By Mubatsi Asinja Habati
Varsity left short of 1,200 lecturers
Makerere University is daunted by vacant academic staff posts leaving its few lecturers overloaded and fatigued, a 2011 value for money audit report by Auditor General reveals. The university is supposed to have 2,491 academic staff in its eight colleges but the audit conducted by the office of the auditor general found the university has only 1,262 (51%) lecturers leaving 1,229 (49%) vacancies unoccupied, thereby adversely affecting teaching and supervision activities at the university.
The Auditor General’s report focused on three financial years from 2008 to 2011. Too much workload met with very little pay is one of the main reasons why Makerere University is losing and not attracting better academic staff, according to the Auditor General.
The report says that even some of the available senior academic staff are quitting Makerere to join other universities or businesses. The turnover of the senior staff in search of career growth was attributed to the inflexibility of the existing staff structure. The report notes that 68 members of academic staff left Makerere University between 2008 and 2011 for various reasons “yet it is difficult to replace lecturers in some disciplines “like Literature, Mass Communication, Accounting, Engineering and Medicine because of the rigorous process and funding required to train staff”.
The university management told the Auditor General that the vacant posts were due to failure by the University to attract, recruit and retain staff because of the low pay and lack of auxiliary benefits like housing and transport. Besides the university, management said the Ministry of Education and Sports (MOES) advised public universities to plan up to only 50% recruitment of the established structure due to lack of funds. The University has requested the government to offer funding or the outstanding 50% staff to fill the establishment.
Given that the core role of the university is to train students, that role cannot be properly executed when the institution lacks sufficient trainers. “Scrutiny of the staffing level, however, revealed that out of the 1,618 members of academic staff in the 8 selected colleges, only 655 (40.5%) were filled up; leaving 963 (59.5%) posts vacant,” reads the report. It adds: “Staffing gaps affects effective teaching of students and the supervision of their research projects. This will in turn negatively impact on the quality of education received by students.” For example, the average contact hours the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHUSS) was 30 hours which exceeded the ideal 10 contact hours per week recommended by National Council for Higher Education.
The Acting Vice Chancellor, Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba, told The Independent that although staff shortage is a big problem, the university cannot independently resolve it and is for the government to intervene.
“The government has not yet provided money for recruitment just like in other government departments,” said Baryamureeba in early May. He did not say when the academic staffing gap challenge would be resolved.
Of the 202 approved academic staff at the College of Computing and Information Sciences (COCIS) only 23 posts are filled leaving 179 posts unfilled. This leaves the College of Computing with the highest percentage (89%) of vacant posts followed by the College of Business and Management Studies (COBAMS) at 81%. The staff categories most affected in each of the colleges were professors, associate professors, senior lectures and lecturers.
Makerere is also grappling with inadequate physical facilities, like: computers, classrooms, science laboratories, teaching materials, equipment and office space for academic staff.
“Despite the substantial expenditure by Makerere University of Shs 377.8 billion during the financial years 2008/2009 to 2010/2011, there are: inadequate academic staff, who are also not adequately researching and publishing; unaccredited academic programmes being offered,” the Auditor General’s report says. “These challenges are all affecting the teaching and learning process hence lowering the quality of education offered.”
The Auditor General says even some of the employed lecturers at various colleges do not have the required qualifications. The human resource department at the University showed that the percentage of academic staff with PhDs was lower than the ideal standard set, but within the acceptable range. Lecturers with Masters Degrees were above the ideal standard set by the National Council for Higher Education.
On average, PhD holders were at an acceptable level, however, the College of Engineering, Design, Art, and Technology had 14% of its 93 teaching with PhDs, a level that could be improved upon while COBMAS (6%) and COEES (7%) had unacceptable levels. On the other hand, all colleges had levels of Masters Holders that were above the ideal standard, except for CAES (57%), which has an acceptable level.
The report adds that because of the inadequate academic staff, the University could not take full control of the academic programmes without outsourcing part time lecturers who are difficult to manage because of the divided loyalty since they have other jobs elsewhere. The average percentage of part time lecturers especially in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHUSS) and COBAMS was 40% as compared to the ideal percentage of 10%.
The shortage of staff has also resulted into sharing of lecturers across colleges. For instance, staff in the Department of Mathematics in the College of Natural Sciences are also offering basic arithmetic training to students in other colleges, like College of Education and External Studies (COEES), COCIS and COBAMS.
“This is what we have been agitating against all along. You find that the available staff are overworked and paid little and unable to attract new staff. The university pays staff basing on the money the government remits and it collects internally. In most cases government contribution is less which means less pay to lecturers and the university will do a lot to squeeze its budget to cater for the available staff. The university is left with less options of recruiting new competitive lecturers because of funding gaps,” says Loius Kakinda, the Makerere University Academic Staff Association spokesman. “The limited staff affects the quality of students produced since the lecturers will feel overworked to handle the heavy workload. The government must do all it can to increase its funding to the university.”
The report attributes the failure to have ideal numbers of academic staff with PhDs and Masters degree qualifications, in the case of CAES, to the inability by the Makerere University to attract and recruit such caliber of staff due to the low pay offered by the University. In addition, due to insufficient funds, there were inadequate training opportunities for existing staff to upgrade their qualifications. Inadequate number of staff with PhDs and Masters negatively affects teaching, research, and supervision of students.
The university management said there is a policy of ensuring that all lecturers (except those in clinical disciplines) have PhDs according to the Mujaju report. Generally, the University has 47% of its staff with PhDs which includes staff in administration who supervise graduate students but excludes assistant lecturers and teaching assistants who are normally not considered permanent academic staff. Minus that category, the percentage is 57%. The international benchmark for a research led University is 50%.
In its recommendation, the report says Makerere University and the government should jointly develop a strategy for funding the university wage bill to enable the recruitment of staff as per the established university structure. It also urges the government and the university to improve on the remuneration of academic staff so as to enable attraction, recruitment and retention of the required academic staff.
A review of the University’s financial statements, shows that out of Shs 4.8 billion budgeted for staff training during the period under study, only Shs 2.1 billion (that is 44%) was received and spent on staff training leaving a deficit of Shs 2.6 billion (that is 56%).
It was also found that 50 lecturers with the requisite qualifications have not been promoted because of the corresponding wage bill involved.