Incidence and factors associated with delayed completion of dissertations by graduate students at Makerere University College of Health Sciences
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Background Completion of graduate education is evidenced at most academic institutions as submission of the final dissertation. Many students progress successfully in their course works, tests and written examinations. However, dissertation writing becomes a major setback. Students are faced with challenges of preparing a good and feasible proposal, delays in approving the research topic, completing the research project, supervisors’ unavailability, writing and defending the dissertation successfully, delays from external examiners and problems balancing work/occupations and school. Concerns related to incidence and factors associated with delayed completion of dissertations in different institutions remain unanswered hence the aim of this study. Objective The study sought to determine the incidence and factors associated with delayed completion of dissertations among graduate students at Makerere University College of Health Sciences and stakeholders’ perceptions. Method A retrospective cohort review of records of 382 students who registered at Makerere University College of Health Sciences from 2006 to 2009 academic years was done. The outcome was delayed completion of the dissertation defined as failure to submit the final dissertation by July 31st of the final year of study. Poisson regression model was used to identify independent predictors for delayed completion of dissertations. Eighteen (18) key informant interviews were conducted to determine the perceptions of key stakeholders who included heads of departments, students, Institution Review Board Chairpersons and Administrator, College Registrar and School Registrars regarding delayed completion of dissertations. Results The incidence of delayed completion of the dissertation was 82.2% (CI: 77.9%-85.9%) among graduate students at Makerere University College of Health Sciences which was significantly associated with type of degree the student was admitted to (IRR=0.79, 95% CI 0.65-0.95) and the student’s sex (IRR=1.15, 95% CI 1.01-1.30). Graduate students admitted for 2 year programs especially female students were more likely to delay in completing the dissertation compared to those admitted to 3 and 4 years programs as well as male students. Supervisory challenges and the examination phase of the dissertation were major aspects raised by the stakeholders during the interviews that contributed to delayed completion of the dissertation. Conclusion The incidence of delayed completion of the dissertation among graduate students at Makerere University College of Health Sciences is high. The study found out that more than half of the students admitted were unable to complete the dissertation within the stipulated period of study. This is a very worrisome situation as the completion rates keep going done thus, the need for the university to strengthen its policies on enforcing timely completion of the dissertation, maintain and continuously improve its resources and provide the best support to students such as effective supervision.