STATE universities in Kenya have finally accepted that low salaries and poor conditions of service have led to a serious brain drain over the past ten years.
Presenting their views to a government commission on the status of public universities, lecturers and administrators said that as well as low salaries and allowances, a lack of facilities was stopping them from teaching and conducting research. They said none of the five public universities, Nairobi, Kenyatta, Moi, Egerton and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, had been buying new textbooks and journals.
Senate members at Kenyatta University told the commission that in the past four years about 20 full professors had left to work in Europe, the United States and South Africa. Others have obtained teaching jobs at less internationally-recognised universities in Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Many have also joined local private universities and high-cost secondary schools.
Documents presented to the commission show that over 15 per cent of lecturers have left in less than four years at Kenyatta University. Lecturers at Nairobi University medical school have resigned in large numbers to work in universities in South Africa or to work in Botswana. Others have gone into local private practice.
To curb the brain drain the lecturers proposed salary rises and improvements in terms of service. They suggested that vice chancellors should be paid a basic salary equivalent to about $2,800 a month, tutorial fellows $850, and lecturers $1,000 rising to $1,800 for full professors. This compares with $230 and $360 for associate professors. Full professors are paid about $400 a month.
On top of basic salary rises, the academic staff are demanding a tax-free housing allowance ranging from an equivalent of $400 for tutorial fellows up to $1,400 for vice chancellors. Lecturers get a taxable housing allowance of $150 while vice chancellors get the equivalent of $400.
The commission was told that while the value of the Kenyan shilling in relation to the US dollar has depreciated more than eight times between 1976 and 1997 there had been no corresponding increase in salaries and allowances to cushion the trend.
Academics in Botswana are earning more than their Kenya counterparts. A tutorial fellow is paid twice the salary of a vice chancellor in a Kenyan university. Tutorial fellows in Botswana earn an equivalent of $11,680 per year, while a vice chancellor there draws a basic pay of $42,400.
In Kenya, a tutorial fellow receives $1,800 while a vice chancellor earns an equivalent of $6,000 per year. A lecturer's salary in Botswana is $25,900 while his Kenyan counterpart gets $2,760. Full professors in Botswana earn over $36,000 which is about nine times the Kenyan equivalent.
Apart from poor pay, lecturers complain of lack of time to concentrate on research because of undergraduate teaching commitments. The five public universities have 40,000 undergraduates and 1,500 postgraduate students.
Because of these problems, many universities in Kenya have been unable to fill academic vacancies. Egerton University has been unable to fill half its vacancies. Nairobi has problems in filling posts in its faculties of medicine, engineering and architecture, while Moi University has yet to fill 30 per cent of its vacancies.
More serious is that some of the universities have recruited staff with no higher degree, despite this being a statutory requirement.
According to William Saint, a World Bank consultant on education, more than 23,000 academics from Africa are emigrating from their own countries in search of jobs.