Students’ Perspective of Effective Supervision of Graduate Programmes in Ghana

James Awuni Azure

American Journal of Educational Research

Students’ Perspective of Effective Supervision of Graduate Programmes in Ghana

James Awuni Azure

University of Education, Winneba, Ghana

Abstract

The study examined elements of effective supervision from Ghanaian graduate students’ perspective. One hundred and twenty-five graduate students of the Faculty of Science Education of the University of Education, Winneba, responded to two questionnaires. Descriptive statistics was used to describe the attributes of university supervisors of the graduate theses and Pearson chi-square test was employed to test students’ opinions on their supervisors, effective supervision and their relationships with six demographic factors. The results suggest that the three most important attributes of supervisors as perceived by graduate students were: supervisors should be friendly, approachable and flexible; knowledgeable and resourceful; and encourage students to work and plan independently. In addition, the results indicated that effective supervision means that supervisors are able to establish good and professional relationships with students; give support and guidance; and provide continuous motivation and inspiration. Using Pearson chi-square tests, it was found that there were no significant differences between attributes of supervisors and effective supervision based on programme, faculty, course structure, gender and semester. It is recommended that only senior and experienced faculty should be made to supervise graduate students. Also the quality of applicants should be one of the determining factors for admission to graduate programmes.

Cite this article:

  • James Awuni Azure. Students’ Perspective of Effective Supervision of Graduate Programmes in Ghana. American Journal of Educational Research. Vol. 4, No. 2, 2016, pp 163-169. http://pubs.sciepub.com/education/4/2/4
  • Azure, James Awuni. "Students’ Perspective of Effective Supervision of Graduate Programmes in Ghana." American Journal of Educational Research 4.2 (2016): 163-169.
  • Azure, J. A. (2016). Students’ Perspective of Effective Supervision of Graduate Programmes in Ghana. American Journal of Educational Research, 4(2), 163-169.
  • Azure, James Awuni. "Students’ Perspective of Effective Supervision of Graduate Programmes in Ghana." American Journal of Educational Research 4, no. 2 (2016): 163-169.

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1. Introduction

Much of the literature on graduate and post graduate studies recognises graduate supervision as a process involving complex academic and interpersonal skills [4, 15]. These skills include guiding graduate students towards sound proposal preparation and defence, methodological choices, documenting and publishing their research, maintaining both supportive and professional relationships, as well as reflecting on the research process. Graduate research is a form of apprenticeship taken under the supervision of only senior faculty members. The faculty member involved in the supervision of graduate and post graduate research must have the right expertise to play the role of promoter/ supervisor [19]. Without these skills, supervision may suffer many challenges with undue delay in completion.

The supervision process is influenced by many factors, including the social setting, the personalities of the supervisor and the student, the relationship that develops between them, the expertise of the supervisor, and the problems that are varied among students [2]. The complexity of the work is heightened when it is a masters’ of philosophy or doctoral programme. Sze [25] opined that effective supervision is related to the following: supervisory style, supervisor competence with respect to the student project, personal characteristics and attitudes of supervisors, and the academic and intellectual standing of the supervisor. Supervisory style has to do with level of direction and level of communication between the two (such as highly directive, regular meetings, availability (i.e. making time for students) interest and commitment and explanatory to the student.

Personal characteristics and attitudes of supervisors are also factors of much concern in effective supervision of graduate projects. Sze [25] describes a good supervisor to be one who is approachable and friendly, supportive and of positive attitude, open minded, prepared to acknowledge error, organised and thorough, and stimulating and conveys enthusiasm for research. The lengthy completion time and low completion rates of postgraduate studies are of global concern [17, 26] in recent years and are signs of poor supervision.

The mistake that is often made in higher education institutions in Ghana and across the West African sub-region is the assumption that every academic staff, by virtue of his or her experience in teaching, knows what is required to supervise masters and postgraduate students’ research. Studies show that this is not usually the case, and in fact many academic staff in the universities need further training to be able to supervise graduate students [18]. Many students pursue their masters’ programmes because they want to improve their employment prospects and career opportunities; for promotion; to gain social status and even self development [23, 28]; and not necessarily for the purpose of training to be researcher. The structure of supervisions depends on the guidelines provided by the individual universities. Generally, there are three structures of supervision; single supervisor, two supervisors (main and co-supervisor) and a committee consisting of at least three supervisors and one acts as the chairperson. The relationship between student and a supervisor is essential as it is one of the factors that will affect the progress of research students and eventually their completion. Given the length and complexity of graduate student supervision, it is understandable that various difficulties arise [5] due to organisational or professional factors.

Organisational factors could include policies and procedures established or not established for post graduate supervision (Donald, Saroyan, & Denison, in Sinclair, 2011), the manner in which these are communicated to supervisors and students, the number of students being supervised, the supervisor’s inability to manage a research group effectively, and inadequate support services and equipment. Among the professional factors of the supervisor are misinformation, inadequate preparation, and different research interests from those of the student. Students’ personal factors also have a toil on their research projects. A survey carried out by Gupta [11] identified the following practices among successful graduate students: (i) students who were goal driven and well organised; (ii) focused on their well-being; (iii) proactively managed their supervisors and supporting individuals; and (iv) applied specific writing techniques. Similarly, Lovitts [14], found that those students who did well in completing their degree beyond course work had a high degree of discipline concerning their work, an ability to delay gratification, perseverance in the face of frustration, a high degree of autonomy, a strong internal locus of control, a high level of self-initiative, were task-oriented and strove for excellence.

The objective of this study is to examine the attributes of supervisors and elements of good supervision from the graduate students’ perspective. The present study explores the attributes of good supervision. This study also seeks to examine the attributes of supervisors and elements of good supervision from the graduate students’ perspective.

1.1. Statement of the Problem

Governments in Africa are keen to see an expansion in the numbers of master’s and doctoral degree graduates [8, 23], but the completion rates are generally low. Graduate students take longer than the expected two years to complete their graduate studies. The number of students enrolling for master of philosophy (M.Phil) and master of Education (M.Ed) studies in the University of Education, Winneba (UEW), Ghana has increased over the years, but a large proportion of these students do not complete their studies on time [26].

Whilst there is yearly an increase in enrolment of graduate and postgraduate students, the number of faculty who are qualified to supervise graduate and postgraduate students remain very low [26]. The ratio of supervisor to graduate student is around 5:1. Clearly this could cause delay in going through each work and giving of feedbak. Secondly, to foster quality research output, the academic and intellectual quality of the research environment is of paramount importance to students. These are visibly limited in the University of Education, Winneba. Physical space for graduate students to hold lectures and well-furnished laboratories for graduate and post graduate work are totally lacking. There is therefore the need to find out from graduate students their opinion of what constitute effective graduate supervision in the midst of these problems. The study tried to find out the attributes of supervisors that graduate students perceive as constituting effective supervision of the graduate (masters’) programme.

1.2. Research Questions

Accordingly, this study addresses the following research questions:

1) What are the perceptions of students of their supervisors?

2) What are elements of effective supervision as perceived by graduate students?

3) Do opinions on supervisors’ attributes and effective supervision differ by programme, faculty, course structure, gender and semester?

2. Literature Review

Worldwide the completion rate of graduate students ranges from poor to abysmal (Lube, Worrel, & Klopper, 2005 in [27]). Research suggests that about 50% of students who begin post graduate studies abandon the programme [10, 16] due to several problems that students face. It has been observed that supervisors create a number of problems that cause post graduate students’ studies to derail. The biggest problem cited is supervisor-supervisee relationship. Sometimes, there are serious imbalances in the power relationship between supervisors and students and this could delay the thesis. Generally, therefore, the rules of the relationship must either favour the interests of the student or at least not disadvantage the student. The faculty member involved in the supervision of graduate students must have the right expertise to play the role of a promoter/supervisor. Numerous research have pointed out that many graduate students have failed to complete their studies within the timeframe due to much demands from graduate school and their work place [12]. Students come to graduate programmes with varied backgrounds, preparation, low motivations, mixed expectations and responsibilities that hinder their studies. Many of them are without scholarship, few are on part-time and their needs change over time/place and space. The stipend that the Ghana Government often give to graduate students as bursary has much difficulties when being applied for (such as guarantors, witnesses, employment status, medical report etc.). Those with scholarship have short time within which they must complete their programme. They have other challenges such as family commitment, work demands, finance et cetera, which may affect their performance. Most of them have children who are in school and the elderly to care for. In the midst of these problems, graduate students expect their academic supervisors to see eye to eye with them.

Therefore, for effective graduate supervision, supervisors must possess the following characteristics [7]: (1) approachable and friendly;

(2) supportive, positive attitude; (3) open minded, prepared to acknowledge error; (4) organised and thorough; and (5) Stimulating and conveys enthusiasm for research. Cullen et al. [7] concluded that:

The identification of effective supervisory practice is best accomplished not through the simple aggregation of existing best practice, but rather through the deconstruction of supervisory practice and through the identification of those aspects of supervisory practice which would most benefit from strengthening, elaboration or change.

Previous studies observed that the quality of postgraduate programme depends not only on the supervision methodology but also other elements which include policies, infrastructure, funding, library facilities, computing, office space, conferences, travels, fieldwork and so on [1, 6]. Good and effective supervision entails several meetings between the supervisor and the student and sometimes this is complemented with written feedback via e-mail [23] or phone calls. The above means that the role of the supervisor is to provide a highly quality research and learning environment for the graduate student. The supervisor through mentoring and advising develops a professional interpersonal relationship with a graduate student that is conducive to scholarly activities, intellectual enhancement and promotes the student’s professional career. Therefore the current study is focused on identifying the characteristics of good supervisors and the quality of their supervision from graduate students’ perspectives. This is reflected by the research questions posited and the various items presented in the instrument of the study.

3. Methodology

3.1. The Population and Sample

The target population of the study was all graduate students of the University of Education, Winneba who registered with the School of Graduate Studies between September 2009 and September 2014. The accessible population was 183 students who had enrolled for the science graduate programme in M.Ed (Science Education) and M.Phil (Science Education) with the School of Graduate Studies and supervised by the Faculty of Science Education between September 2009 and September 2014 [26]. A sample of 125 participants were purposively selected for the study. Thus 68.31% of graduate students enrolled between 2009 and 2014 in the Faculty of Science Education took part in this study. This type of non-probability sampling method seeks information-rich cases which can be studied in depth [21].

Table 1 shows the demographic profiles of the participants. Approximately fifty two percent of the sample were male and 48% were female. Majority of the students (64.86%) enrolled for a Masters in Science Education (M.Ed) programme. The remaining 35.14% were pursuing Masters of Philosophy (M.Phil) in Science Education. These students were from the departments of Biology Education (36.50%), Chemistry Education (31.76%), Physics Education (12.90%), and Department of Integrated Sciences Education (18.90%). The number of foreign students was quite low (8.78% of sample). They came from neighbouring West African countries.

Table 1. Demographic Profiles of Respondents

3.2. Instrument

A structured close-ended questionnaire was used to elicit graduate students’ perspective of effective supervision. Section A of the questionnaire dealt with the demographic profiles of respondents; which included gender, nationality, programme, department, course structure and year. Section B focused on the characteristics of supervisors and Section C related to elements of effective supervision. The questionnaire was a four-item, Likert-type scale with the following anchors: 1 = strongly disagree, 2 = disagree, 3 = agree, and 4 = strongly agree. Questionnaires were piloted among 15 mathematics graduate students and Cronbach’s alpha values were calculated for dimensions on views regarding the supervisor’s supervisory style and effective supervision. Alpha values of 0.79 (for perception regarding the supervisor) and 0.84 (for perception regarding effective supervision) respectively indicated that the items used were appropriate for data collection and were used.

3.3. Ethical Considerations

The Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Science Education (FSE) at the University of Education, Winneba, approved the study. A letter accompanied the questionnaire and requested the participants to complete it anonymously before responding to the questionnaire, to which they did; thereby consenting to participate in the study.

3.4. Data Analysis

Responses were coded and analysed using the Statistical Packages for the Social Sciences (SPSS). Mean values and standard deviations were calculated by keying data into SPSS version 16.0. The means and standard deviations were used to describe the level of agreement among the statements asked. Secondly, Pearson χ2 tests procedures were applied to the data set to test whether the means of the students’ opinions on their supervisors and effective supervision differed by programme, faculty, course structure, gender and semester/year.

4. Results

4.1. Graduate Students’ Perceptions of their Supervisors

The study sought to find out graduate students’ perceptions of their supervisors’ guidance strategies, their skills and experiences in supervision, and the attitudes and relationships of these supervisors towards them and the work. Table 3 shows the gradate students’ perceptions on the qualities and attributes of supervisors regarding the academic and professional development of the students they supervise. Majority of students were of the view that they received adequate guidance and mentoring from their supervisors on their theses. Mean perceptual values for most items were above 3.50. This meant that students agreed that their supervisors gave them good guidance. Students’ responses to all the statements were positive. The first three most important attributes of their supervisors were being friendly, open and flexible” (item 7), knowledgeable and resourceful (item 6), and encourages me to plan and work independently (item 9). This finding is consistent with the reports of Cullen et all. [7] and Abiddin and West [3] that good supervisors are friendly, approachable and supportive. It also collaborates well with the study findings of Olibie, Agu and Uzoechina [20] in which a greater percentage of the students indicated that their supervisors were friendly, approachable, and paying much attention to details with their work. Majority of the students were of the view that their supervisors were experts in their chosen topics (research area), interested and supportive to them, had excellent interpersonal skills with varied experience in research, were much willing to share their expertise with them, lead and helped them to shaped their topics and were always available when needed for consultation (Table 2, rankings). On the other hand, the least perceived attributes of the supervisor in the opinions of the students were in the areas of guidance given to them in literature search (M=3.37, SD =0.60) and helping them to meet deadlines set (M =3.45, SD = 0.61). Though these were the least, the mean values from Table 2 indicted that students still agreed that they were given support in these areas.

Table 2. Students’ Perceptions on the Qualities and Attributes of Supervisors

4.2. Graduate Students’ Opinions on Effective Supervision

Section C of the questionnaire addressed the elements of effective supervision from students’ perspectives. There were 15 items in this section. Table 3 presents the results.

Table 3. Effective Supervision of Research Thesis as Perceived by Graduate Students

In Table 3, graduate students opined that the two most important elements in effective supervision was positive relationship; viz “the effective supervisor should establish good rapport and professional relationships with the student; this was followed by ‘‘giving support and guidance about the research process and the standards expected”. Students also believe that to be effective the supervisor should provide continuous motivation and inspiration to students, have significant knowledge and experience in the field that the student has chosen to work. Supervisors should also provide good leadership, ensuring that the project is manageable and achievable and supervise students according to their ability and individual requirements.

On the other hand, graduate students were of the view that “keeping written records of the content of the meetings” and “scheduling of regular meetings to monitor student progress’’ were not so important in matters of supervision of graduate projects. These statements are related to regular meetings and keeping records on the meetings that had taken place between them.

To examine the relationship of graduate students’ perceptions towards supervisors and demographic factors of the respondents (programme, faculty, structure of course, gender and semester), the Pearson Chi-squared was computed. The test was used to examine whether there were any significant differences in responses, since there were different groups involved in the study. The results are presented in Table 4.

Table 4. Supervisors and Demographic Factors (Pearson’s Chi-squared Distribution)

The reported X2 showed that as an overall, there were no significant differences in means between student perceptions towards supervisors based on programme, structure of the course, gender and semester. This indicates that graduate students’ perceptions of the characteristics of their supervisors are similar regardless of their programme, faculty, structure of their course, gender and semester.

The relationship between graduate students’ perceptions on effective supervision based on programme, faculty, the structure of course, gender and semester were also examined using the Pearson chi-squared test. The results are presented in Table 5.

Table 5. Effective Supervision and Demographic Factors (Pearson’s Chi-Squared Distribution)

The reported X2 showed that as an overall, there were no significant differences in means between student perceptions towards effective supervision based on programme, structure of the course, gender and semester. Again, this indicates that graduate students’ perceptions of the effectiveness of their supervisors’ supervision of project work are similar regardless of their programme, faculty, the structure of their course, gender and semester.

5. Discussion

The findings of this study is in contrast to reports of earlier and recent studies to a large extent. In the studies of Kimani [13] and Garwe [9] most students decried the unavailability and inaccessibility of their supervisors contrary to what have been reported by students in this study. Kimani [13] reported that the quality of a supervisor is derived from a blend of many factors which was missing among many graduate supervisors. Kimani also reported that the large number of students per lecturer made it virtually impossible for any quality interaction to take place between the supervisor and students; for such numbers eroded the supervisory energy and commitment to the process. In the study of Garwe [9], majority (85%) of the students reported that accessing their supervisors for consultations and discussions of their research progress was a night mere; supervisors also failed to critique their written work constructively, neither did they provide feedback on their written submissions on time. This clearly contrasts the views of students in the current study who reported that supervisors were available when they were needed for project discussion (M = 3. 59, SD =0.48) and provided timely and constructive feedback on their written work (M =3.55, SD = 0.55, See Table 2). The unavailability and inaccessibility of supervisors will cause students a lot of stress; whilst the lack of good and timely feedback of students’ written work can cause poor output of thesis produced by students. It is often said that the quality of supervision is determined by professional and personal factors of the supervisor and the facilities available to students. However, the quality of supervision is also compromised by the busy schedules of supervisors, who are also responsible for teaching, setting and marking coursework/assignments and examinations. Other activities like research, scholarly publications, administrative work as well as community and university service impose time constraints on supervisors. The same supervisors may have other commitments outside their university, such as serving as external examiners.

6. Conclusion

The study found out that the supervisory process was satisfactory though many students do not often complete their thesis in time. Supervisors were friendly, always available for consultation and gave feedback on good time. The study also found that there were no significant differences between graduate students’ perceptions towards their supervisors and effective supervision based on programme, faculty, and structure of course, gender and semester/year. These findings on effective supervision are consistent to that found by Cullen et al., [7], Roets and Botma [23] and Olibie et al. [20]. They posit that good supervisors should be approachable and friendly, have supportive attitude, open minded, prepared to acknowledge error, organised and thorough. So what could have caused much delay in early completion of thesis or dissertation could be attributed to student factors which this study did not look at.

Contextual factors such as gender, socio-economic and employment status are hindering students’ progress, whilst the absence of physical, technical and academic support also contribute to prolonged completion time. The necessity of continuous monitoring and evaluation of a Masters’ programme by all the stakeholders was obvious. An important factor is the threat of novice supervisors in the system. Such people contribute to low rates of completion of graduate work. It is clear that the Master’s degree is not just a pathway to a PhD, but a terminal degree that greatly contributes to the development of professional practice as observed by Drennan [8] and they need very experienced supervisor to guide them well.

7. Suggestions

Since supervisors play an important role in the academic life of graduate students as well as their personal careers, they should possess an academic PhD and attain a senior lecturer’s status which are relevant to graduate research work in universities in addition to good inter-personal relationship with their students. Supervisors should be friendly, approachable and flexible as well knowledgeable and resourceful. They should also be stimulating and convey enthusiasm for the research they are supervising. To improve students’ performance and facilitate early completion of graduate programmes, there is crucial need for the various Faculties and School of Graduate Studies to provide good facilities like computers, photocopiers, and internet services for students’ use. There should be good information services where students can access credible information for their work. There should be a system of submitting comprehensive progress reports to deans of various faculties to enable them track the progress of their students. Graduate students need to have academic advisors where they can discuss social problems in addition to their thesis supervisors who major role is supervising the write up. Universities should come out with a policy for promotion based on the number of graduate students one has supervised, the quality/ratings of such works and the publication of such theses with the students.

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