Like much of East Africa, Uganda is one of the most favourable job markets for academics either looking to gain a foothold into academia after a PhD or mid-career academics seeking to take a break from their home country. Experts say given the level of liberalization Uganda and East African economies underwent in recent years, the higher education sector is more or less an open market. The Ugandan government has opened up the higher education market, with foreign and private universities now setting up stalls across the country so as to meet the demand for university education.
Uganda is a beautiful country fondly referred to as “the pearl of Africa”, English is the official language and the country already attracts a growing community of foreign expatriates, especially those working with NGOs and management consultancies.
Life as an Expatriate Academic
“My suspicion is that foreign academics from credible institutions have a better opportunity to join the academic field in these countries compared to nationals attempting to join, especially in public universities. But again it is a field where those with the requisite qualification are very welcome, if there is opening,” says Emilly C. Maractho, a development economist and lecturer at Uganda Christian University.
Ronald Elly Wanda a British academic shares Dr Marachto’s view. Unable to secure an academic job in Britain, Wanda moved to Uganda in 2010 to teach at Marcus Garvey University in Uganda, where he has since risen to the position of an executive director of a new department.
Wanda says the market is favourable to scientists and engineers, especially those with a PhD because of the recent discoveries of oil across East Africa.
“The oil sector is relatively new and it’s promising to yield huge profits for state treasuries,” he says. “As such universities have also begun to embrace academic disciplines in these areas, and the market is wide open for academics in geology and related disciplines.”
Wanda also points out that security is another big area, and those whose research focus is on security, especially academics from the social sciences, humanities and the natural sciences may want to seek teaching opportunities in Uganda and much of the region.
Cultural Values in Ugandan Education Sector
Dr Marachto advises that you should be aware organizational culture varies from university to university, especially also if they are public or private. She says what is guaranteed is that the cultural shock is manageable and people have respect for visitors.
Isaac Kiiza Tibasiima, an academic at Uganda’s premier institution Makerere University, points out the key requirements of being a lecturer depend on the level at which you join a university. Professors, he says, are required to have done mentorship of more than five PhDs and a lot of outreach work in their field in addition to publishing, teaching and innovations.
“This is the same for associate professors,” he says. “Lecturers generally must have a PhD except for medical fields where senior lecturers can have an MSc or a masters of medicine degree. Assistant lecturers are likewise expected to have a masters degree.”
So, what is remarkable about working as an academic in this part of Africa?
“There is a consensus amongst archaeologists that human life has its origin in the East African Rift Valley. As a political scientist, I find the region pretty exciting as it means I really get my teeth on real issues and see at first hand the end product of my research,” says Wanda. “Poverty here is naked; communities are authentic and people’s resilience as well as their sense of determination is inspiring. I find the place culturally organic and intellectually rewarding,”
Dr Marachto points out the expectation is usually that you will do as much classroom work as possible and still do research.
“This is the hard part considering the number of students involved, especially in public universities,” she says. “I have taught in both public and private universities in Uganda and interacted with several academics in Kenya and Rwanda, even Tanzania, the expectation is more or less the same although the environment varies.”
You are not going to be a dollar or pound sterling millionaire by being an academic in Uganda. A lecturer with a PhD earns about US $1000 a month, and a senior lecturer earns more than that. But career-wise, experts say there is a lot you can do beyond the classroom.
“Consultancy work comes hand-in-hand with being an academic,” says Tibasiima. “One likewise has the choice to be stuck in the lecture room. The career prospect depends on your field, expertise and willingness to take on extra jobs in the booming consultancy field. The academic has the choice to go beyond the classroom and do something even bigger with their life.”
Wanda agrees: “Yes, there are plenty of opportunities for progression in East Africa, provided you are hard-working and can overlook some of the small challenges that the region faces.”