New regulations planned to boost postgraduate numbers

Kenya’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology is proposing new regulations that will compel universities to ensure that 25% of graduates each year are at the postgraduate level, in an effort to end a biting shortage of lecturers.

Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi said late last year that more than 90% of the nearly 25,000 people who graduated from universities annually were at the undergraduate level, which left the country with a one-sided workforce made up of first degree holders.

In fact, government estimates reveal that only around 5% of people leaving universities in the past three years had attained a masters or PhD qualification, with the majority being self-financed, working adults pursuing business related studies.

A list of approved courses published by the Commission for University Education showed that only about 11 out of 35 recently-elevated (from college status) public universities and private institutions offer postgraduate courses – a problem blamed on lack of teaching staff.

“This is not a trend a country wishing to continue producing scientists, researchers and academicians can allow to continue and still hope to develop,” said Kaimenyi at a graduation ceremony at Moi University.

“We are experiencing a serious shortage of teaching staff, which can be blamed on the low number of postgraduate degrees our universities are producing.”

“We need as a country to create a ready and able pool of manpower trained at PhD and masters level if we hope to attain our development goals, including Vision 2030, and transform our country into a middle-income economy,” Kaimenyi added.

The problem

The number of researchers and academics was growing at too slow a pace, he continued, and most were relatively older. Universities mainly relied on part-time lecturers, many with only a masters degree despite the government’s long-held desire that all lecturers should hold a PhD.

Young people, the minister complained, were not keen to pursue postgraduate studies so long as a first degree assured them employment, and very few people enrolled for postgraduate courses unless such studies guaranteed promotion in the workplace. This had resulted in a shortage of critical skills in fields such as sciences, mathematics and engineering.

Universities were hard-hit by Kenya’s lack of PhD graduates, which also affected the quality of learning in higher education.

“The shortage of teaching staff has seen available lecturers hop from one university to the other each day, with some lecturers teaching in as many as four different institutions,” said Dr John Mukhwana, a senior official at the Commission for University Education.

The situation could be remedied if an ambitious government initiative, launched in 2013 and meant to produce 1,000 PhDs each year, succeeded.

The total number of universities in Kenya has grown from 20 in 2004 to 68 a decade later, and there are 10,000 lecturers teaching 250,000 students, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. Only 700 of these lecturers are professors.

According to Muga K’olale, secretary general of the University Academic Staff Union, some 7,000 lecturers are currently working in 32 public universities with a combined student population of 200,000, implying an average teacher-to-student ratio of nearly 30 to one, making mentorship and personal attention to individual learning needs extremely difficult.

More resources, incentives needed

The ministry is planning new regulations to be promulgated this year to oblige universities to enrol at least a quarter of students at the postgraduate level.

But ensuring that universities produce more masters and PhD graduates will require more than simply enacting new rules and regulations, according to Patrick Mbataru, an agri-business lecturer at Kenyatta University.

“Universities would need more resources in order to be able to train a higher number of postgraduate students and this would call on the government to dig deeper into its pockets and raise funding levels.

“Incentives such as lowering fees charged for postgraduate studies would also be necessary to encourage more learners to enrol for higher levels of education. A guarantee that good and better-paying jobs are available upon completion of studies would also be an important incentive,” added Mbataru.