A lack of clear plans to replace East Africa's ageing professors, most of whom are due to retire within ten years, is becoming a major barrier to quality education.
It is estimated that 60 per cent of full professors and 45 per cent of associate professors in East African universities will have retired in the next ten years.
Matthew Luhanga, vice-chancellor of the University of Dar es Salaam, said the impact will soon be felt and that most of East Africa's universities have a shortage of PhDs ready to replace ageing academics.
To avert the crisis, some universities are raising the retirement age of senior academic staff. At Dar es salaam, the retirement age has been increased from 55 to 60, while at Nairobi and Kenyatta, some professors who had expected to retire at 60 have been asked to stay on contract until they reach 70 or more.
With the exception of Makerere, which recently launched several aggressive staff-development strategies, the universities lack structured doctoral training to prepare junior lecturers for academic leadership. In most universities in East Africa, promotion criteria are based on long service rather than success in teaching or research.
"Such archaic and bureaucratic personnel systems often promoted lecturers to professorships in fields outside their competence," said a senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi.
Gaps exist in the universities with some departments having just one professor, several lecturers and assistant lecturers while posts of associate professors and senior lecturers are vacant.
Universities regard a PhD or equivalent as essential for lecturers aspiring to top positions in academia. But estimates indicate that about 80 per cent of faculty in East African universities hold masters degrees and therefore cannot qualify for professorial ranks. Improving the quality of faculty has been affected by a near collapse of postgraduate programmes. Holders of masters degrees are not encouraged to register for doctorate study, and those who do take up to seven years to complete their PhDs due to poor supervision, according to sources at the University of Nairobi.
Few lecturers are willing to enrol for higher degrees locally because they are not sure whether they will be able to finish them.