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Forget about sustainable development: Low pay for professors drives a country into poverty and underdevelopment

By Prof. Oluoko-Odingo

The pursuit of Sustainable Development The four pillars of sustainable development (economic, social, cultural, and environmental) are anchored in the sound academic work of professors globally, including those from Kenya.

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How does the country intend to realize the goals without utilizing the same brains that choreographed them? Kenya is a signatory to the Agenda 2030 and the African Agenda 2063 and should the country feel that it is not ready, let us be bold enough and remove ourselves from the binding document.

The leadership in the country has the option to choose whether Kenya wants to continue falling in the category of a failed state or is truly committed to sustainability. Professors are highly trained individuals with shared roles and responsibilities globally, contribute to development as think tanks and provide direction and substance for growth. The Professor in this case is one that has earned a PhD, is well-published and rose from the ranks from Senior Lecturer to Associate Professor and finally, the Professor.

The title of the professorship is tied to quality, consistent, and serious research and publications. They are required to attend internationally conferences 9many times at their cost), register with professional bodies, and use universally, relevant and current teaching and learning materials and equipment. All the above responsibilities have costs that are pegged on the value of the US Dollar.

Kenya holds one of the UN Headquarters (meaning a lot USD in the country), yet the Professors are not paid enough to live comparable life to expatriates in the country. It means that:

  1. Other nationals benefiting from better salaries control the economy- live in best neighborhoods, can enjoy all the facilities, have the best jobs and their families have networks to keep the status quo, while citizens have no access to similar opportunities.
  2. The elite hold those in leadership at ransom for their own personal interests- the people have no voice, no democracy, with threats to sabotage the economy should they not listen.
  3. The lower the salary, relative to the US$, the more the country is underdeveloped, this can even be seen among the BRICS, India is not paying well and so the economy is also not strong.
  4. The BRICS have very strong currencies against the US Dollar, are paying better salaries, and are more developed, thus showing that emphasis on research leads to positive development outcomes.
  5. Inflation-linked to the US dollar is being paid for mostly by those that depend on US$, mostly professors who are international/Universally carry out transactions- travel, equipment, materials, and training and research.
  6. Low salaries for professor’s favours the West who can attract the best brains and pay them less in those destinations compared to their own citizens.
  7. It is a sign of high and endemic corruption as professors are trained to identify loopholes and resolve them.

The cost of demeaning low pays for Professors to the nation’s productivity

Low pay for professors has implications: low pay for professors lead to demoralized staff with lower productivity. The professors cannot afford to publish in high-impact journals and if they do, the work will not be open access and so no citation.

Low remuneration for professors ensures that professors do not belong to meaningful networks that can result in accessing funding for research (so much needed in tertiary institutions) and being unable to attend conferences in the global north (mostly self-sponsored) if serious issues are being discussed and so causes sidelining in the process determining growth in their disciplines. Further, professors will not have stable families for mental health, as they have challenges in providing the family needs.

Sadly, the Tenderpreneurs take all the consultancies and subcontract the Professors at low pay, leading to poor output that affect all related development sectors. Last but not list, the Universities cannot attract an adequate number of foreign students due to archaic research materials and so rank lower than other universities.

These salaries are way above that of a professor, knowing that some of the positions in the government are held by O-level graduates or first-degree holders, yet it takes about 20 years after acquiring a Ph.D. to attain the level of Professorship. Making Professors very senior members of society who deserve to be respected and appreciated for the role they play in development. No wonder the mathematics of economic development is failing in the nation, where there is a mismatch between salaries and the increasing cost of living, something not common in well-managed economies.

Even though these cadres of professionals enjoy relatively comfortable pay, they are not obliged to constantly travelled as part of their duty, or register on network organisations, if they need to, then the state provides them with travel allowances, have adjusted rates to counter inflation, reside in exclusive parts of the country with adequate security and transport to enable them increase productivity. Don’t professors need to maximize their productivity too? In the contrary, the system has ensured that professors are robbed of both political and economic power and thus are incapable of creating influence.

As the professors are neither within the deep state nor hustler category, it is unclear who should address their grievances. The 24-hour and 7 days’ annual workload requires inventing projects in sleep, actualizing them while awake, including the normal routine work. It was conveniently argued that professors benefit from consultancies and module II programmes and so do not need salary increases.

Thanks to the well-connected Tenderpreneurs who have cornered all consultancies and if they find a challenge, they will sub-contract professors with peanuts to accomplish the work. Similarly, module II problems have had their challenges, and reducing student numbers has made them non-lucrative for most disciplines.

The capitation to universities has been reduced and continues to thin down, arguing that basic education, including TVETs, requires priority. Where on earth can TVET graduates replace the brains of a professor? Professors are highly trained individuals, who can handle many tasks concurrently and deliver on results. Due to personal pride, self-preservation, and dignity, many of them shy away from being confrontational.

However, it is difficult to understand why the state would spend a colossal amount of money on training professors over the years, only to destroy them later. No wonder, some have chosen to align themselves very closely to each regime to benefit from left over from the sharing table. While the salaries of the above professionals are adjusted on the basis of inflation, professors are left on their own! It is like the story of the egg and the hen.

Conclusions and recommendations

It is clear that the Salary and Remuneration Commission (SRC), though formed with high hopes and expectations has not adequately tackled all remuneration challenges in the country. Their long period of work over the years has not corrected this anomaly. Could they be held hostage by some powerful institutions?

If that is the case, the stretch should not appear to be discriminating against the voiceless. An equitable, fair, and transparent system needs to be in place to deal with salaries for everyone. The SRC could be devolved to counties to determine the rates and international professions (like that of professors) to be among those determined nationally.

By making each county pay their Members of Parliament, County Assembly, and Legal officers, they will be under the observation of the electorate and can be recalled when not performing. The power to pass salary reviews will be left in the hand of each County Executive to ensure that employees are properly remunerated in a timely manner. The Committee in charge of the County SRC should be elected directly by the people and are therefore accountable to the electorate.

Professors’ network would be important to enable them to discuss consultancies openly and allocate to various disciplines and proceeds divided among them (like the module II format). This will bring better outcomes to the nation and the profession. Key to salaries should be time spent in school, years of experience, workload, and constituency/catchment in terms of services.

When implemented, the above recommendations will restore dignity to education and encourage future generations to take their studies seriously. The country will also be able to align resources to serious development issues while also restoring meritocracy and professionalism.

Professor Oluoko-Odingo works at the Department of Geography, Population and Environmental Studies, University of Nairobi

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