UNIVERSITY of Zimbabwe (UZ) Vice-chancellor Professor Levi Nyagura was outraged and exploded yesterday when asked to explain how President Robert Mugabe’s wife, Grace, got her controversial PhD as the academic scandal engulfing the first lady refuses to go away.
“Are you (the Zimbabwe Independent) a university? So why do you want to know the details of this particular student’s performance?” Nyagura erupted when asked to explain the contentious issue.
“How many students graduated with PhDs?”
After being told there were 13 students who graduated with PhDs, including Grace, he asked: “So why would you want to know results of this particular student only?”
Further told that how Grace got her doctorate was not only interesting to the public but also an important issue of public interest, Nyagura — who chaired the UZ’s 15-member academic member committee that awarded Grace the doctorate — became even more agitated, saying: “Why would the public want to know all this? Do they know how universities are run? The public is ignorant of how universities are run and this issue has nothing to do with them anyway.”
After the outburst, he fired his parting shot: “I am not going to respond to any of your questions, thank you!”
For the past three weeks authorities at the UZ have avoided answering questions regarding Grace’s doctorate degree and when Nyagura was finally available yesterday he refused to shed any light, only radiating more heat around the issue.
The Independent has failed so far to speak to other UZ leaders and officials, including spokesperson Dennis Rwafa, registrar Sergeant Chevo, officers in charge of student records and acting Dean of the Faculty of Social Studies Tichaendepi Masaya.
Efforts to speak to University Council chairperson Washington Mbizvo and UZ senate officials have also failed.
Last week senior academics shed light on the matter, albeit anonymously, saying to get a PhD at UZ one goes through a long rigorous process.
“The first stage is an exploratory one where the person who wants to study meets informally with the relevant authorities of the university to discuss whether the topic which the student wants to explore is researchable and whether the university has competent professors to supervise the thesis,” said a professor from UZ.
“The student then has to apply to the Post-Graduate Office, which will send the application to the relevant faculty, for example social studies in Grace’s case. The student is required to submit an application, together with a CV and a transcript of the previous degree studies.
“The faculty then submits the application to the relevant department. The chairperson of that department sends the application to the Post-Graduate Committee (PGC).”
The professor added: “Upon receiving the application, the PGC convenes a meeting to consider the suitability of the applicant to see whether the person has the appropriate academic qualifications, the research topic is workable and if there is a competent supervisor. A provisional or associate supervisor is then provided.
“After further consideration, it goes back to the PGC which then writes to the applicant informing him or her whether the application was successful after which the applicant can register and come up with a full formal proposal.
“The applicant is given six months to do the proposal. Many fail to produce it within that period and ask for an extension of up to three months. If they fail after the extension they are automatically out. If you make it, then you follow other long procedures until the end of the process.”
In terms of UZ requirements, for an MPhil the candidate must have a good pass in an honours degree with at least an upper second class (2.1) or an approved equivalent and the minimum duration of study is two years for a full-time student and three years for a part-time student.
A DPhil candidate requires a good master’s degree. An MPhil student who excels can however have his or her studies upgraded to DPhil. This only happens in exceptional circumstances where the student is distinguished.
Even then the minimum for a DPhil full-time student is three years and four years for part-time studies. Senior academics at the UZ said Grace did not meet the essential requirements, while she also did not spend the basic minimum time studying there, making her acquisition of the PhD unprocedural.