Pharmacy Future Threatened by Increasing Shortage of Qualified Lecturers 

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For faculties of pharmacy in many universities in Nigeria, this may not be the best of times and the future does not appear very bright, as dearth of qualified lecturers continues to pose a major challenge. Information obtained from reliable sources in some faculties also shows that the situation has become so worrisome that some faculty deans are scrambling for a solution. This development, according to analysts and observers, is posing a serious threat to the future of the pharmacy profession.

Those who spoke to Pharmanews lamented that many lecturers are retiring and resigning from the faculties without replacement. There are also cases of lecturers dying, without being replaced. It is even said that government has actually placed an embargo on employment of lecturers. Then, there are also lecturers, who are said to be serving in adjunct capacities in as many as three other universities to augment their income.

According to a document of the National Universities Commission (NUC), titled, Benchmark Minimum Academic Standards for Undergraduate Programmes in Pharmacy in Nigerian Universities, “academic staff for pharmacy programme must be holders of PhD, degrees provided that staff with lower qualification can be accommodated under the staff development programme. However, staff with Ph.D. should not be less than 70 per cent of total staff on ground.”

The document continues: “Staff assignments and expectations should provide for a balance of teaching, service, research and administrative responsibility. Based on students’ enrolment, the minimum academic staff-students ratio should be 1:15. However, there should be a minimum of six full-time equivalent of staff in each department.

“There is need to have a reasonable number of staff with higher degrees as well as sufficient professional experience. With a minimum load of 18 Units per semester for students and a minimum of six fulltime equivalent of staff in each programme, staff should have a maximum of 15 contact hours per week for lectures, tutorials, practicals and supervision of projects.”

However, reliable sources confirmed that the current situation in many faculties is far from the laid down rules contained in the document. Expressing concerns over the development, Chairman of the Nigeria Association of Pharmacists in Academia (NAPA), Dr Ezekiel Olugbenga Akinkunmi, noted that the future of the pharmacy profession is under serious threat and there is need for urgent intervention.

“When you have optimum and minimum for a particular system and you discover that instead of the people in the system to be driving towards optimum, they are driving towards minimum, if care is not taken, things will go below minimum and then problem will start. This is the fear I was expressing early this year, and I am still expressing the fear now, because things are getting worse,” the NAPA chairman said.

Shortage of pharmacist personnel

Akinkunmi specifically lamented that there are not enough pharmacist lecturers in many faculties in Nigerian universities. According to him, “The Pharmacy Council of Nigeria (PCN)’s regulation has a minimum pharmacists to non-pharmacists ratio of lecturers that must be in each department and faculty as whole, but some schools are already going below the minimum and nobody seems to care. Although it is likely that PCN cares about the situation, but I don’t want to speak for them. But the situation is currently terrible.”

Continuing, he said: “I have found out that in some institutions, the minimum has even been compromised. I know of a department in which out of the five lecturers in the department, only one is a pharmacist; that is already below the minimum but they balance up with lecturers from other departments to pass accreditation. The case in the faculty is that certain departments may have a bit more lecturers than others; so, by the time they add all the lecturers together, they will pass accreditation in the faculty. Meanwhile, if you look at it technically, you will obviously know that the faculty did not pass accreditation.

“Yes! They may likely be strong in one department but very weak in another; whereas, all departments are important. If one area is not doing well, you can’t say you are doing well because if you have problem in your hand, let’s even say one of your fingers, it will affect the whole body. That is the trend in many faculties now.”

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Poor working conditions

The NAPA helmsman further lamented that there is an alarming brain drain in faculties of pharmacy, fuelled by an unwelcoming working environment.

In his words: “For the few lecturers that show interest, when they come in and see the condition, they are leaving. The level of inter and intra brain drain is alarming. I believe that if the welfare of pharmacist lecturers is good, they will stay. Everybody wants a good life. Even if you have the passion for a particular place, by the time you find out that the place is not conducive, the passion will fade away. That is the situation currently, and the passion of pharmacist lecturers is fading away.

“As a matter of fact, I can go on and on. Imagine a particular department in which about three or four core lecturers left the department in a year and there is no replacement. The last time lecturers were employed in federal universities was 2018 and that was about four years ago and people have been retiring since that time till date but no replacement. There is embargo on employment now.

“It is a serious threat to the future of pharmacy profession and that is why we need to iron out many things. It is not even about the future of Pharmacy alone but also the future of the country. The pharmacists are supposed to serve the nation but the nation is losing a lot because when the professionals are not available, quackery will be the order of the day. The result of quackery is drug abuse and fake drugs among others.”

Concerning the way forward, Akinkunmi said that the intervention of the PCN had been sought. “We are working with PCN,” he said. “They need information from us and we have provided them with the necessary information, but the Council also has its own challenges. Government should take care of the pharmacists in the academia. The pharmacists in academia should be recognised as professionals and be well remunerated like every other professional.

“The problem of university funding is also there as a general problem; but the lecturers in the faculty of pharmacy are yet to be recognised and well paid for the important assignment they are carrying out. There is paucity of pharmacists out there; so if the few ones in academia feel they are not well paid, they can decide to go into the industry or community. Some may even decide to travel out of the country, whereas, we need more hands. The earlier, the government acts on the problem the better for the country.”

Retrogressive embargo

The immediate past dean, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Port Harcourt, who is also the chairman of the deans of faculties of pharmacy in the country, Professor Ogbonna Okorie, also corroborated the NAPA chairman’s claims.

Okorie said, “Shortage of hands is very apparent in the faculties of pharmacy, especially in the newer faculties. If you go to some older schools, you may meet the right quota of personnel that are academic pharmacists, but for the new schools, staffing is an issue. Universities are not hiring. Each time we make a request for engagement of quality hands, they keep telling us there is an embargo on employment.

“The government has placed an embargo on employment. Unfortunately, the quality ones are leaving and that is the worst part of it. I have seen a lot of my staff migrating. In Clinical Pharmacy alone, we lost more than six good hands; they will go and not come back.

“The few ones that are there are depleting and the university is not doing anything about it. In my department for instance, we lost some people to death; some retired because of age, and nothing was done to replace them. So, staffing is an issue, not just in my school but in many other universities.

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“The same few lecturers in one school are the ones doing adjunct in another school and the way adjunct is being done in two or three places is not the same. What most of the adjunct lecturers are doing is to go to those places and take (money) and not to give (quality lectures). I don’t want to mention names, but I know some schools where 30 to 40 percent of the lecturers are adjunct. This is really a serious issue.”

Speaking further, Prof. Okorie said, “the development is a threat especially now that we are talking about repositioning the pharmacy profession, talking about expertise and technology and many other things that can help us to reposition the profession in Nigeria to what it should be.

“The major cause is that people are no longer willing to come into academia simply because of what is happening. Secondly, the federal government is not employing. Like I said earlier, in my school, we lost some people to death; some migrated or resigned, but no replacement. So embargo on employment is the major issue.  Then getting appropriate people to come and teach is another.”

In Bayero University, Kano (BUK), the situation is not different. The dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy of the university, Dr Malami Sani told Pharmanews, “With the advent of PharmD programme, there is additional curriculum to cover. We really need people to manage the curriculum. Of course, Pharmacy consists of three components, which are the teaching, the laboratory and the clinical components.

“The remuneration of lecturers is not really encouraging. Currently, there is paucity of manpower in terms of the number of lecturers and also the qualifications. It is a serious concern that really needs to be addressed. It is not just a serious concern but a threat. There is crisis in terms of lecturers to handle the courses in each department.

“The coming up of more faculties of pharmacy both in public and private universities is also adding to the problem of paucity of lecturers. It is a crisis now, but if nothing is done about it, it will have future negative effects that will put the country in serious danger.” He called on the government to intervene by giving schools of pharmacy concessions to employ qualified lecturers to fill necessary gaps.

Coping strategies

While confirming the parlous situation in pharmacy faculties generally and in her school, in particular, Dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Prof (Mrs) Margret Olubunmi Afolabi, said the faculty is deploying strategies to mitigate the problem so as to sustain the glory of the nation’s pioneer Faculty of Pharmacy.

She said: “The situation is a threat, not only to the future of Pharmacy in Nigeria but also to the future of all other professions in the country because we read or hear in the media every day of many of our doctors that are also going away to developed countries, such as Canada, US, UK, among others. Those countries have the means and ways of attracting them. It is really a danger that is facing every stratus of the country and there is no way we can exclude Pharmacy from what is happening in the country. So it is a great threat but we are brainstorming on ways and manners to address it within our faculty.

“For example, part of the strategies we are adopting now is to see how we can attract some of our products that graduated from the faculty to come back and share their knowledge with the students. But then, we don’t have sufficient funds to encourage and reward them when they come. So we tell them the situation on ground and honestly, some of them do assist us free of charge.”

Afolabi also lamented that the embargo on employment is a challenge for her faculty.

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According to her, “It is my duty as the dean of the faculty to let them know that, to teach this course, we need certain number of resource persons. We make this request to the university management periodically and it is ultimately passed across to the federal government. What we keep hearing is that there is an embargo on employment. But people are retiring and their positions are not filled; people are resigning but there is no replacement. And we keep transmitting these vacant positions to them.

“In each faculty, there are agreed established positions that must be filled. In other words, those positions have already been woven into the university management system – that, for Pharmacy, this is the number of positions for each of these subject areas in each of these departments and we follow it up closely. But by the time some of the people on ground retire, resign or relocate and we inform the management, the reply we get is that there is an embargo on employment. Incidentally, there is nothing a private individual can do because the university is owned by the federal government.”

Different Strokes

However, it is not all gloom and doom, as the case of the Faculty of Pharmacy, Nnamdi Azikwe University (UNIZIK), shows. According to the Dean, Professor Festus Okoye, his faculty is somewhat fortunate because the Vice-Chancellor of the university, Prof. Charles Esimone, who is a pharmacist, ensures that only good hands are recruited into not just the Faculty of Pharmacy but other faculties in the university.

He said, “There is a problem of quality hands in the Faculty of Pharmacy of many universities.  One factor responsible for this is that if you allow the university management to recruit for the department, they may end up recruiting their own brothers and sisters that have no business or interest to be in the academics. But in the case of our university, we are lucky because the current VC was the pioneer dean of the faculty and so he brought qualified people in from the onset.

“There are some lecturers that don’t have business in the academics but are there. These are those that just go to the internet, download something and pass it to the students to go and read. They don’t spend time to teach or do research; they are only waiting for their salary. It is a problem and we used to also have few people like that in our faculty. But now, we ask some of our graduates that we already know their capability to come and give back to the faculty and this has really been helping us.”

PCN intervention

When contacted, the leadership of the PCN said it is aware of the problem and doing its best to address it. Registrar of the Council, Pharm. Babasheu Ahmed, in a chat with Pharmanews, said, “We are not unmindful of the development. We have interacted with the leadership of NAPA and we know where the problem lies. Fundamentally, one of the problems is that of remuneration. The lecturers don’t have attractive remuneration that stands them out like other professionals.

“There are other problems like the problem of infrastructural deficiency. But I can assure you that we are already taking steps. We have had engagements with the people that have the responsibility to correct these problems and they have given us assurance. We are waiting and we are hoping to converge very soon to put in place strategies that will take us out of these problems. When that is achieved, we are confident that it will promote job satisfaction.

“I want to give the pharmacists in academia the assurance that the problem will be addressed. We feel their concern and pains. We are with them in this struggle and we are confident that we shall get to the end of it.”

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