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Academic claims doctorate suspended for ‘‘popularity’’

Controversial Zimbabwean academic Lovemore Mbigi claims that the taught PhD degree he offered through the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) was suspended for its popularity.

Mbigi told Research Africa that he is continuing with the degree, despite its suspension last month by the Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education (ZIMCHE).

He alleged that the vice-chancellors who serve on ZIMCHE were upset because students favoured his business administration degree over other institutions.

“On that basis they decided to be vindictive by suspending the programme,” said the academic-turned-businessman.

Although he did not mention names, the 21-member council includes Levy Nyagura, the vice-chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe and Ngwabi Bhebhe, the Midlands State University vice-chancellor.

“ZIMCHE was not prepared to discuss the matter with me when I contacted them,” he complained.

Mbigi claimed there was an overwhelming response to the programme in both Harare and Bulawayo, the two main cities in Zimbabwe.

There were over 150 students enrolled in the NUST business administration doctoral programme, he said.

About six weeks before the May suspension, two students came to warn him that they had been pressured to drop the programme, Mbigi said.

“When they refused, they were told the programme would be suspended and they were going to read about it in the papers,’’ he said.

“I have not received any complaints from students and ZIMCHE,” he said.

Mbigi is no longer resident in Zimbabwe, but is based in the southern USA, in Atlanta, Georgia.

Mbigi runs an equally controversial South Africa-based company, African Intellectual Resources (AIR), which provides business leadership tutorials and claims to offer postgraduate degrees, including PhDs.

AIR offers a taught PhD programme worth 360 credits. Each credit is equal to ten hours’ learning, he said.

Despite what is claimed on the AIR website, Mbigi said that “AIR does not confer the PhD degree and we do not mark their thesis. What AIR does is to provide a tutorial service.”

AIR has an associate faculty of 80 professors, he said. Details of the professors were not available on the AIR website.

NUST has asked AIR to provide evidence of the research requirements of the PhD.

Mbigi hopes the suspension of the two programmes will be lifted at the end of June when Richard Mhlanga, the director of the Graduate School of Business at NUST business school, will present the additional documentation to ZIMCHE.

He said in an email that more students had enrolled for the controversial PhD programme since its suspension.

Stanford Chabayanzara, an official from the AIR’s Johannesburg offices, told Research Africa last week that they were enrolling the affected NUST students with partner universities.

Mbigi confirmed this, saying he had approached partner universities who have online distance learning programmes.

He claimed that these do not require ZIMCHE accreditation but only need to be registered in their country of origin.

“There is a study school tutorial in Harare next month. If there is continued harassment by ZIMCHE, then we are going to run our tutorials in South Africa and Botswana. AIR has taken proactive action,” he said.

Mbigi claimed that three Zimbabwean universities – Midlands State University, Africa University and Harare Polytechnic – want to run the AIR PhD programme.

“It is a very innovative programme,” said Mbigi who is in the process of setting up an office in Harare.

Mbigi was in the news in Namibia in 2011 where he was accused of fraudulently receiving a tender from one of his PhD students who worked for the Ministry of Works.

The tender was to help train 1,517 Ministry of Works and Transport employees in performance management.

“I do not know the internal tendering processes of the Ministry Works. I was asked to bid for the project by the director of administration of MWT and I did, then I was awarded a contract,” Mbigi said.

The Namibian Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) confiscated computers belonging to Mbigi’s PhD student, George Simataa, but then the investigation was halted due to claims of incorrect procedures being followed.

Mbigi responded to claims that he was involved in selling degrees for cash by claiming that he was in no position to offer any favours as he had no control over examiners.

Research Africa attempted to contact Evelyn Garwe, the ZIMCHE deputy chief executive officer, to comment on the allegations but has not yet received a response.