Is there added value for a PhD?

Emilly C. Maractho (PhD)

What you need to know:

  • As the Chair of the media, democracy and development thematic area of the doctoral programme, I already see many possibilities for research into how journalism and media can influence democracy and development. 

Last week, on September 26, the Uganda Christian University (UCU) Vice Chancellor, Prof Aaron Mushengyezi, held a press conference to launch the doctoral programme in journalism, media and communication. The programme was recently accredited by the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE). 

This has been in process for what seems to us like a very long time. The process involved consultative needs assessment with the industry, practitioners, academics, as well as current and prospective students. 

The question that bothered us at the time, once we had the funding to pursue this path of higher education was if there would be sufficient interest to sustain our dream. 

We were surprised by the enthusiasm among prospective students and industry actors, who believed that given the rapid technological changes we are witnessing, the evolving role of media and communication, the ever-present challenges that the industry faces, it would be a great pursuit. 

For Prof Monica Chibita, the Dean of the School of Journalism, Media and Communication at UCU, it is largely about filling the gap in teaching, research and supervision at institutions of higher education in the East African region, using contextual curricular and innovative methods of delivery. The aim is to have this also contribute to the recruitment and retention of staff with excellence in teaching, research and innovation. 

The field of journalism, media and communication sometimes suffers from a strong practical orientation. For majority of people, what is the use of theory, or taking three to four years trying to study how to communicate using which platforms when many of the skills needed can be learnt off the street in a couple of weeks or even better, on YouTube?

I recently met an excellent videographer, who told me he learnt it all on YouTube after his first degree in law. And now he has no idea what to do with the law when he is doing what he really enjoys – documentary production and going to film in fun places, attending important meetings as a fly on the wall – because he is recording the events. 

All these, often make the study of journalism, media and communication at a higher level seem like a waste of energy and years. These wasted years, it may seem for many, mean little when the conditions of practice are considered. How do you go even further to read for a Masters degree in the same, let alone a PhD? Who can blame President Museveni when he wondered how it is that people spend three years reading about gender? What about gender should take people so long to understand? In the same vein, what about journalism, media and communication should take years to study when the skills are easy to pick up? In short, if you can reach a destination using a short cut in less than half the time needed, why use the main road? 

It is not easy to persuade people that a higher degree is important, and the comparison between a person who has learnt one skill well in an institute from one who has spent time understanding the entire system is not a fair one.

The field of journalism, media and communication is ever evolving, and playing a big role in people’s lives across the globe. The proliferation of technology has created a never-ending need for more learning, not less. Very few of us know, even understand how much disruption Artificial Intelligence will have on banking, trade, our social lives and many other things. 

Higher degrees are particularly crucial in providing the foundation upon which that understanding is built, and the confidence with which we can make decisions based on some predictive abilities that research affords us. 

Higher education is not just for professors. It is also for researchers and those who wish to influence policy at various levels. It is how to lead the innovative processes or cure innovation gaps. It is how we understand the events around us that have profound effects on our lives and livelihood. It is also about creating knowledge sufficient for the next generation to build on. 

It is easy to underestimate the potential of a doctoral programme like this in shaping an industry and the economy.  It is one thing to train people who end up in the newsroom to practice, and another to have those with excellent practical skills combine their experience with deeper knowledge of how the whole system, and not just parts, work. 

Ms Maractho (PhD) is the director of Africa Policy Centre and senior lecturer at Uganda Christian University.                       
[email protected]