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Collaborative PhD Programme (CPP) in Economics Overview

Many universities in Africa run various doctoral programmes in economics, but the quality of both programme and output varies widely. The African Economic Research Consortium (AERC), along with universities and other stakeholders within and outside Africa agreed that a collaborative PhD degree programme in economics would be the optimum way to address the quality issues. 

The Collaborative PhD Programme (CPP) in Economics was launched in December 2002 with the primary aim of strengthening teaching and research capacity in sub-Saharan African countries, increasing the pool of potential researchers and policy analysts, and gradually building-up and retaining African scholars in Africa, hence, leading to the eventual reduction of the brain drain from the continent. Further, the Programme was expected to increase output of professionals conversant with and specialists in African problems, thus leading to the possible emergence of various theories and African solutions to these problems. The Programme integrates theory, tools and African applications into academic teaching, hence, ensuring that the theory is firmly grounded on the empirical side.

From the outset, one of  the Programme’s comparative advantages is that it is more directly relevant to Africa - in terms of research relevance, policy orientation, use of the African reality (data, literature, focus, examples and so on), and development of theories, literature, and academic materials relevant to Africa - than any comparable doctoral programme in economics in the world.

Structure of the Collaborative PhD Programme

The Programme is implemented along a collaborative framework with degree awarding institutions across the African continent, selected competitively but distributed equitably along regional lines. The selected institution within a region acts as the center for the region from which students and the bulk of the teaching faculty are drawn. The collaboration is in the following key areas:

  • Formulation of the rationale and design of the programme itself.
  • Development and approval of core and elective course outlines.
  • Teaching of the core and elective courses.
  • Administration (including the setting and marking) of the comprehensive examinations.
  • Supervision of theses: sourcing of supervisors, participation in the thesis workshops and examination of the theses.
  • Ensuring the smooth running of the programme; there is, for example, a PhD Academic Advisory Board that is responsible for monitoring the progress of the programme.
  • Periodic reviews of the programme.
  • Human and other resources pooled from within and outside Africa to ensure that this collaboration is continuous, effective and optimal.

Participating Universities 

For purposes of implementing the programme, the continent is subdivided into four regions, Southern Africa, Eastern Africa, Anglophone West Africa and Francophone Africa. A total of 8 universities in 6 countries are participating in the CPP. 

The participating universities are categorized into two groups: 

Host Degree-Awarding Universities: These are the universities that have been assigned the responsibility of teaching courses in core fields and administering comprehensive examinations to all students admitted into the programme. There is one host degree-awarding university per region. These are:-

  • University of Cape Town, Southern Africa
  • University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (Eastern Africa)
  • University of Ibadan, Nigeria (Anglophone, Western Africa)
  • University of Yaoundé II, Cameroon (Francophone Africa)

Non-Host Degree-awarding universities (DAUs): These are the additional universities that upon admitting students, send them to the regional host universities to take core courses and thereafter to a central facility-the Joint Facility for Electives (JFE) – to take elective courses, organize the supervision and production of student PhD theses and award the degrees to successful students. The major difference between host and non-host DAUs is that the former teach core courses and conduct comprehensive examinations, which functions the latter do not perform. All the 8 DAUs award PhD degrees to students who will fulfill the agreed requirements. These are:-

  • University of Witwatersrand, Southern Africa)
  • University of Nairobi, Kenya (Eastern Africa)
  • University of Benin, Nigeria (Western Africa)
  • Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Cote D’Ivoire (Francophone Africa)


CPP Academic Activities

1.Intensive Course Work

The primary aim of the first year of the AERC Collaborative PhD Programme is to push the students further toward the contemporary intellectual frontiers of knowledge through a series of intensive courses taught by African scholars and leading international experts. These courses are in the three core fields (Microeconomics, Macroeconomics and Quantitative Methods). The second academic year features the intensive teaching of the elective courses at a Joint Facility for Electives (JFE) by African scholars and leading international experts. 


Upon successfully completing core courses at the host-DAUs, all students gather at a common facility - the Joint Facility for Electives based in Nairobi, Kenya, for intensive teaching of elective courses by internationally competitively sourced team of experts for a period of 16 weeks (July to October). Each course is divided into two semesters of eight weeks each taught by two different lecturers per subject. Each semester is a complete course in itself with a final examination held at the end of the session. Students select two fields of specializations from among the following approved eleven elective courses:

List of Approved CPP Elective Courses   

  • Agricultural Economics
  • Industrial Economics 
  • Development Economics
  • International Economics 
  • Econometrics
  • Labour Economics 
  • Environmental Economics
  • Monetary Economics
  • Financial Economics
  • Public Sector Economics
  • Health Economics

The JFE provides a serene learning environment that is well equipped with a computer laboratory and a Library that is stocked with reference books and journal articles for all the elective courses. All computers are connected to the internet, which allows access to online academic and research databases as well as online journal facilities.

Joint regular CMAP/CPP weekly seminar series play a central role in the life and academic discourse of the JFE, whereby presentations are made by the visiting lecturers and also by CPP students. The seminars provide an avenue through which students are initiated and guided in the practical science and art of writing and presenting of academic papers through a "learning-by-doing" approach.

Students then return to their respective host degree-awarding universities at the end of the JFE to prepare for and take the comprehensive examinations-four examination papers per student in Microeconomics, Macroeconomics and two electives.

The following issues should be noted about the comprehensive examinations:

  • The examination coverage extends from the most elementary (undergraduate) level to the frontiers of knowledge (PhD level).
  • The examinations are set by a team of experts in the relevant fields under the auspices of AERC and approved by the PhD Academic Advisory Board; these experts are familiar with the teaching of the relevant course(s) at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
  • The students take their examinations in two core fields (Microeconomics and Macroeconomics) and in two elective fields at their respective host degree-awarding universities. There are no comprehensive examinations in Quantitative Methods. Examinations are conducted at least three months after the end of the CPP JFE.
  • The examinations are marked by the expert examiners and the results discussed and approved by the PhD Academic Advisory Board, before being forwarded to the students' in the respective degree-awarding universities.

2.PhD Thesis Proposal 

After the comprehensive examinations, students work with supervisors in their degree awarding universities to determine their areas of specialization, select dissertation topics and prepare their thesis proposals. A centralized thesis proposal workshop is held where students present and defend their proposals. Selected international and African experts, serving as discussants, resource persons and evaluators of the research proposals, assist in this process. Thesis supervisors also attend this workshop and participate actively in the proceedings, working jointly with the independent resource persons to evaluate each thesis proposal. In many respects the process is similar to that of the AERC biannual thematic research workshops, which involve peer review supported by resource persons. The process is currently planned such that both biannual research and proposals workshop are held jointly so as to gain some synergies between the two processes.

3.Field Work

Third-year students are involved with thesis research, fieldwork, and data gathering and analysis under the primary guidance of their thesis supervisors. This process ends with a post-fieldwork workshop, another centralized facility to enable students to present preliminary analyses of their research. The process, again, involves selected international experts and African scholars, who together with thesis supervisors act as resource persons, discussants and evaluators. It is also presented and defended at the workshop with researchers.

4.Thesis Preparation and Defence 

The fourth and final year of the Collaborative PhD Programme is devoted to final thesis write-up and defence at the degree awarding university, in accordance with established respective degree-awarding universities rules and procedures. 

5.Programme Duration

The Collaborative PhD Programme is a four-year post-MA that makes maximum use of international and African experts assembled periodically to interact with students in centralized locations through each of the last three academic years. These intensive interactions are designed to occur twice in the second year of the programme: over 16 weeks of intensive teaching and examination of selected specialized elective courses, and during the thesis proposal workshop at the end of the second year.

This is followed by a similar one-week post-fieldwork workshop at the end of the third year.  The workshops at every stage are designed to strengthen the process as well as indirectly contributing to the process. These structured and results-oriented interactions should be adequate for eliminating such deficiencies as lack of course work, poor thesis supervision and isolation from the rapidly unfolding developments in the economics discipline that have plagued local doctoral training in Africa. At the same time, this model enables students to benefit from exposure to international experts without losing the African experience.


This model does not explicitly include an obligatory one-year (or less) overseas attachment. But it permits such an arrangement on an optional but mostly competitive basis, as well as postdoctoral attachments that can be organized through existing AERC modalities. In order to further expose graduates of the programme to developments in the field, special efforts are made to link them, through internship programmes, to the various national policy institutes across Africa, as well as international organizations such as the World Bank Institute, the International Monetary Fund and the African Development Bank Institute, among others. Provision is also made for students to present research findings at major international conferences and to learn from them about new theoretical and methodological developments and important ongoing policy concerns, to enrich and broaden further their research interests.

Programme Governance and Management 

The AERC Board of Directors has overall responsibility over the smooth implementation of the programme. Consequently, the AERC's Programme Advisory Committee and its Sub-Committee on Training have to see to it that the programme is running efficiently. However, the management of all academic aspects of the programme is the responsibility of the PhD Academic Advisory Board, comprising all Heads/Directors/Deans of the relevant departments in the degree-awarding universities, plus four additional experts representing the four regions, the AERC director of training and Chairpersons of the CMAP and its francophone Africa equivalent, the PTCI. Among the matters that the Academic Advisory Board deals with include:

  • Approval of the common curricula requirements for the core and elective courses.
  • Arrangement for external examiners of the core courses as well as approval of their terms of reference.
  • Approval each year of the menu of elective courses for the JFE and approval of instructors to teach these electives.
  • Appointment of external examiners for the JFE.
  • Approval of the JFE examination results before they are forwarded to DAUs for their consideration.
  • Approval of recommendations for the development of textbooks and other instructional materials.
  • Appointment of setters, markers and supervisors of the comprehensive examinations.
  • Approval of the comprehensive examination results.
  • The periodic review of the quality of the programme and the performance of participating departments/schools/faculties.



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