How to bring down Kenya’s university ivory towers

While many Kenyan business schools put out calls for applications for new lecturing posts
While many Kenyan business schools put out calls for applications for new lecturing posts, very few industrial leaders apply. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The thrill of imparting new learning. The joy of serving others. The elation at seeing the fruits of one’s labour. Since ancient times, societies view teaching as a noble profession necessary for growth and prosperity. American author William Arthur Ward claimed that “teaching is more than imparting knowledge, it is inspiring change”.

The ability, skill, and erudition to pass on wisdom to new learners thirsty for self-betterment and knowledge epitomises deep human dreams for usefulness and making a difference. Psychology researchers Carol Ryff, Corey Keyes and Diane Hughes detailed human life aspirations of mastery, autonomy, growth, purpose and self-acceptance as crucial to personal fulfilment.

But why do more individuals not enter teaching professions? If imparting knowledge thrives as a key human desire, then why do universities garnish reputations since inception as ivory towers? The Merriam-Webster defines ivory tower as an impractical, often escapist attitude marked by aloof lack of concern with or interest in practical matters or urgent problems. Is the learning taught by institutions of higher learning useful for bettering our communities and countries?

Despite campaigns and pleas trying to push changes in the reward structures of universities the world over, the whole academic apparatus bases promotion success on publishing prowess rather than support for innovative changes impacting society. So, colleges and universities solve more and more theoretical and philosophical problems rather than practical implementable solution development.

What is one sure way to infuse more industry and society solutions into Kenya’s business school research agendas? Hire more organisational managers, executives, professionals, and game changers into the ranks of academia. Incorporate the titles and positions of “Professor of Practice” implying vast industry knowledge with applicable skills to transfer rather than the traditional, though still necessary and valid, cause and effect researched knowledge.


Talk to many successful businesspeople and a surprisingly high number of Kenyan industry leaders proclaim a deep desire to pursue an academic lecturing and research career at some point in their lives. However, most express a long-term near retirement future timeline for entering academia.

While many Kenyan business schools put out calls for applications for new lecturing posts, very few industrial leaders apply. A common refrain as the reason: low salaries. Given that senior lecturer entry salaries only stand at between 14percent to 21 percent that of a successful Kenyan corporate manager, it is easy to understand why more supervisors, executives, and industrial thought leaders do not enter academic ranks. So instead the profession attracts those with only researched knowledge or less successful business acumen unless a successful industry manager feels an epiphany from a major life event, mindset of altruism, or yearning for a change of pace.

But in other countries, business schools more successfully recruit successful business managers into lecturing roles.

One reason revolves around the fact that Kenyan university tuition rates subside as low compared incomes. In most nations, university fees are higher as percentage of gross national income per capita with 43 percent in America, 56 percent in the UK, 34 percent in South Korea, but only 29 percent in Kenya. So Kenyan universities have less financial resources to invest in lecturer salaries compared to the strength of our economy.

Second, Kenyan universities tend to put all lecturers on the same pay scale. Whether a professor teaches five students in a literature class or fifty students in a marketing class, many instructors will receive the same compensation. But in much of the rest of the world, the decentralised school model allows for different salaries for different faculty within the same university.

Business school faculty outside Kenya usually earn between 70 percent and 200 percent higher salaries than those of other non-business schools at the same university. Why the pay differential? Business school classes often fill up faster and hold more students than other areas of studies. Also, business schools usually bring in the lion’s share of revenues into a university that then gets redistributed across the institution. Graduate programmes in business also usually charge higher fees than non-business programmes.

The best and brightest

Unfortunately, until the higher-education fraternity pays more comparable salaries to industry, the best and the brightest will not choose to lecture as a career. So, learners miss out on leading trends and knowledge. As yet, learners do not put pressure from the demand side for more lecturers with more industry experience. Most, sadly just want the paper qualification rather than knowledge.

In summary, higher education needs professors of practice as well as research. Kenyan university fees are low compared to our economy and business school lecturers do not get more rewards commensurate with greater returns they bring into institutions. Until structural changes occur, the trend is unlikely to change in the near to mid-range future.

Twitter: @ScottProfessor