Lecturer posts lie vacant
An acute shortage of permanent teachers plagues universities in the western zone that meet the educational needs of 16,000 students.
More than 260 posts are lying vacant in Herat, Ghor, Badghi and Farah provinces. University authorities say this is largely because a total of 138 lecturers have gone abroad for higher studies – 70 from Herat University, 17 from Ghor, 26 from Badghis and 25 from Farah.
The University of Herat needs 235 new lecturers; Ghor and Badghis have 10 vacancies each; and, Farah has five empty posts of lecturers.
Killid found that the mandatory 18 hours of teaching at the undergraduate level is being fulfilled by lecturers on university rolls who have to work much longer hours (some say 25 hours of teaching) to complete the work-load of their absent colleagues, and the hiring of guest lecturers and senior (fourth year) students, the last of which is contrary to law.
University teachers confide that the handing over of teaching work to inexperienced lecturers and students has negatively impacted on the quality of higher education in the western zone.
Abdullah Fayez, head of Herat University, in an interview with Killid said the academic staff strength in the university was just 535 in 16 faculties; and the university has vacancies of 235 posts.
Fayez also mentioned the case of 12 lecturers from the university who went abroad three years ago for master's and PhD programmes and never returned. Currently a total of 70 faculty members are abroad on government (21) and other scholarships.
He justified the two-year-old practice of hiring fourth year students to teach undergraduate classes. They were recruited from different universities, scored more than 75 percent marks each, and showed ability to teach, he claimed.
The province's public university has three faculties – economy, agriculture and education – and 58 lecturers. Shasul Haq Shams, head of Badghis University, says only 32 of the academic staff are teaching at present. The rest are on academic leave abroad.
There are vacancies for 10 lecturers in the university. The shortfall is being made up by student lecturers who have secured 75 percent marks and above. These student lecturers teach first and second year students of Badghis University.
Shams says he has raised the issue of staff shortage with the Ministry of Higher Studies but no action has been taken.
While a little over half of the full-time lecturers (15) have a master's degree, one has a doctorate. The university chief is hopeful that in three years all faculty positions will be held by candidates with either master's or PhD degrees. The university has a student strength of 1,200.
The university not only has a problem of staffing but also lacks proper buildings and security.
Ataullah Fazel, head of Ghor University, says students from outside the provincial capital Chaghcharan are forced to stay in rented places.
There are 1,375 students and 40 permanent lecturers on the rolls of the university. The university needs another 10 academic staff since 17 faculty members are abroad. As a result teaching hours have increased and 10 students from the English Literature faculty have been assigned to teach junior classes.
Fazel says a more distressing problem for the university is the lack of security. Armed opponents of the government have threatened some students and staff with death. Security on campus is far from adequate with only one security post for the large university campus.
The province is the most populous after Herat. The university has two faculties – agriculture and education. Ruknudin Mushkani told Killid of the 55 academic staff 25 have a master's degree and nine have gone abroad for their master's.
With the retirement of three lecturers, the university has five posts to fill. The shortage here too is being filled by 10 students from the English department who are teaching new undergraduates.
The Farah University does not have its own building but is housed in the PRT (provincial rehabilitation team) building.
Gul Ahmad Azami from Farah claims that the government pays little attention to the problem of raising the level of education in all the remote provinces of the country.
Surprisingly, Arefa Paikar, spokesperson for the Ministry of Higher Studies, did not think that shortage of teachers was a serious problem for higher education in the western zone. She insists the problem would soon be addressed. Without specifying how many, she said some lecturers who were sent abroad for higher education have not returned to the country at the end of their sabbatical.
In her opinion, the rules should be changed to make it mandatory for lecturers seeking government funds for study abroad to get two government servants to stand guarantee for them.
The government funds studies abroad by academic staff of universities.
Ahmad Ghani Khesrawi, lecturer in the Literature faculty of Herat University, says a lecturer puts in 36 hours of work a week – half the time is spent in the classroom and the rest in guiding students outside the classroom. But when the lecturer is also doubling up for a colleague on study leave the classroom workload can go up to 27 hours leaving them with next to no time for providing personal attention to students. As a result of overwork, university teachers have also no time also for their own research work and publishing, which are essential for all academics.