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Table 1 Summaries of key points in regard to research student supervision

From: Needs assessment to strengthen capacity in water and sanitation research in Africa: experiences of the African SNOWS consortium

Point number Summary
1.1 Poor structure, funding, and organisation lead to a low completion rate, a high drop-out rate, and students taking on average 3 years to complete a Masters and to 6 years to complete a PhD.
1.2 Research supervision is under-resourced, poorly organised, and lacks any appropriate reward structure, or quality control, so staff may give little practical guidance to many students.
1.3 Many faculty staff may attempt to supervise 5 to 50 research students alongside their teaching and research duties, an unsustainable workload.
1.4 Staff may lack the communication skills used to guide research students, reverting to the lecture-type of approach used on undergraduates, which fails to develop relevant problem-solving skills. For example, some faculty have no email address, which frustrates student communication.
1.5 Research students find it very hard to regularly meet their supervisor or co-supervisor even separately, and may receive conflicting advice from both.
1.6 University regulations on graduate degrees are often poorly communicated, out-of-date, and not well understood by faculty or students, further complicating the smooth running of the programme and again contributing to delays.
1.7 Research students are normally allowed to choose a research topic that interests them (with no guidance provided) as was common in Europe in the 1980s. This creates four issues, namely an inability to find a competent supervisor for that topic, a difficulty in demonstrating the necessary originality and research skills in the degree, a lack of funds or funding potential, and more dropouts.
1.8 Inadequate laboratory facilities in terms of space, access to supplies and chemicals needed, specialised laboratory equipment and the expertise to use it, maintain it, or repair it. Some students are encouraged to switch to a theoretical degree to avoid the delays around effective lab facilities access.
1.9 Many students felt that specialised equipment should not be bought unless paid technicians could be provided who would explain how to use it, maintain it properly, and thus improve its value and life expectancy. Expensive items had been broken or damaged through lack of laboratory technicians.
1.10 If there were competent lab technicians they could provide useful hands-on training to research students in how to use the relevant laboratory equipment.
1.11 Most of the research students lacked a good grounding in research methods at both Masters and PhD level, which could be taught as a common course at different levels. This contributed to more delays and research mistakes.
1.12 Some research students found good teaching in these research methods in other universities or faculties, which they then had to pay for separately, creating more delays. A system of credits should be set-up enabling students to get good relevant fill-in teaching in other centres without being financially penalised as they are already paying research degree course fees.
1.13 Most universities lack an organised office that attempts to find and match funding for research degrees with the sources of funds available nationally or internationally. This information is lacking or not regularly shared.
1.14 Reliable internet access is often lacking for research students. When available, students tend to search on instead of the science research databases such as Google Scholar, PubMed, etc.
1.15 Some research degrees require publication of one or two peer-reviewed scientific articles, and provide no help achieving this, creating another stumbling block leading to incomplete degrees. Very few students may get a teaching post which often enables them to finally get over this obstacle.