The incentivisation of African academics

Project update: September 2013

Project coordinators: Gerald Ouma (UWC) and Patricio Langa (Eduardo Mondlane)

The study was commissioned because there are two strains of research on African universities: one asserts that academics pursue lucrative consultancy projects at the expense of academic core activities, while another strain, in line with international trends, shows that the academics who take on consulting work are more likely to publish. In other words, does the incentive of financial supplementation undermine the academic core (as measured by academic publishing and the production of doctorates) or not? More generally, what is the role of incentives in the production of academic core products? And can they be harnessed by policy levers to promote productivity rather than become ‘perverse incentives’.

The study is undertaken at four institutions: the universities of Cape Town, Makerere, Nairobi and Eduardo Mondlane. Two main components of the study are (1) research on comparative remuneration within countries, between higher education, public service and the private sector; and (2) questionnaires and focus groups at three of the institutions.

The comparative remuneration component is almost complete with a very extensive review of South Africa and more historical comparisons between academic and public service salaries in Mozambique, Kenya and Uganda. To-date, only the survey at the University of Nairobi has been completed and a masters student is writing it up for her dissertation.


A study of the incentive/rewards of African academics

In studying the academic core of the eight African universities, the HERANA study found ‘contradictions’ between the input and output variables. For example, at a number of the institutions, permanent academics are well qualified (high percentage of Doctorates), have relatively manageable workloads (staff-student ratios of around 1:20), and an increasing enrolment in Masters degrees, but very low Doctoral graduations and research publications.

There are two possible explanations for these contradictions that we want to explore. The first is the shortage of research funds and the possibility that academics are supplementing their incomes through activities, such as additional teaching and consultancy, which distract them from supervision and research that could be published. As part of strengthening our research on the academic core, we will explore ‘research income’ in more detail and see if we can detect a relationship to research output.

The second aspect that we want to investigate is the complex relationship between academic income, academic performance and incentives. 

Proposed project activities

  • Comparison of academic salaries in the HERANA universities: Using the databases from the Performance Indicators project together with SALDRU data sources, we could make a purchasing power parity (PPP) comparison of average compensation packages and the remuneration of senior professors in the eight African universities. This could be a Rumbley et al type cross-system comparison which we could also correlate with performance.
  • Comparing academic remuneration to the public and private sectors: Using data that SALDRU has access to in different sub-Saharan African countries, it would be interesting to investigate comparative differences and similarities between the eight countries between academic, public sector and private sector remuneration.
  • Academic incentives structures: Conduct a survey of a carefully selected sample of social science/humanities staff in the eight African universities on income supplementation in terms of additional teaching, consultancy, research and private sector activities. The survey will try to get a better understanding of the explicit and implicit incentives that operate in the different institutions. The study will also try to determine to what social/consumer levels academics aspire.

For this project, CHET will cooperate with SALDRU which, in addition to doing the household surveys for the President’s Office, has considerable experience in this area. 


Some of the tangible outcomes of the above-mentioned project activities will include the following:

  • For the first time, reliable comparative salary data amongst eight sub-Saharan African countries will be compiled;
  • Academic salaries will be located within different country contexts;
  • Information on certain aspects of the incentive regimes for academics in a group of African countries, and the possible effects these could have on their supervision and research functions, will be provided; and
  • A CHET book on the incentive/reward structure of academic remuneration will be published.


Director, University of Pretoria and member of the South African Higher...
University Eduardo Mondlane, Mozambique