the Fellowship of NPMCN, NUC said holders of the West African College of Physicians (WACP) or West African College of Surgeons (WACS) or any other recognised foreign fellowship cannot be equated to PhD degree.

The clarification of NUC may not be unconnected with recent argument by professors with fellowship that applied for the post of vice chancellor in some of the nation’s universities. 

“One of the issues on the front burner is the postgraduate training for medical academic, which has no clear cut-guidelines for masters and PhD programmes in the clinical sciences,” NUC observed.

In a memo to a federal university, NUC informed the management that PhD degree has no other degree or certificate equivalent to it.
NUC said: “For the avoidance of doubt, holders of PhD must have gone through Bachelor of Science (BSc), Bachelor of Arts (B.A), Bachelor of Engineering (B.Eng) and Master of Science (MSc), Master of Arts (M.A.), Master of Engineering (M.Eng), or as the case may be in the relevant field.”

In a circular to vice chancellors and the Registrar, National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria, dated March 3, 2020 and signed by the Director of Academic Planning of NUC, Dr. N.H.Saliu, the commission said it met with officials of the NPMCN and other critical stakeholders on the way forward in the delivery of quality medical education in Nigeria.

He said after exhaustive deliberation at series of meetings held between the commission and management of NPMCN, stakeholders unanimously agreed to introduce PhD programmes in the clinical sciences in the Nigerian University system, for the postgraduate training of interested medical practitioners and for their career progression, especially for those in the academia.
The commission came out with criteria for PhD programmes in clinical sciences and it is open to candidates with full Fellowships of either the National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria, the West African College of Physicians (WACP) or the West African College of Surgeon (WACS) or any other recognised foreign Fellowship.

A recent case in point was the screening and selection exercise to appoint a new VC at LASU. One of the shortlisted and recommended candidates, Prof. Olumuyiwa Odusanya, does not have PhD degree but a fellowship. Odusanya’s inclusion in the exercise by the selection committee generated ripples among academic staff on campus. ASUU insisted that there are glaring contradictions in the argument that seeks to equate the fellowship of the medical college with a PhD, noting that “If indeed one is equal to the other, there would have been no need for a moratorium. Moratoriums are usually granted to a category of people who need to make up for an obvious deficiency.”

According to ASUU national president, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, the fellowship of the medical college eminently qualifies those who possess it to practice as experts in their field since it is a discipline-specific certification.

“The certification to practice however, is not the same as acquiring basic expertise as a teacher and researcher. For all academics, irrespective of their disciplines, the certification to teach, research, train and mentor other researchers is what a PhD confers.”

He said: “There was a time in this country that you don’t need to have a PhD/ICAN before you become a professor. But today, most of the lecturers who fall under this category have regulated their qualifications except those in the medical field. Even if you have ICAN, you must have a PhD before you can become a professor. It is the same for people in architecture, engineering and other professional bodies. Engineers have their own professional body, Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), but to become an academic in a university or you want to rise to the top, you must have a PhD; it is the minimum qualification set by the National Universities Commission (NUC).”
“There are two options in all professions, it is either you are going into professional practice or academic career. If you want to go into professional practice, you can rise to anywhere you want to, but if you know you want to be in the academic, you must have your first degree, master’s and PhD so that you can supervise a PhD student. 

“You can’t supervise a PhD student if you don’t have a doctorate. To get to the top in the academia, you must have a PhD. Today, if you don’t have a doctorate, you cannot be a senior lecturer, talk less of being a professor, even if you have all the required qualifications,” the ASUU chief added.
But the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and former provost, College of Medicine, University of Lagos (UNILAG), Prof Folasade  Ogunsola, argued that medical professionals in academia don’t need PhD to become vice chancellor. 

But the NMA, while faulting ASUU argued that PhD was inferior to the post-doctoral medical fellowship of NMCN) and  WAPMC, 
or any recognised foreign postgraduate medical college, as its content “is already over represented in depth and research.” 
NMA said the qualifications from NMCN and WAPMC are internationally recognised for practice, teaching and advanced research in medical schools and beyond.
In a statement by NMA President, Prof. Innocent Ujah, the association called on Osodeke to put his house in order, stressing that the NMA would not tolerate utterances and actions that could force it to withdraw its members from ASUU and medical schools completely. 
“He and NUC can recruit PhD holders to teach and train medical doctors for the university and the health sector,” the statement added.
On her part, Prof Ogunsola, noted that globally, medical professionals do not require PhD but a fellowship to work in a university and rise to the position of vice chancellor.

She said: “When others are employed into a university, their entrance is by PhD, but medical practitioners come in with a fellowship. By the time the university has promoted you to a professor, they cannot turn around and say because they didn’t accept you with PhD,  you cannot become a VC; they never had that contract with the medics. It is all over the world, in most places, medics don’t do PhD; that is not how we come into the academia. You can’t use a PhD to work in a university as a medical person and say you’re a surgeon. You cannot train medical students based on PhD; you don’t have the locus standi. What brings you into the university is your fellowship. PhD is only a degree that says you have been trained in doing research. Nowhere in the world are medical professionals required to have a PhD; the requirement for medical professionals is their fellowship, which is their specialty and it is earned by examination. When others are employed into a university, the entrance is by PhD but medical professionals come in with a fellowship. For you to be able to become a professor, you must do research and do it well. PhD is an entry point and it says that you can do research. Now the medical fellowship has incorporated into it research because you must do dissertation and even if you say the dissertation they did is not as long as the PhD, they have spent a long time in the university and have advanced based on doing research. 
“As a university, you have said that they are good at research, and that is why they are professors. So, you cannot then turn around to change the rule. What has PhD got to do with you becoming a vice chancellor? The fact that you have a PhD does not mean you are fantastic (as a scholar),” she added.
On claims that a lecturer without PhD won’t be able to supervise doctoral students, the former acting vice chancellor said: “Go and check the laws of a university; once you’re a professor, you can supervise (any student). You know we do that in Nigeria, we use paper. The point is to ask yourself, what is it about PhD? I have PhD and I’m a professor of medicine but what is it really about? I have my fellowship also. What a PhD implies is that you can do research. So, if you can do research through another means without you doing a PhD, does it mean that you cannot do research because you don’t have the stamp of PhD? We have been having Doctors of Medicine forever who didn’t have PhD being VC and we didn’t complain. So, what suddenly changed? They were not the worst professors or vice chancellors. What has changed?”

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