Terry Wambui, 26, is a PhD student at Kisii University, Nairobi campus, and a lecturer at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA) where she teaches Development Studies. Wambui, who also runs a youth foundation, is a self-declared research lover. She plunged into active research in 2013 when she was 22, always finding time to carry out research for her postgraduate studies, amid her demanding jobs and social life commitments.
“I had just completed a six-month internship at the then Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports when the idea to pursue research in youth-related issues hit me,” says Wambui, the founder of Tunza Talanta Foundation, an organisation that promotes the social-economic welfare of young people living in informal settlements.
She undertook her Master’s at CUEA after completing her undergraduate degree in Integrated Community Development at Daystar University in 2013.
Her Master’s thesis was titled, “Youth and Sports for Sustainable Development”. It was after researching on this topic that she got the idea of starting an organisation for young people to help improve their livelihoods through sports.
Wambui says Tunza Talanta, which was registered in 2015, offered her an opportunity to implement her Master’s thesis problem statement, and acted as a platform for her to write a research proposal that attracted an international grant.
In March this year, Wambui’s research proposal attracted a grant of $1,000 (Sh103,950) from The Pollination Project, a Carlifornia-based organisation. The money went into purchasing sporting equipment for a volleyball team of young people living with disabilities.
Her story is an uplifting one at a time university lecturers are being blamed for neglecting research, citing lack of time and funds.
Wambui disagrees with the notion that pursuing research is an arduous task, especially for university dons who are also expected to teach and undertake administrative duties.
“The trick lies in devotion and choosing a topic of interest. Most researchers get it wrong when they make haphazard choices to merely finish a project,” says Wambui.
She says the trick is to focus one’s research on issues pressing the society. This, she says, will enable universities to provide “real-time solutions” to the issues affecting people through research.
According to Prof Francis Aduol, the vice-chancellor of the Technical University of Kenya (TUK), the quality and volume of research at most universities is wanting because lecturers are not aware that they are hired to teach as well as engage in research.
“Most lecturers only do research for promotion after which they see no need to do it,” says Prof Aduol.
Wambui says it is wrong for a lecturer to only stay in the classroom without being involved in research: “To execute your teaching mandate as a lecturer, you can’t distance yourself from the fact that we live in an ever changing world, which calls for a continuous change in the curriculum. You can’t afford to disseminate “stale” information to students.”
Her sentiments are echoed by Prof Paul Shiundu, the deputy vice-chancellor in charge of Academics, Research and Students at TUK.
“A university academic staff member is guided by one principle: Publish or perish. That is why anybody with a PhD seeking to scale the academic ladder must continuously do research apart from teaching,” says Prof Shiundu.
Commission for University Education (CUE) regulations require a PhD holder at a lecturer level seeking promotion to spend at least three years in the university’s system. Within that period, they are required to have supervised at least three postgraduate students to completion. They are also supposed to have at least four scholarly publications to merit promotion to a senior lecturer.
Up the ladder, a senior lecturer seeking promotion to associate professor must meet similar requirements and must have written grants for sponsorship for their research proposals.
According to Prof Shiundu, a lecturer is required to dedicate 60 per cent of his or her time to teaching, 30 per cent to research and the remaining 10 per cent to administrative duties and community service.
Prof Shiundu says that university dons who do not adhere to CUE regulations remain at the same position for many years, some unable to obtain PhDs.
As a result, Kenyan universities are experiencing a serious shortage of PhD holders among academic staff. A two-day conference on funding research convened by the Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa at the University of Nairobi was informed of the dire shortage of PhD university lecturers. It was revealed that out of about 6,000 students enrolled in universities for PhDs last year, only 369 graduated from the programme which is characterised by intensive research.
Of the three faculties at TUK - Applied Sciences and Technology, Engineering Science and Technology and Social Sciences and Technology - most research is carried out in Applied Sciences and Technology.
According to Prof Shiundu, there are many blocks that stand in the way of research at TUK, key among them being lack of enough funding. He says the institution allocates less than one per cent of its budget to research.
Prof Aduol also blames inadequate of research at Kenyan universities on poor academic staffing, a concern shared by Prof Kamau Ngamau, the Co-operative University acting vice-chancellor, who says the few qualified academic staff who are supposed to be involved in research have taken up different engagements such as teaching module II students where they get better pay.
However, the biggest challenge many university lecturers continue to grapple with, according to Prof Francis Wambalaba, deputy vice-chancellor in charge of Academic Research at the United States International University, is funding.
“In Kenya, only one out of 10 proposals can be accepted by funding organisations compared to the United States where out of three proposals, at least one can be accepted and funded,” Prof Wambalaba says.
The job market, which has blamed universities for lack of relevant research, also takes the blame for the sorry state of research in learning institutions, according to the education specialists.
“It is very difficult to find any entity in the industry that is willing to work with universities to come up with relevant research that addresses the changing industry trends,” says Prof Wambalaba.
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