Dar es Salaam — Universities in Tanzania are grappling with a shortage of qualified lecturers, according to university heads.
The revelation comes at a time education stakeholders are voicing concern about the quality of graduates in the country.
Speaking in Dar es Salaam at a meeting that brought together the government, university vice chancellors and key education stakeholders recently, the Mzumbe University Vice Chancellor, Prof Lughano Kusiluka, said the problem remains unresolved despite many appeals.
"We have witnessed in other areas staff members being employed regularly, but it seems universities have been forgotten. We ask that this area also be considered," he said.
Responding to the request, the Minister of Education, Science, Technology and Vocational Training, Prof Joyce Ndalichako, told The Citizen that the problem was well documented, and that there was an allocation of funds that would provide scholarships to 1,000 academics and make it possible for them to qualify for university teaching.
"This is one of the steps we are taking to ensure that quality education is provided at our higher learning institutions. We need to find lasting solutions to these challenges," she said.
Tanzania Commission for Universities (TCU) figures show that the number of university academic staff increased from 6,238 in 2019 to 7,187 in 2020. At the same time, student enrolment has increased by an average of 4.7 percent annually from 177,963 students in the 2017/18 academic year to 206,305 in 2020/21.
In Education, Law, Medical and Health Sciences, Humanities and Arts as well as Business programmes, there are unsatisfactory ratios of students to lecturers.
In 2019, Education programmes enrolled 54, 156 students (524 lecturers); Medical and Health Sciences had 23,374 students (802 lecturers); Humanities and Arts had 6,345 students (616 lecturers); Law had 12,424 students (205 lecturers), and Business had 28,300 students against 466 lecturers.
By 2020, Education programmes had 51,489 students and 708 lecturers; Medical and Health Sciences had 24,642 students and 1,134 lecturers, while Business had 107,913 students and 729 lecturers.
According to TCU, by 2020 there were a total of 7,187 academic staff in universities, of which 4,863 were in public universities and 2 324 in private higher learning institutions. Among them, 5,088 were male staff and 2, 099 female.
Education stakeholders are of the view that if these factors are not looked into and dealt with accordingly, the quality of education in the country runs the risk of experiencing a calamitous drop.
Dr Thomas Jabir, an education consultant, said there has been an increase in the number of universities and colleges, which, however, is not proportional to the increase in the relevant human resources.
According to TCU, Tanzania had by February 2016 had a total of 33 fully-fledged public and private universities, a number that has since increased to 47 universities - 19 public and 28 private.
"Producing a PhD holder takes much time, and is very expensive as well. It can even take up to ten or 12 years to get one," said Dr Jabir.
He said the search for qualified and competent lecturers to teach at universities can be tiring, complex and at times frustrating.
"This has seen some universities tinker with the possibility of letting assistant tutors with bachelor's degrees to teach in undergraduate programmes."
Dr Jabir said that was especially the case at most private universities despite the fact that regulations require at least a master's degree for an assistant lecturer to teach in an undergraduate programme.
A 2017 report by the Tanzania Higher Learning Institutions Trade Union (THTU) had put the shortage of academic staff in the country's higher education institutions at 44 per cent.
The report, which was intended to document the challenges facing academic staff teaching in various higher learning institutions, revealed that 53 per cent of academic staff in senior levels who were teaching at universities had already retired, and were working on contract.
The report noted that the shortage was more acute among privately-run higher education institutions, although it did not cite a figure.
"This challenge has been around for a long time, and the source may be the government letting university councils look for lecturers and other university staff. This has led to colleges not being able to hire qualified academic staff, and thus end up using tutorial assistants," said Dr Anastella Simboja, a former lecturer at Mzumbe University.
This was among the reasons TCU banned 19 institutions of higher learning from admitting new students in the 2017/18 academic year.
This went hand in hand with the delisting of over 75 courses at 22 universities.
One way of improving the situation, experts suggest, is for the government to create a conducive environment for universities to develop human resources that are much sought-after by these institutions. "The government can either give universities loans for that purpose or top up the universities' human resources development budget," Dr Simboja said.