Wanted: Thousands of lecturers for East African universities

Universities in East Africa need to recruit more than 35,500 lecturers to meet the desired student-to-teacher ratio (STR) in various subject areas, and an even higher number of faculty to have the ideal number of teaching staff in their lecturing halls and laboratories.

According to the findings of a survey of universities in the East African Community (EAC), member states need to hire even more teachers, nearly 37,000 lecturers, to also fill the gap left by those retiring or leaving universities for other jobs.

The survey, carried out in 133 public and private universities in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan, has further indicated that the institutions in the majority of these countries did not meet the male-to-female gender ratio for faculty, when compared to their own staffing targets, or ‘policy norms’.

The survey’s findings were shared at a high-level stakeholder engagement session for the dissemination of the research findings on 3 May. Delegates heard that the universities in the region will jointly need additional faculty totalling about 87,000 to meet the increased student enrolment and STR goals by 2030.

The current and future staff needs have been captured in a report titled the Demographics of African Faculty – Lessons from East Africa Community (DAF-EAC).

The DAF EAC Project was done to assess the status of higher education faculty in the region, and to conduct background research on the higher education landscape, as well as to perform an analysis of current and future faculty demands.

It also sought to initiate stakeholders’ engagement for “co- creation of solutions to address the faculty challenges”.

“Data was sourced from relevant ministries in charge of university education national councils and commissions for higher education, national bureaus of statistics and from student placements boards,” said Dr Joash Migosi, the project’s lead researcher.

“Higher education data management is badly needed in East Africa. Available data is segregated and is scattered in different ministries and departments. It is not available in one place,” he said.

Country data

Based on the 2017 data in the report, Kenya is by far the worst-performing country, requiring 19,980 additional lecturers to achieve its ‘policy norm’, followed by Tanzania, which required 10,989 teaching staff based on 2021 data.

On the other hand, the survey by the Inter-University Council of East Africa, or IUCEA, the Education Sub Saharan Africa (ESSA), the Association of African Universities, and the Population Reference Bureau, with funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, revealed that countries with fewer universities and lower student populations, such as those in Burundi and South Sudan, had a smaller STR gap, needing only 515 and 108 lecturers respectively to attain their targets.

Kenya again led in the number of additional faculty needed in order to meet increased student enrolment and the STR by 2030, requiring 35,232 lecturers to cope with a higher number of students. Tanzania follows closely, needing to hire 33,291 teachers to meet demand and maintain ratios.

Once again South Sudan and Burundi will require the least number of faculty, needing 847 and 1,365 teaching staff members respectively, according to the projections.

“The number of faculty needed in Uganda is seven times less than Kenya and more than six times less than Tanzania’s,” it added.

The STR varies across subjects. For social sciences and education disciplines, the student-to-lecturer ratio is 18:1, in health and welfare at 7:1 and in fields such as natural sciences, mathematics, engineering, ICT, forestry, fisheries and veterinary science as 10:1.

Gender ratios

The region’s youngest country, South Sudan, followed by Burundi and Rwanda, also posted dismal results for gender faculty ratios, despite all the countries having set themselves the target of a male-to-female ratio of 2:1.

In some cases, the former two had a ratio of eight or six males to one female lecturer, in some cases less than 100 females compared with about 300 males.

While all the countries set their male to female ratios at 2:1, only Kenya and Tanzania achieved the norm as at the baseline years of 2017 and 2021 respectively.

“Something needs to be done to have more females in the academia in South Sudan’s academic arena. Burundi is the second-worst in this regard after South Sudan,” noted Migosi.

Despite performing poorly in other metrics, Kenya and Tanzania have achieved their policy norms, with females comprising half of their lecturers, Uganda following close behind.

In terms of additional faculty needed to meet STR goals by discipline, the survey found that Kenya needs the largest number of staff followed by Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and, with South Sudan trailing for lecturers to teach social sciences, journalism and information business administration, law and services.

The trend was almost always replicated when it came to other disciplines of education, health and welfare, natural sciences, and agriculture, forestry, fisheries and veterinary science.

Nearly no discipline met its policy norm for STR, with education being the worst-performing, despite its critical role in providing teaching staff for high schools and higher learning institutions as well.

A total of 15,075 PhD-level lecturers were recorded in the region, with data from Tanzania and Uganda lacking. However, researchers managed to establish that there were a total of 12,269 of them in Kenya using 2018-19 data, while there were 1,586; 976, and 244 in Burundi, Rwanda and South Sudan respectively, using 2019-21 data.

COVID and teaching

A further aspect of the study looked at the impact of COVID-19 on teaching models and the supply and demand of faculty in East Africa and found that there were challenges associated with the transition to online learning, including a general lack of digital skills and infrastructure.

It found that countries did not have clear guidance on how to conduct e-learning, and limited financial resources to invest in distance learning.

There was also a lack of clear guidance on the accreditation of online courses, as well as the quality assurance of online examinations by the regulatory community, Samuel Agyapong, senior research and evaluation manager, ESSA, told the event.

As a result, only 39% of private and 18% of public institutions were able to immediately transition to e-learning mode.

For faculty, the pandemic impacted on their work in different ways, with 70% of them reporting that they did not conduct research, and less than 25% were able to publish.

At the same time 32% of them experienced an increased workload with 53% of Rwandan teaching staff reporting having been more overworked. On the other hand, Ugandan faculty experienced the highest pay cuts, delayed and reduced benefits, and only 17% got paid on time.

Based on observations in various geographical locations, such as the International Association of Universities study, it is also fairly safe to assume that the pandemic amplified the move to layoffs, short-term contracts and reductions or freezes in recruitment, according to the report.

Their Kenyan and Tanzanian counterparts were luckier though, with 50% of them receiving their pay on time.

Across the region it was found that there was a high uptake in the use of video conferencing platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet, and institutional learner management platforms, while the Teams platform was only widely used in Rwanda. “The choice of these modes of delivery may be attributed to their cost,” Agyapong added.

The study recommended providing “equity-oriented support to faculty members”, and involving the private sector in addressing their challenges.

It called for striking the “right balance between investment in the physical infrastructure and e-resources”, as well as creating “faculty communities and support systems”.