KENYA: Acute shortage of professors

Kenya's 30 universities are being crippled by an acute shortage of professors, according to the Commission for Higher Education. Universities are increasingly turning to part-time lecturers, but many have only attained masters degrees.

The CHE has said this is unlikely to affect the quality of learning in Kenya's universities. But employers and educationists are raising a red flag, saying that the level of qualifications and lack of staff could dilute learning.

While holders of masters degrees are allowed to lecture under commission regulations, educationists are concerned that lecturers without PhDs have not been subjected to sufficiently rigorous academic training.

A survey by the CHE revealed that there were only 352 professors in Kenya's 30 universities.

The University of Nairobi has the highest number of professors at 110, followed by Moi University (49), Kenyatta (29) and Maseno (17). Jomo Kenyatta, Egerton and Masinde Muliro universities have 11 professors each. All but two private universities have fewer than 10 professors, while the United States International University has 14 and the Kenya College of Accountancy has 15.

The report has triggered intense debate, with the commission downplaying the impact of the staffing levels.

"The data is undergoing further processing for the purpose of advising the government on the status of Kenya's universities," said CHE Chief Executive Professor Everett Standa.

"Degree programme recognised by the commission shall be led by a lecturer who holds a doctoral degree relevant to the programme. Universities may engage tutorial fellows with a minimum of masters degrees and assign them teaching responsibilities under supervision of a senior lecturer," Standa added.

The revelations on university staffing have added a new twist to growing concerns about a dwindling quality of learning. Educationists blame the problem on uncontrolled higher expansion in the past decade that has seen public universities open campuses in some of the country's remotest locations, casting doubt on the quality of teaching in these units.

Although the number of qualified lecturers has been growing, it lags far behind the student enrolment rate, forcing many universities to hire under-qualified staff for academic positions.

University Academic Staff Union data indicates that there are 9,000 lecturers in both public and private universities, up from 7,000 four years ago. But during the same period, student enrolment grew from 91,541 to 140,000.

With universities weighed down by overflowing classes, strained facilities and a shortage of lecturers, they are likely to find it difficult to admit more students. Education experts and university administrators have argued that additional enrolment can only be handled if the government pumps more funds into higher education so institutions can afford to expand educational and boarding infrastructure and hire extra tutors.

A planned intake of an extra 40,000 students in the next two years could worsen the situation, if the teaching workforce is not raised significantly, educationists have warned.

"The double intake could spell doom to the quality of learning, especially so if the extra students join already constrained facilities without any attempt at expanding institutions," said Mark Thiga, an education consultant in Nairobi who is a part-time lecturer.

Kenya's public universities plan to admit the extra 40,000 students to clear a backlog that has for decades forced students to wait for two years after school to enter public higher education.
There is soaring demand for higher education as young people seek to improve their opportunities in the job market and as increasing numbers complete schooling.

Demand for higher education far exceeds supply of places, prompting increasing numbers of students to study abroad in Uganda, the US, Malaysia and the UK. Educationists also maintain that unmet demand has opened space for rogue institutions offering sub-standard qualifications to thrive, undermining the reputation of higher education in the country.