A new report from the Auditor General's office shows that there is need for close to 3,000 lecturers and others in more senior positions in the four of the five public universities. Universities with grave demand for more academic staff include Makerere, Gulu, Mbarara and Kyambogo.
In some public universities, the academic staffing is even below half of what is required by the National Council for Higher Education. To make it worse, the few dons in public universities are quitting for jobs in well-paying private and foreign universities and non-academic jobs.
At Makerere, it was noted that there were only 1,403 academic positions filled against the establishment of 2,654 positions. This left a total of 1,251 positions (about 47%) vacant.
Particularly, the report, which was released last week, shows that all the departments in the schools of economics and business were less than 50% staffed.
The Attorney General says he informed management that failure to have all approved positions filled overstretches the existing staff and impacts negatively on their performance.
But in response, management explained that the university is operating below 50% capacity in many units because they are underfunded by the Government. It adds that a request had been put before Government to enable staffing levels to be increased to at least 50%.
At Makerere's University Business School (MUBS), it was revealed that out of the established 1,150 posts, only 719 (62.5%) were filled, living a staffing gap of 431 posts (37.5%), of which 240 (55.7%) were academic posts.
Management explained that this was because the Government contributes only 20% to the wage bill, leaving the rest to be financed by internal sources. It further explained that the financing that had been promised to increase the staffing to 50% during the 2011/2012 financial year had not been availed.
A review of the Gulu University staffing revealed that out of the established 896 posts, 412 (46%) are filled leaving a staffing gap of 484 (54%) out of which 346 (72%) are academic posts. It was further noted that out of the 346 vacant academic posts, 142 are for key positions of senior lecturer, associate professor and professor.
The accounting officer explained that the recruitment plan he submitted to the responsible authorities was not fully honoured, reportedly due to budgetary constraints.
Mbarara University of Science and Technology provides for a total of 1,212 established posts. However, a review of the establishment master fi le revealed that only 459 posts had been filled, while 753 posts remained vacant.
This, the report warns will also gravely impact on the quality of education being offered. Mbarara university administration argued that its top governing unit, the council, has discussed this matter extensively on various occasions.
The issue, they explained, had always featured in the university's annual budgets as an unfunded priority. They explained further that the Government is aware and has promised to raise the staff structure (for all public universities) to 50%.
The education minister, Maj. Jessica Alupo, agrees that the public universities are seriously understaffed.
However, she explains that the finance ministry has for years not been able to substantially increase the wage bill for public universities, in spite of her ministry raising a request to increase funding to recruit more staff every year.
"The Auditor General's report is a clear and true indication of what is happening in public universities' staffing. We are doing our best to see this changed quickly," Alupo said.
However, this will not even be in the next financial year, since the finance ministry still did not provide for the increase of the wage bill. There is hope that the wage bill will be increased in the subsequent financial years to provide for the recruitment of the required staff.
Public universities like Makerere are running short of lecturers, especially at professor level
It is more worrying that as the universities grapple with the need for more staff, some lecturers are calling it quits.
There is a funding gap of sh25.7b for the four universities of Busitema, Gulu, Mbarara and Kyambogo to realise at least 50% of their staff establishment.
Public universities in Uganda are witnessing a mass exodus of lecturers and professors in the recent past, a trend that is believed to be fuelled by better pay offers abroad.
In certain instances, public universities have been forced to suspend some of new courses due to lack of the necessary staff.
The Government, however, says there should not be cause for worry since most of the senior lecturers have just crossed to private universities in Uganda and that it is gradually increasing their pay.
Makerere, Kyambogo, Busitema, Gulu and Mbarara universities are still having the highest attrition of their lecturers.
Makerere, between 2010 and to date, has lost over 25 top dons, most of them professors. Gulu University loses over 10 senior top lecturers every academic year, according to its management.
Mbarara University lost 20 dons in September last year and six more were expected to be on their way out in December. It was also revealed that researchers are massively leaving the university due to inadequate facilities and poor funding.
According to sources in Makerere University, "for every appointments board's siting, two to four resignations letters of senior dons are submitted."
Unlike Mbarara, in Makerere, internal sources in top management have revealed that courses, which have research projects are the best at retaining staff because of the gradual increase of research funds.
The McGregor report by the visitation committee shows that apart from academic qualifications, the provision of quality education is to a larger extent, limited by scarcity of experienced academic staff at the most senior levels of the academic ladder.
Of the 1,728 academic staff in the entire public university system, there are only 53 (3%) professors and 80 (4.6%) associate professors.
Kyambogo University by that time had no full teaching professors. By then, Mbarara had seven professors, Gulu had seven and MUBS four. By that time, some of the departments at Gulu University were being headed by teaching assistants.
Apart from the poor staffing capacity, several universities are grappling with inadequate facilities. Makerere University Business School, for instance, could not collect all the revenues that they had planned. According to the report, of the planned sh40b, only sh31b was realised.
"Such shortfalls in funding constrain management in implementing all the planned activities. In addition, the shortfalls may imply that management may not have compiled a realistic budget," the Auditor General said.
A number of the facilities at MUBS are so dilapidated that some were said to be not fi t for human habitation. The service period for all the fi re extinguishers had expired.
The management, however, explained to the AG that at the time of the establishment of the school in 1998, the infrastructure was in a bad state and that since then; most buildings on the campus had been renovated.
They further explained that staff houses were converted into office space or lecture rooms, lecture rooms were expanded and a few buildings constructed.
As the number of students enrolling for higher education increases, especially due to free primary and secondary education, it is important that there must be an increment in the human resource in public universities and other institutions, on top of the other facilities.