Struggle to recruit is a global problem

November 9, 2006

Commonwealth universities report difficulties in getting staff, finds David Jobbins.

Commonwealth universities in Australasia and North America are finding staff recruitment more difficult than their counterparts in the UK, according to a report from the Association of Commonwealth Universities.

The survey, based on responses from 123 universities in Commonwealth countries, found that 56 per cent of universities reported moderate to significant difficulty in recruitment.

Predictably, African universities experienced high levels of difficulty compared with other regions.

Universities in the UK indicated relatively low levels of concern over recruitment and retention. Universities in Australia and New Zealand and in North America said that recruitment was becoming more of a problem.

Asked to look ahead to the next five years, a significant proportion (87 per cent for Australasia and69 per cent for North America) anticipated an increasingly difficult recruitment and retention climate.

Overall, more than half the universities that responded to the survey shared this fear but felt retention was less of an issue than recruitment - 64 per cent of universities had little or no difficulty retaining academic staff.

The report concludes that academic staff recruitment is an increasingly significant challenge for most institutions faced with rising competition from within higher education and from other sectors. While retention appears to be less of a problem, it remains a significant challenge for some institutions, particularly those in Africa.

The disciplines experiencing most difficulty in recruitment and retention are business studies, engineering sciences, medical and clinical sciences, mathematics and physical sciences, information and communications technology, and chemical and biological studies.

Some 59 per cent of the universities that responded were in countries classified as highly developed in the 2005 UN Human Development Index; 29.5 per cent were in countries classified as medium; and 11.5 per cent in countries classified as low development.

Respondents in highly developed countries tended to experience greater difficulty recruiting for business studies and related areas, whereas those in countries ranked medium and low on the development index had difficulty recruiting staff in the fields of medicine and clinical sciences and engineering sciences.

The report's authors, Jay Kubler and Christopher DeLuca, say that, overall, "there is a consensus that the changing demands on universities necessitate a more strategic approach to human resource management with regard to recruiting and retaining staff".

Most of the universities in the survey had a human resources strategy in place.

Of these, 96 per cent specifically address the issue of academic recruitment and retention. North America has the largest proportion of institutions (29 per cent) without a human resources strategy.

* Universities are bidding for up to 200 scholarships for African health and education personnel to gain UK qualifications without leaving their home countries or jobs.

It is believed to be the largest expansion of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission's distance-learning programme, which has supported more than 500 students since 2003.

Some African students are already making use of the programme. Mwamba Nayame, from Chainama College of Health Sciences, near Lusaka, Zambia, is studying for a masters in public health at Leeds Metropolitan University.

Jonathan Jenkins, CSC assistant secretary, said: "We are looking for innovative proposals from UK universities that directly address development objectives."

The deadline for applications to the CSC is December 15.

david.jobbins@thes.co.uk

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