Governments and universities in Africa must do more and join forces to create conducive academic and professional environments with conditions of service that will enable university professors to do their jobs and improve their contributions to knowledge production.
Some of the challenges facing university teachers in Africa and suggested interventions were suggested during the UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education (WHEC2022) on the theme “Reinventing Higher Education for a sustainable future” and organized in Barcelona, Spain, from 18 to 20 May.
Professor Olusola Oyewole, Secretary General of the Association of African Universities, said Academia News that university professors in Africa operate in difficult circumstances.
“Many of them are burdened with few educational resources to support the research work of their graduate students.
“[They] are frustrated because they are not paid enough, they conduct research in difficult situations of underfunding and lack of research infrastructure, and they work with poor students who also struggle to pay their tuition fees. schooling,” Oyewole said.
Professor José Frantz, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, said Academia News she agreed with the picture painted by Oyewole.
“Burnout is a real phenomenon for African teachers and should not be underestimated, as they constantly operate in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment,” she said.
Going further, Professor Stephen Kiama, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nairobi in Kenya, said Academia News that as university enrollment continues to rise due to the high demand for higher education, most university professors in Africa “find themselves at a crossroads to make time for research and teaching large undergraduate classes with limited resources”.
“It’s quite exhausting for many, which leads to exhaustion,” Kiama said.
According to him, academics therefore prefer to do research rather than teaching and correcting undergraduate scripts.
They need supportive research ecosystems for scholarships and for mentorship of doctoral and postdoctoral students, he added.
“Because African professors are relatively underpaid for the important role they play in transforming society, they still face the temptation to engage in consulting firms where they receive a salary and little credit for their sweat, because the results belong to those who pay,” Kiama said.
“Governments must protect their jewels: their teachers,” Kiama concluded.
Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu from Bayero University in Kano in Nigeria also agreed that professors in Africa face many pressures.
“African teachers operate in their traditional, conventional and often conservative environment. Low wages, coupled with depressed economies, high levels of corruption and societal obligations are pressure enough for anyone,” Adamu added.
For example, in Nigeria, public university campuses have been closed since February 2022 due to a work stoppage by the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities, or ASUU, which is advocating for better funding of the higher education system.
One of the grievances is the low wages they earn. A senior Nigerian professor at the top of the pay scale earns around US$1,000 a month, according to Adamu.
On average, there are more than 500 students per class as facilities are insufficient to absorb the current 2.1 million students in Nigerian universities and, in this context, the government has frozen the hiring of new teachers, according to Adam.
“There needs to be more goodwill from the government to make university education affordable for Nigerian students and enable professors to work more efficiently,” Adamu said.
“The lives of African teachers are controlled by forces that go beyond the mantra ‘publish or perish’.
“Factors such as many family obligations distract from the level of focus on their research,” he added.
Furthermore, African professors who truly excel in their calling are often given political appointments as opinion leaders and drivers of social development – a situation that severely limits their subsequent research activities, according to Adamu.
Limited international publications
Adamu is also concerned about the publishing industry and how it affects the work done by professors.
According to him, opportunities to publish internationally are limited because the academic publishing industry seems to have taken a “micro aggressive” or “cabbalistic” stance when it comes to considering the research of African professors where the preference seems to be given to non-African teachers. , or condescendingly to “collaborations” with a non-African professor in research rooted in Africa.
“Editors of book collections to be published by major publishers or journal publishers often take a position that African scholars, hampered by a lack of sufficient funding, are unable to produce world-class research and, therefore, therefore, must be “portable”. through different stages of writing and presenting their work,” Adamu said.
“Of course, corrections, revisions, etc. are most welcome and part of the academic flow. However, some take it to intimidating levels, which is off-putting,” he said.
“Publishing without being condescending would be a big boost to the morale of African professors and their ability to juggle social pressures and research activities. All over the world, publishing is the oxygen that keeps teachers alive,” Adamu said.
Frantz said there was a need to help teachers across the continent strike a balance by creating supportive environments.
Continuous competition rather than collaboration has contributed to burnout and burnout in academia, she said.
“It may sound like a cliché to say that ‘sharing is caring’, but I believe that if we operate in the true spirit of collaboration and knowledge sharing, we will find that we don’t always have to reinvent the wheel to solve some of the challenges we face, but [that we] can draw on the best practices of others,” added Frantz.
“African universities should seriously consider what it means to create an enabling environment for academics and support staff,” she stressed.
In a context of collaboration rather than competition, which will require a change of mentality, Frantz said that an interdisciplinary approach to lead [collaborative] teaching, research and engagement could help ease the burden on academics.
Focusing on interventions, Oyewole said African countries should ensure that their teachers are well paid.
“African teachers will need to engage with their national governments and help create an enabling environment that will help African teachers contribute to the development of their nations,” Oyewole added.
“Indeed, academics should be the conscience and driving force of their countries, and governments should create the necessary environment to support the growth of knowledge for development,” he said.