The Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria (MDCAN) last week declared an indefinite strike action over the National Universities Commission (NUC)’s requirement that clinical lecturers must acquire a PhD as a condition for career progression in the Nigerian university system.
The consultant doctors said their strike is to press home their demand that the circular should be withdrawn. National President of MDCAN, Prof. Kenneth Ozoilo, who announced the strike at a press conference in Jos, said, “The decision of the NUC to embark on this policy direction, without due attention to the consequences and implications is, to say the least, embarrassing”.
Prof. Ozoilo argued that the duplicity and deceit on the part of NUC to create the impression of a consensus among stakeholders is shocking. He maintained that in previous engagements on this issue, “the NUC has been in agreement that PhD should be a personal, voluntary and optional endeavour for academics who so choose, and that its non-possession would not constitute an impediment to career progression”.
He therefore contends that it is disingenuous for NUC “to proceed to put ink on paper to the contrary”. It is on the basis of the forgoing that MDCAN said the association rose from its January emergency NEC meeting with a resolution to write the NUC to withdraw the circular on PhD requirement.
It would be recalled that the NUC had in a letter dated December 24, 2019 issued a circular to all university Vice Chancellors and the Registrar, National Postgraduate Medical College defining the structure of the PhD programmme in clinical sciences, duration, admission and graduation requirements.
The circular also maintained that the introduction of the PhD programme is to reposition “postgraduate training for medical academics in Nigeria, which has no clear-cut guidelines for Masters and PhD programmes in the clinical sciences”. Paragraph 2 of the circular states that the PhD programme is for the postgraduate training of interested medical practitioners, and for their career progression.
Reacting to MDCAN, the Executive Secretary of the NUC, Prof Abubakar Rasheed, clarified the Commission’s new policy and accused the MDCAN of taking NUC’s circular out of context.
He said: “Our circular 7 never prescribed PhD as a requirement for them to teach in the colleges of medicine. We said PhD is desirable but not necessary for progression in medical education.” Prof Rasheed explained further that a consultant in the university system will continue to be promoted but the promotion of those with a PhD will be faster.
In a swift response, Prof Ozoilo said the claim by the NUC Executive Secretary that the circular only said that PhD is desirable but not necessary for progression in medical education “is an outright lie.” Ozoilo further interrogated Prof Rasheed’s assertions; asking “if full fellows (including professors of medicine) require PhD, to what rank will they be promoted?” He also said none of the scenarios painted by Prof Rasheed in respect of hastening of promotion is captured anywhere in the said circular.
Ozoilo said that there was no basis for comparing fellowship with a PhD, because the curriculum content of fellowship far outstrips that of PhD. According to him, “while PhD is a predominantly academic pursuit, fellowship is both academic and professional”. However, Ozoilo added that while the MDCAN was not against its members acquiring PhDs, it objected to enforcement of its acquisition by fiat.
With the strike action embarked upon by the MDCAN on February 24, 2019, now in its second week, some academic activities of clinical students in University Teaching Hospitals across the country have come to a standstill. The public health threat posed week the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the country is another frightening epidemiological reason why the NUC and MDCAN should end their claims and counter-claims, and return to the dialogue table.
It is time for university workers to find alternatives to strikes and desist from turning innocent Nigerians into victims of their labour struggles. While we call on the MDCAN to immediately call off its strike, we urge NUC, MDCAN and all relevant stakeholders to exhaustively discuss all areas of controversy in the matter especially career progression to allow for a mutual decision to be reached.
Meanwhile, it must be recognised that NUC has the mandate to regulate higher education in Nigeria including postgraduate medical training to ensure that it’s in line with global best practices.
Editorial, Dailytrust.com.ng | March 3, 2020