PAY rises for academics at universities in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya are the only way to stop the brain drain to industry and to richer neighbouring countries, say educationists.
Officials from the three countries meeting in Arusha, Tanzania, recommended the increases as they stepped up cooperation between their universities.
Robert Blair, a former academic registrar at the University of Zimbabwe, said East African universities served as a staff reservoir for Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, where salaries were higher.
This has left many universities in East Africa unable to fill vacancies. The University of Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania has lost over half its academic staff in accounting, economics, medicine and business administration to the private sector.
Egerton University in Kenya has also lost half its lecturers, while the University of Nairobi has lost 30 per cent of medical lecturers to universities elsewhere or private practice. The trend is similar in Makerere University, Uganda, where many lecturers in education, medicine and economics have gone abroad.
The three countries intend to re-establish the East African Examinations Board and harmonise tertiary education. Senior education officials at the Arusha meeting said they will set up staff and student exchange programmes.
Plans are also under way to revitalise the Inter-University Council of East Africa, a moribund organisation that regularised entry into universities in the three countries before the East African Community broke up in 1977.
Joseph Obonyo, senior deputy director of education in Kenya, said: "We intend to establish centres of excellence in various universities to benefit people of East Africa." The aim "is to revitalise higher and secondary education in the three partner states to a level we can be proud of in future".
The secretariat has formed a committee to study degree programmes in all the public universities. Each university would be required to retain its originality, but the committee will work on how uniformity and improvement of degree programmes could be monitored. The universities are also expected to undertake joint research and cultural activities.
So far no stable collaboration exists between universities in East Africa. Each university has different requirements in its undergraduate or postgraduate programmes, while collaborative research is almost non-existent with each institution pursuing its own academic agenda.