A crisis is looming in Kenyan universities over the shortage of professors, low numbers of qualified lecturers and low numbers of PhD students in both public and private universities, according to a recent report.
Titled The State of University Education in Kenya and produced by the Commission for University Education or CUE, the report shows that the current professor-to-student ratio stands at 1:98. Out of a total of 16,318 university lecturers, 8,693 have only a masters degree while 656 have diplomas.
The revelations over university staffing have added a new twist to growing concerns about the dwindling quality of university teaching and learning in the country. Educationists blame the problem on uncontrolled higher education expansion over the past decade that has seen public universities open campuses in some of the country's remotest locations.
Kenya currently has 58 universities, consisting of 34 public universities and 24 private ones. In 2012 there were only nine public universities in the country.
Low numbers of PhDs
The report, launched last month at the 1st Biennial Conference on the State of Higher Education in Kenya, indicates that last year, chartered public universities only graduated 417 PhD students, up from 385 in 2014.
Overall, public universities have only produced 1,203 PhDs since 2012. Over the same period, universities produced 16,561 masters graduates. Some 120,328 students have graduated in the past four years with bachelor degrees.
The situation is also dire at chartered private universities. Last year, private universities only graduated 52 PhD students, compared to 42 PhDs in 2014. Overall, since 2012, chartered private universities have produced 157 PhDs and 8,484 masters graduates over the same period. Some 62,064 bachelor students have graduated.
According to the report, enrolment at public universities rose from 100,649 in 2008-09 to over 364,598 in 2014-15. Currently, the number of students enrolled across public and private institutions is said to total approximately 540,000 students, with about 462,000 of these enrolled in public institutions.
One of the solutions, according to Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Education Dr Fred Matiang’i, who addressed the conference on its opening day, was to stop the creation of satellite campuses.
Demand outstrips lecturers
Academic experts say that demand for higher education in Kenya far exceeds the number of qualified lecturers, prompting increasing numbers of students to study abroad, with most Kenyan study abroad students travelling to Uganda, the United States, Malaysia and the United Kingdom.
Educationists also maintain that unmet demand has opened space for rogue institutions offering sub-standard qualifications, undermining the reputation of higher education in the country.
The revelations in the report come at a time when the government is expected to implement fresh guidelines over a five-year period that will require all university lecturers to hold PhDs. This ruling is expected to take effect in November 2018 and applies to both private and public institutions.
Speaking on the opening day of the conference, CUE Chief Executive David Some said the move was an attempt to ensure lecturers in all universities were of high quality. Universities should increase their focus on masters and PhD students to ensure they complete their studies within the set time period.
Revised lecturer criteria
According to the new guidelines, lecturers with masters degrees would be reduced to the level of tutors or junior research fellows. The move is expected to bring to an end the current situation where each university has its own formula to appoint and promote lecturers.
The new guidelines stipulate that for a lecturer to become a professor, he or she would now have at least a minimum of 60 equivalent publication points from scholarly journals, up from the current 10 points.
Associate professors will only earn the title after attaining a minimum of 48 publication points and after having supervised four students at postgraduate level. Currently, one is eligible for the title after having accumulated only eight publication points.
Vice-chancellor of the University of Nairobi Professor Peter Mbithi said universities needed to embrace online and distance learning as this would increase access to university education.
In order to increase research output, he urged institutions to adopt a multidisciplinary approach to research. He said world-class universities needed “quality staff and students, accredited programmes, funding and technology-driven solutions”.
As a signatory to the African Union protocol, Kenya is obliged to commit 1% of its gross domestic product to supporting scientific research.
According to Matiang’i: “There is a need to fund more research initiatives.”
He noted further that one of the challenges in universities is that many lecturers not only hold part-time teaching jobs elsewhere, but they are also involved in consultancy work for international and non-governmental organisations.
“We are working on this and coming up with stringent regulations to ensure both lecturers and students get the best out of tertiary education,” said Matiang’i.
A study released last year by the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis found that up to 50% of lecturers at public universities have part-time jobs, mostly teaching in other technical institutions and universities.
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