New rules on masters, moonlighting and lecturer PhDs

Masters students in Kenya face difficult times under new regulations by the Commission for University Education that require them to complete their courses in two years. And those who choose to become lecturers will only be able to do so after obtaining a doctorate.

Previously, masters students have taken as long as five years to complete their degrees. Those pursuing a masters, especially people with work commitments, might be forced to take leave of absence to complete their studies within the new deadlines or face discontinuation.

The commission has also cracked the whip on lecturers who have taken up teaching jobs in several universities, saying increased workloads are hurting their ability to supervise postgraduate students.

As a result, some students frustrated with poor supervision seek credit transfers to complete research projects in other universities perceived to have more favourable learning conditions for postgraduate studies.

The problems

“We have discovered that there are three problems,” said Professor David Some, chief executive officer of the Commission for University Education, or CUE.

“Students have no time as they do not take leave of absence to study, there is poor supervision and, three, the senate fails to discontinue students who do not complete their studies within the stipulated period. These issues have to be addressed.”

“As a commission we are worried that students are taking long periods of time to complete their studies. These delays can compromise the quality of education,” he said.

Heavier lecturer workloads have been as a result of continued expansion of Kenyan universities, which have recently been on a recruitment drive, especially hiring scholars on part-time contracts to teach the growing number of students.

There have been many reports of public university lecturers teaching after hours at private universities.

The new rules seek to tighten directives issued by the commission late last year, which said that only PhD holders would be allowed to teach at universities as lecturers. Many studies have found strong correlation between the qualification levels of lecturers and research productivity.

People with only masters degrees, no matter their years of experience or number of publications, will only be able to be appointed as junior lecturers and tutorial fellows.

Previously, universities had the leeway to appoint lecturers irrespective of whether or not they held a PhD.

For a scholar to be appointed as an associate professor, the guidelines will require them to have supervised at least four postgraduate students, while a full professor must have supervised at least five PhD students. Currently, one can rise to full professorship without having necessarily supervised PhD students.

The next generation of academics

Kenya is pursuing renewed efforts to grow the number of lecturers in the country.

The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, for example, has proposed 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 for Education Jacob Kaimenyi said 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.

Government estimates show 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.

The new directives are part of a wider government plan for universities to produce at least 1,000 PhDs every year, in order to produce the next generation of academics, alleviate the lecturer shortage and provide the high-level skills Kenya’s rapidly growing economy needs.

The new PhD training programme is to be rolled out through scholarships.

A new scholarship scheme funded by the African Development Bank has also been announced, aimed at training more lecturers and boosting teaching in the fields of science, engineering and technology in Kenya’s new universities.

The initiative hopes to strengthen teaching capacity in the country’s public universities, especially those established over the past four years.

As reported previously by University World News, Kenya has been struggling to match rising enrolments with teaching staff.

According to government statistics, the number of professors in public universities has risen by a measly 11% over the past three years while student numbers soared by 56% over the past five years – from 140,000 in 2010 to more than 300,000 this year – generating a rising student-to-lecturer ratio.

By last year, the number of professors stood at 265, from 238 three years ago. Kenya’s public universities had a teaching workforce of 5,189, from around 4,800 three years ago – only 8% growth.