Kenyan universities are heading for a crisis as they look increasingly unlikely to hit a target for all lecturers to have a doctorate by this autumn.
A report from the country’s Commission for University Education says that, according to latest data, just 32 per cent of academic staff possess a PhD. A 2014 directive issued by the commission, the government’s higher education regulator, said that lecturers without a PhD by its deadline – originally November 2018, now pushed back to October 2019 – would not be able to continue in their jobs.
The commission’s paper, which is based on data for 2016-17, says that the majority of lecturers – 53 per cent – have master’s degrees.
Kenya’s Universities Academic Staff Union has claimed that the directive “breached the constitution” because its members had not been properly consulted.
Tristan McCowan, professor of international education at UCL, said it would be impossible for Kenyan universities to achieve the target by October. Building PhD capacity took decades – not years, and certainly not months, he said.
The commission “does have the best intentions” with the initiative, Professor McCowan acknowledged, as “it is very important for Kenyan higher education to enhance its doctoral education”. There is currently a bottleneck caused by rising numbers of undergraduates at Kenyan universities and a need to develop more high-quality staff.
Kenya also needed to boost its research efforts, Professor McCowan added. Many countries were interested in collaborations, but Kenya lacked the research capacity to embark on them. “[Increasing the number of PhDs] is a good idea, but it’s extremely difficult to implement,” he said. “If you don’t have enough well-established academics with PhDs, how do you supervise new ones? And I don’t see how they will be able to lay off two-thirds of the workforce.”
Professor McCowan pointed out that countries such as Brazil had significantly improved their PhD capacity but that this effort had begun in the 1960s. “It also requires extra funding,” he said.
What’s more, Professor McCowan added, such a drive, however well-intentioned, could lead to a “panic for a PhD” that could damage higher education. “If it is badly managed, you might get a diploma mill, with academics churning through PhDs without the full experience, which is not in anybody’s interest,” he said.