Deterrents to Meeting Higher Education Expectations
Many institutions of higher learning in Africa today challenge their academic staff to engage in research and publications aside from teaching and student supervision. However, meeting this enormous challenge is an uphill task for first-year lecturers, in large measure, due to the personal blunders they make in their first year of teaching. These mistakes may include failure to seek adequate information prior to their arrival; heavy workload selection; acquiring unsustainable bank loans; being too ambitious; getting intimate too soon; starting personal businesses; working alone; living above their means; and joining local and national politics. Although these missteps could apply broadly to all lecturers in the institutions of higher learning across the globe, this article focuses on their relevance to the African university context.
Failure to seek sufficient information
This challenge is encountered mostly by instructors who are new to the institution.They show up on their first day of work with their appointment letters but without accurate information on where to get their teaching schedules and employee cards; how and where to open bank accounts; which neighborhoods have secure and affordable housing facilities; how and where to access university library, computer labs and healthcare services; and the appropriate offices to submit their employee documents. This conundrum is aggravated by the fact that some institutions may not have the necessary information readily available and accessible on their websites. As a result, some new hires spend the first or second year of teaching trying to navigate through the college bureaucracies rather than settling down to engage in research and teaching. Failure to adjust smoothly to their new teaching environment causes them angst and might lead some to express their uneasiness by absconding from duty and sometimes leaving the university to find new jobs in other fields. Therefore, it is important that new academic staff seek accurate and adequate information about their new institutions prior to their arrival and throughout their employment. They could get this information by paying a visit to their new place of hire a few weeks or days in advance of their start date.
Overloading themselves with work is one of the improprieties of first-year lecturers. Normally, at the beginning of each semester, departments hold workload-allocation meetings. During these meetings, members are given the opportunity to select courses of their choice. More often than not, new lectures take whatever assignment they are given by their program coordinators without objection—even when the workload is over and above what they can handle. The impact of the heavy workload is felt during setting exams and marking scripts; they find themselves with an enormous amount of work they cannot complete in a timely fashion. This, in the end, robs them of the time for personal reading, research, and publishing. It is essential, therefore, that contemporary academics choose their workload carefully. If they have to carry a heavy workload due to shortages of manpower in their departments, they should inquire about incentives for the extra workload to ensure that they are adequately remunerated. Having a manageable workload is also critical to creating time for themselves to participate in professional development activities.
Related to heavy workload is being overambitious. Eager to put into practice what they learned in graduate school, some new lecturers try to get involved in every institutional activity and initiate numerous academic and social programs. Once their colleagues discover that they want to become a servant of many and a master of some, they begin to slowly but surely distance themselves from them and to sometimes work against them. In the end, these new academics find themselves sequestered and their academic and social programs unsupported and unfinanced. This causes them to lose their gravitas and develop withdrawn behaviors that diminish their ability to work collaboratively with others on important academic and research projects. The first year of teaching can be worthwhile if young scholars focus their priorities on listening more and talking less. It is also incumbent on them to be assertive with students, colleagues, administrative staff, support staff, and supervisors in order to learn about how things are done at their new institution to avoid unforced errors. Their time during the first few years of teaching could also be spent wisely through seeking information on the availability of scholarships and research grants or by working collaboratively with their supervisors and colleagues on other academic projects that have the potential for securing funding for their professional development and career advancement.
Some young lecturers try to work alone by devoting too much of their time surfing the net for journals and places to publish their work. But because they don't know the right procedures for submitting articles or books for publication, their journals get rejected everywhere they submit them. It is necessary that the new academic staff be aware of the guidelines and specific writing competencies required by reputable academic journals. Seeking advice from colleagues who have already published can help new lecturers avoid delays in getting their journals and books published. Working together leads to completing the task efficiently and accurately. Through teamwork, robust social support networks may be developed and methods of teaching and learning can be improved.
Bank loans are a big problem for many young instructors. When they secure a job at a prestigious institution, they become soft targets for bank loan officers, private money lenders, and credit card companies. These financial institutions normally lend money on high-interest rates and work with their respective educational institutions to deduct monthly bank loan payments directly from the salary of those lecturers. This sometimes affects the lecturers financially, to the extent that their salary may not be enough to cater for all their financial needs. This, in the end, shrinks their chances of traveling to international conferences, seminars, and workshops due to lack of funds for air tickets, room and board and all other travel expenses. Therefore, understanding the terms and conditions of loan repayment and their rights as borrowers is critical for first-year academics. My suggestion is for them to avoid bank loans and credit cards as much as possible in their first or second year of teaching. Otherwise, these money lending institutions will trap young academics and make their first few years of their teaching unsustainable.
Getting intimate too quickly
I am not a marriage counselor; I am talking from experience. Today, many students graduate with their advanced degrees at a younger age. When they get married before they establish themselves, marriage places a heavy burden on them and their families. I have friends who got married before or immediately after they received their advanced degrees whose marriage problems have since impeded their professional development and inhibiting their efforts to meet their personal and institutional goals. For those who had families before they graduated, marriage might work for them. It is important that new or young tutors make marriage decisions carefully. Aspiring to fulfill institutional expectations, improve instruction and advance their career should take precedence over self-gratification.
Unsustainable Personal Businesses
There are some tutors who start personal businesses without proper planning. In the end, their businesses exert a tremendous amount of pressure on them because of the daily bookkeeping demands. Along the way, they also discover that doing business requires devoting twenty-four hours to supervising employees in order to avoid fraud, waste, and abuse in their businesses. For those with already established businesses, things might work out for them. But for those with start-up businesses, it might require that they devote one hundred percent of their time to monitoring their businesses; however, they may not have that time because of their teaching duties. My advice to my young friends is to avoid starting businesses with bank loans if they cannot afford to pay them back. Therefore, it would be wise for them to devote their first year of employment on furnishing their teaching skills to make themselves competitive globally.
Living above their means
More often than not, young graduates live above their means. They buy expensive furniture, rent expensive apartments, and secure bank loans to maintain their luxuriant lifestyle. Eventually, their luxuriant lifestyles and reckless spending catch up with them and cause them emotional distress. My advice to my young professors: A good house, a fancy car, and a better life will come once you are well established. Don't make $1000 in monthly salary and spend $1,500 in monthly expenses. Avoid competing with your friends for material possessions because you might not know how your friends earned their money. Invest your money in professional development and career advancement opportunities and the plethora of opportunities will come knocking at your door.
Usually, graduates are targets of unscrupulous politicians in their home districts. When these politicians find out that there is an educated person in their area, they become suspicious of his political ambitions and start looking for an opportunity to destroy his or her reputation. On the other hand, the electorates look up to these young graduates for leadership. The pressure to provide leadership in their home areas at times might obscure their vision for a better career and instigate them to abandon their jobs to join politics. Although some graduates have succeeded in defeating career politicians and making it to the senate or parliament, the majority have not. Chances of retaining their teaching jobs after losing an election are truncated by the government policy that requires that civil servants resign their jobs prior to running for any political office. In the end, they find themselves without a job, stuck with bank loans and bankrupt. I suggest that young academics are sure of their chances of winning before they decide to abandon their jobs to join politics.
Institutions of higher learning today are engaged in a stiff competition for recruiting quality and productive employees who have potential to become revenue streams for their respective institutions through fundable research and publications. However, first-year lecturers meet immense obstacles in meeting this monumental institutional expectation due to the miscalculations they make in their first year of teaching. Therefore, a need exists for the new academics to develop friendships and strong social support networks with co-workers and supervisors that can assist them in fulfilling institutional requirements and enhancing their career goals. This could be achieved by avoiding unsustainable bank loans, learning to live within their means by avoiding luxuriant and reckless spending, selecting manageable workloads, avoiding being too ambitious, delaying self-gratification, and keeping away from local and national politics.