Despite huge popularity, PAU faces resource challenges

The Pan African University (PAU), a continental university supported by the African Union (AU), is citing financial uncertainty and a shortage of permanent academic and administrative staff as some of its biggest current challenges.

The institution, which was able to accept only 3% of the students who applied last year, says it has been relying on lecturers hired on a part-time basis to teach and supervise students, resulting in limited contact between lecturers and learners and impacting on delivery of programmes.

In its 2018-19 annual report the postgraduate training institution blames bureaucracy and multiple layers of approval needed from funders and member states for hindering the timely recruitment of staff.

“The recruitment process for long-term academic staff is among the key challenges facing PAU. Currently, the institutes massively depend on part-time academic staff, mainly contracted from host universities and from abroad, and have limited contact with students. This has resulted in students not having enough consultation with the lecturers as well as levels of supervision that are not adequate. This situation has significant impact on the quality and delivery of the programmes,” it said.

Complex recruitment process

It notes that hiring of long-term staff has, since the launch of PAU, “proven a very complex challenge within the regulatory framework of the AU”.

Besides an inability to recruit permanent personnel, the university lists inadequate funding from the AU and a rising dependency on external funding, as obstacles exerting pressure on sustainability.

It raises the concern even as the report reveals that the institution was allocated US$22 million during the year, with US$1million coming from external sources.

“It should be noted that for almost three years now, about 90% of the Pan African University budget comes from AU member states who should be congratulated for their commitment and unreserved support to make PAU a world-class institution of higher education” said PAU Rector Belay Kassa.

However, to ensure financial sustainability, member states are being encouraged to increase their contributions to the PAU budget, Kassa told University World News.

“We are not proud of this situation and are actively engaged in the implementation of our Five Year Strategic Plan to give a lasting solution to this and other capacity-development related issues,” he said.

While permanent administrative staff were being gradually recruited, a salary structure including incentive packages to attract “world-renowned lecturers” was being designed in collaboration with the AU Commission, member states and external partners, he disclosed.

Fifth institute

Other challenges included a continued delay in operationalising the fifth institute of the university, the Pan African University Institute for Space Sciences, to be hosted in South Africa, six years after the other branches of the university became operational.

During the year some 13,048 students applied for PAU admission, but only 428 students were successful – 323 for masters and 105 for PhDs – representing just over 3% of the total application pool.

The number of applicants for scholarships during the year grew by 241% compared to the 5,403 who applied in 2018, the university disclosed.

PAU attributed the interest to growing popularity of its programmes and increased visibility of the institution.

A total of 1,112 students from 46 countries have graduated from PAU since its inception. They include 993 masters and 119 PhDs, 30% of them female.

Kassa said despite a general shortage of female applicants, the proportion of women graduates is growing, with 37% of those admitted in the 2018-19 academic year being female, a figure that rose to 39% in 2019.

Online learning

The report notes that the Pan African Virtual and E-University – the open, distance and e-learning arm of PAU – was due to admit students in early 2020, an important development in view of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has cemented the place of distance education in Africa and the world.

According to the report, PAU registered nine patents during the year, with students and staff publishing 170 scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals.

The university runs regional institutes including the Institute of Basic Sciences, Technology and Innovation hosted by Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya, the Institute of Life and Earth Sciences hosted by the University of Ibadan Nigeria, the Institute for Governance, Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Yaoundé II, Cameroon, and the Institute of Water and Energy Sciences, at the University of Tlemcen, Algeria.