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Salaries agency's new public pay structure unfair to some

By Henry M. Bwisa | April 6th 2017 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

One of this century’s innovations in global academia can be said to be the introduction of the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) in 2003. In recent years, countries as diverse as India, the Russian Federation and the Netherlands have made use of the rankings in their partnership schemes, recognition and immigration policies.

Rankings have also helped institutions looking for international partners and prospective students searching for a place to study. Increasingly, employers use rankings to find universities to source graduates. Kenyan universities have not fared as well as desired in world rankings. I know that many of them are investing in efforts to improve the situation.

Audit firm

There are a number of approaches to the rankings with some deemed subjective.

It is perhaps due to this subjectivity that UK’s Times Higher Education (THE) opened up its influential World University Rankings to independent audit by professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

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In a move unprecedented in the global university rankings field, THE subjected its methodological description, its data capture and handling process and its rankings calculations to a PwC audit. The PwC confirmed that the audit for the 2016-2017 World University Ranking had been completed successfully.

Clearly therefore PwC (UK) recognizes that universities can be ranked in areas such as - research, teaching, employability and international outlook. By extension therefore PwC (UK) recognizes that university teaching staff should be assessed according to these and similar elements.

Other measures used to rank universities reflect elements of academic quality, including how many of an institution’s alumni have won a Nobel prize and how many faculty have won Nobel prizes as a result of the work done while at the university (in order to prevent rich universities from “buying” Nobel prize winners).

They also measure the importance of research outputs by examining where and how often faculty publish in certain key indicator journals.

Reading between the lines, it does not require rocket science to conclude that highly ranked universities have good professors and good ambiance to learn. Some sponsors are attracted more to universities with a good ratio of professors per faculty. The professorial position is therefore key to any given university. Virtually every university lecturer aspires to be a professor.

In Kenya today there is a Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC)-propelled exercise to rationalise salaries in the civil service including public universities. Coincidentally the PwC (K) has been contracted to develop a tool to assist in this exercise.

The Kenya PwC tool does not adequately take into consideration the universities ranking elements outlined above and approved by the PwC (UK). I have personally assessed it and can confidently say that it has room for improvement.

The PwC (K) tool which works on an input-process-output model does not adequately capture the core processes that go on at a university and therefore also misses to capture and reward the key outputs of a university.

Since the core functions of the teaching staff are inadequately captured by the current SRC tool their weighting is not reflected. It is like lumping a lecturer together with a factory worker or a policy maker in a ministry and evaluating them with the same tool. The result is an improperly judged university don. The most affected is the highest level of teaching staff, which then gets unattractive remuneration.

Economics has terminologies like short run and long run. In the short run, the SRC tool may work to rationalise the salaries but in the long run the rationalisation will make it unattractive to aspire to be a professor in Kenya.

With the professorial position ultimately made unattractive, the ration of professors among staff will drop, yet this level contributes most to World University ranking. Kenyan universities are likely to drop further in the said rankings.

Prof Bwisa teaches Entrepreneurship at JKUAT. [email protected]

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