Culmination of a Journey for PhD Graduates

School of Management, Information Technology and Governance PhD graduates, Drs Samkele Konyana, Estelle David, Sfiso Myeni, George Kasumba, Tabitha Zinyama and Anthony Mbuki Maina celebrated the culmination of their PhD journey at UKZN’s Autumn Graduation Ceremony.

For Konyana whose PhD journey started in 2015, attaining her PhD goes to show that not giving up despite academic and personal challenges was worth it.

‘This degree has taken me forever to complete! One of my biggest challenges was the fact that my supervisor was external to UKZN and the distance factor as I was based in East London while my supervisor was based in Durban. I also had health-related problems. However, I am not one to give up and the rest, as they say, is history,’ she said.

Her study explored marketing communication practices to recruit postgraduates at three public universities in KwaZulu-Natal.

‘The National Development Plan proposes that by 2030, more than 25% of enrolment should be at postgraduate level, and there should be more than 5 000 PhD graduates per year. The study thus focused on initiatives to attract postgraduate students, particularly for doctoral qualifications. It also investigated masters and doctoral students’ experiences of service delivery at public universities and how macro-environmental variables and institutional factors influence postgraduate studies,’ explained Konyana.

Students as Customers of Higher Education Institutions: Perceptions of Academics, Administrators and Students was the title of David’s research. Supervised by Professor Krishna Kistan Govender and Dr Sanjay Soni, it examined how marketing principles could be extended to South African Higher Education Institutions.

‘Higher Education Institutions are working in a dynamic environment as a result of increased competition, reduced funding, and the struggling South African economy, which was further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,’ explained David.

The study’s findings highlighted significant issues relating to customer-oriented behaviour in the sector.

‘Students are more likely to have positive Higher Education experiences and be satisfied with services if Higher Education service providers are customer focused, and have a positive attitude towards students. Strategies need to be developed to address these issues that should be continuously monitored,’ said David.

Zinyama investigated student (customer) retention in open and distance learning using Zimbabwe Open University as a case study across the country’s 10 provinces. She commented that gathering data during a pandemic was no walk in the park.

‘I had to resort to recorded telephone interviews and distance was a hurdle for focus group discussions. However, the discussions yielded very interesting insights on student attrition,’ she said.

Supervised by Dr Devika Pillay, the study recommended that open distance learning (ODL) institutions should focus on the student as a customer and place the student at the centre of all activities in order to promote retention.

‘It revealed that student attrition is an interplay of personal, institutional and societal factors. ODL institutions should therefore put their students’ needs first. It is generally cheaper for an organisation to retain clients than acquire new ones.’

Myeni examined talent development and employability of actors in South Africa using KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng as case studies. Supervised by Professor Maxwell Phiri, it aimed to design a model to enhance their employability.

‘The study concluded that initiatives to nurture self-perceived employability; human capital; social capital and talent development would benefit actors, employers, government and society as well as the South African economy,’ said Myeni. The UKZN staff member who was appointed a lecturer under the Academic Accelerated Development Programme at the beginning of his doctoral studies said this qualification will enhance his academic career.

Age is nothing but a number for Kasumba, who said that obtaining a PhD in his late 50s despite ill-health sparked healthy competition amongst his five children who are now motivated to follow his example.

‘All my children are graduates, with two holding master’s degrees. They have sworn to unseat me from my PhD throne soon,’ he said.

His study, which was supervised by Professor Betty Mubangizi examined the influence of inter-governmental fiscal relations on Uganda’s fiscal decentralisation reforms.

‘There were many significant findings. The one that I take to be my greatest contribution was the discourse on how the different theoretical viewpoints demonstrated the multi-dimensionalities of using theory to inform and influence policy design and practice in the context of fiscal decentralisation,’ said Kasumba.

Lecturer in the Information and Communications Technology sector, Maina said that his PhD prepared him to train and supervise students pursuing undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

‘This qualification will enhance my growth as a researcher and lecturer. I am fascinated by the rise of data-driven applications, particularly in this age of the Internet of Things. In healthcare, big data can be used to build more accurate models of disease progression, evaluate the impact of health programmes, and formulate strategies to better respond to pandemics such as COVID-19,’ he said.

His research proposes reforms to Kenya’s digital health strategies to support the integration of big data technologies while safeguarding the confidentiality and security of health information. It was supervised by Dr Upasana Singh.

Words: Thandiwe Jumo

Photographs: Rajesh Jantilal