At least 1,000 university graduates stand to be fast-tracked to earn doctorate degrees annually as the government moves to bridge the ever widening ratio of university students to qualified faculty members.
Higher Education, Science and Technology secretary Harry Kaane told an annual conference on industry and higher education on Wednesday that the government would introduce funded teaching scholarships for fresh graduates.
“The ministry plans to introduce 1,000 government-funded teaching assistantships annually in both public and private universities for post-graduate students who would be transited straight from their undergraduate studies allowing them to attain PhDs,” said Prof Kaane.
He said this would help them serve as teaching assistants to support the increased enrollment of undergraduates while gaining hands-on experience in teaching and learning.
It is not yet clear how the programme will be run and who would qualify for the scheme which is likely to generate debate on whether fresh graduates are suited for the role.
Fast tracking fresh graduates with no work experience in the job market is also likely to generate debate on whether their research would provide solutions to the challenges facing industries and the society.
However, the scheme could help universities which have been losing highly experienced staff to the public and private sector reduce the work load on existing faculty freeing them up to spend more time on research.
Management University of Africa vice chancellor Jude Muthooko told participants at the conference research activities at public and private universities were poorly funded and little of overall budgets was allocated to research.
“Lamentably, research activities in public and private universities are downplayed in favour of teaching activities which occupy 50 to 60 per cent of the researcher’s time. A balance between research and teaching should be considered by reducing teaching workload in favour of an increased research workload,” said Prof Muthooko.
He said Kenyan universities have been accused of researching on issues which do not translate to tangible solutions to societal challenges, adding that they carry out the so called ‘blue sky research’ which is researcher-centred. According to the ministry of Higher Education Science and Technology there are approximately 3,000 faculty members in all universities.
The ministry estimates to achieve the desired student to faculty ratio of one faculty member for every 40 students, universities would need to graduate an average of 2,400 Phd’s a year over the next five years so that the country can have the required ratio by 2022.
“Our universities have been allocating very little of their overall budgets to research. No wonder it is claimed that research in our universities receives 70 to 90 per cent support from external funding, implying our internal funding streams have not been fully utilised or established,” said Prof Muthooko.
Prof Kaane said universities need to increase allocations for research by attracting increased funding from the government, the private sector and other organisations adding that the National Council of Science and Technology has this year been allocated Sh700 million, the bulk of which will be spent on research.
Commission of higher education secretary Prof David Some said the establishment of research universities will help drive innovation in the country.