School of Journalism unveils first PhD program

By John Semakula
A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. 

This is true for Uganda Christian University’s (UCU) School of Journalism, Media and Communication (JMC) whose journey of 22 years has led to the launch of its first PhD program. 

The National Council for Higher Education (NCHE), a body charged with regulating higher education in Uganda, accredited the advanced degree program on August 21, 2023. The School of JMC then launched the PhD in September. The launch meant advertising, admitting new students and JMC professors initiating a high-quality curriculum. 

In 2002, when  the  UCU Department of Mass Communication started with only one undergraduate degree program, it was not easy to envisage this level of transformation. At that time, 21 years ago, the department had  no academic staff with a PhD.

But today the School of JMC prides itself in having several renowned communication scholars with doctoral degrees. These include Prof. Monica Chibita and Prof. James Kiwanuka Tondo. The PhD accreditation required a detailed consultative needs assessment, which involved industry practitioners, academics, current and prospective students. 

“The assessment established that indeed there was demand for PhD training in communication in Uganda, where only Makerere University was offering a PhD in the field by research,” the statement said.  

Prof. Chibita, the Dean of the School, affirmed the need for the introduction of the PhD. 

“The PhD program seeks to fill a gap in teaching, research and supervision at institutions of higher education in the East African region, using contextual curricular and innovative methods of delivery,” she said. 

She noted that the program is aligned with the University’s strategic vision of growing research, innovations and partnerships. 

“The University aims to promote rigorous focused research that leads to improved understanding and innovations to solve specific challenges in Uganda and abroad,” Chibita said, also emphasizing that the PhD will contribute to the University’s goal of recruiting and retaining staff with excellence in teaching and research.

According to the School, the program started off with an 11-strong faculty, comprising four professors, two associate professors, and five senior lecturers drawn from the UCU School of JMC, the University of Kwa Zulu Natal (South Africa), the University of Rwanda; and NLA University College in Norway.  

Chibita said, “The faculty composition reflects strong collaboration between the partner universities, and continued support for capacity development in higher education and research for development by the Norwegian Programme for Capacity Development in Higher Education and Research for Development (NORHED).” 

The program covers four broad areas: media democracy and development in Africa; media, gender, identity and participation; media and crisis; and health and science communication. There will be a strong emphasis placed on innovative teaching and research methods and on the need to decolonise communication theory, method and curricula.  PhD candidates will undertake coursework, proposal writing and research. They will be encouraged to conduct collaborative research with faculty members and partner universities. 

Full-time students will be expected to complete the program within three to four years while part-time students in five to six years.  The program will accept at least 10 doctoral students for the start.