Universities struggle to meet 30% target of staff with PhDs

Universities in Rwanda are struggling to meet the target of the Higher Education Council (HEC) determining that 30% of academic and teaching staff members should be PhD holders.

According to an earlier ministerial order (Nº 001/MINEDUC/2021 of 20/10//2021) that focuses on standards in education, at least 30% of a university’s academic staff component should hold PhDs in the future.

As part of a transitional phase, all universities and higher learning institutions must increase their academics with PhDs to 27.7% by the 2023-24 academic year and should endeavour to reach the target in the next few years, according to the HEC.

According to the council’s director general, Dr Rose Mukankomeje, it was monitoring progress. However, she was encouraged by the figures, saying that the number of PhD holders among academic staff had increased from 16.9% during the academic year 2016-17 to 22.7% during the academic year 2020-21.

However, at present only 22% of the academic and teaching staff members at the University of Rwanda (UR) are PhD holders.

According to official figures, the University of Rwanda had 350 lecturers holding PhDs in 2020, representing 22% of the total staff component, while 200 more were, at the time, pursuing PhD studies. The university hopes that it could reach a target of 60% of lecturers who hold PhDs in the next five years, something that would put it on a par with many universities internationally.

However, it has not met the transitional target yet. Similarly, private universities are also struggling to meet the target. According to Professor Callixte Kabera, the president of the private universities in Rwanda, previously universities and higher learning institutions were required to have at least 15% PhD holders who served as teaching and academic staff.

“It was still a challenge for some universities, [and] now that we are asked to increase the number to 30%, it is an uphill task,” he said. He said that some universities and higher learning institutions, especially private ones, will always find it hard to increase the number.

“It is not easy to have 30% of PhD holders. Although everyone is doing what they can, we have had meetings with private universities, and we will keep working on it, but it seems almost impossible,” he said.

He explained that it takes three to four years to obtain a PhD and roughly costs €80,000.

“Yet universities don’t have enough financial means as we were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. We will keep looking at how to recruit the PhD holders both locally and from abroad. This means that we also need to look for more areas to get money because paying a PhD holder is not easy,” he noted.


According to Professor Kabera, as universities struggle to increase the number of PhD holders, it will have cost implications for individual institutions and the sector.

“It means that salaries will also be increased because paying a PhD holder is not easy and this will affect tuition fees. However, it also means that the recruited PhD holders will be involved in income-generating projects to boost the university’s earnings,” he said.

“There is a need to increase the numbers of PhD holders in universities, and in some specialisations the issue is even bigger. Some universities are advanced on this trajectory, but others are still small and lack senior PhD holders who can provide strategic leadership guidance in teaching and research,” he noted.

“The issue is even worse when it comes to project proposal writing. The development of academic human resources and research is an area that needs to be much more improved,” he added. In Rwanda, only the University of Rwanda offers PhD degrees in a few programs. The University of Rwanda also has a partnership with the Swedish universities supported by the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida).

Professor Kabera called for more collaboration with the University of Rwanda and other international universities to allow academic and teaching staff to continue their studies while still offering courses in their respective universities.

According to Father Dr Balthazar Ntivuguruzwa, the vice-chancellor of the Institut Catholique de Kabgayi, employing PhD holders at a 30% threshold could be hard given that PhD holders cost more and universities required more time to meet the target.

“We needed more time to prepare. I also think that the decision does not just affect the given number of PhD holders but the required skills. We have people with masters’ who have varied experiences,” he added.

Invest in staff development

According to the council's Mukankomeje, the education legal instruments provide the minimum acceptable number of PhD holders. “Having the number of PhD holders will encourage higher learning institutions to invest in staff development so as to meet the requirement,” she said.

She encouraged universities to help underqualified staff to get access to study loans and seek scholarships and ensure they get study leave once there is an opportunity.

“To ensure that this is implemented, we will keep monitoring [the progress] through several audits and inspections conducted by the HEC or through self assessment reports produced by every higher learning institutions,” Mukankomeje noted.

She expressed optimism, saying that the number of PhD holders among academic staff has increased from 16.9% during the academic year 2016-17 to 22.7% during the academic year 2020-21.

“Through the cooperation of the government of Rwanda with other states and development partners, Rwandans have been facilitated to pursue further studies abroad under different capacity building programmes,” she said.

“Likewise, some local higher learning institutions have partnerships with foreign institutions including on staff development. Also, the University of Rwanda has started a variety of academic programmes at PhD level. There is hope to contribute to the increase of PhD holders,” she added.