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Academic staff turnover in Nigerian universities (1990-1997).

Background of the Study

University education, in contemporary times the world over, is becoming an exceedingly complex enterprise. This complexity requires a high degree of competence and proven scholarship from the university academic staff in particular and the entire staff in general. This is so because universities, by their unique nature are expected to be a repository of the most specialized and skilled intellectuals. They serve as storehouses of knowledge for nurturing the manpower needs of the nation and hence, for satisfying the aspirations of the people for a good, and humane society.

Central to the realisation of the university education goals and objectives are the academic staff whose roles are crucial. Academic staff their number, quality and their effectiveness make the difference in university education production function.

The Nigerian University system has been in a high state of anxiety and frequent crises of different types and intensity. There are crises of internal governance and control, nepotism, ethnic chauvinism and favouritism, philosophy and mission, under-funding and shortage of facilities and equipment, crises of conditions of service and industrial unrest, brain-drain and staff turnover. Of all the crises, those of scarce resources, under-funding, brain-drain and staff turnover have been identified as most crucial and central. Okunrotifa (1982): NUC (1995). Nwadiani (1999).

It would appear, however, that these problems are not peculiar to Nigeria, but general to the African continent. For example, Ekong (1995) in his address at the Association of African Universities conference of Rectors, Vice-Chancellors and Presidents of African Universities expressed deep feelings of apprehension about the on-going state of hostility between governments and the academic communities in many countries of Africa.

The (AAU conference of 1995) specifically and heavily censored Nigeria, Kenya and Cote d'Ivorie among other countries where higher education appear to have suffered most due to ... under-funding and subsequent reduction of expenditure on a variety of educational inputs. In Nigeria the problem has been so acute that money and facilities for teaching and research are either not available or are in acute shortage. Nwankwo (1992:207) expressed this when he said that:
   Human and material resources inadequacy
   is not a new phenomenon in
   tertiary education systems management.

   What is perhaps novel is the persistent
   incapacity (or reluctance) of
   such a system, specifically in Nigeria,
   to respond effectively to the

Of all the inputs into the Nigerian university system, the human resource would appear to be worst affected as the university staff are paid salaries which cannot take care of their basic needs. In fact, there is "the despondence and poverty that seem to envelope and which promise to obliterate the committed university teacher" (Alele-Williams 1992). The university teacher, more than anyone else, requires a peaceful and conducive working environment to attain a healthy and efficient mind as the beacon of enlightenment. Regrettably, however, the university system and all agents of society required for university management are unable to provide the Nigerian academic with a conducive working environment and basic facilities. The salaries and general conditions of service are uninspiring and unmotivating while the attainment of the basic necessities of life has become a mirage to the dedicated university teacher (ASUU, 1993, 1994). All efforts to improve the status and conditions of service of the university staff since the Udoji award, through the 1990s, seem not to have yielded the desired results. For instance, the series of commissions set up by governments like the Cookey Commission of 1981 and its salary review (university salary scale--USS) and the elongation of the USS; and the Longe Commission of 1990 did not quite alleviate the poor conditions of the university teacher.

In recent times, low staff retention, high level of staff turnover, and brain-drain have been identified as the main problems confronting Nigerian and most African universities. Reports have shown a growing loss of skilled, competent and critical university staff to some more attractive and rewarding opportunities within and outside the country. For example, in a study by the World Bank on "Retaining Teaching Capacity in African Universities" (1995), it was estimated that some 23,000 qualified academic staff are emigrating from Africa each year in search of better working conditions. The study also estimated that 10,000 Nigerians are now employed in the United States alone. Osotinormehin (1997) also estimated that no less than 5,000 trained Nigeria medical specialists were in America, beside other specialists, non-specialists and other medical allied professionals in America, Europe, the Caribbean and in South Africa.

It is also observed but very sadly that Nigerian academics, as researchers, enjoy more prestige outside Nigeria than within. It does appear that Nigeria and most Nigerians do not know what universities stand for and have very little regard for knowledge. Thus, it stands rational and justifiable that these crop of intelligentials resort to emigrate outside the universities and even outside the country to where their productivity and worth are acknowledged. This is in conformity with the proverbial saying that "gold is sold to those who know the value".

The crisis in the Nigerian university system has become persistent and of great concern, not only to the authorities and staff but also to the government, the general public and the international community. This has created fear and worries in the minds of Nigerians that they seem to doubt the universities and their ability to still prepare their products to assume the responsibility of building a virile nation in view of the implications of staff turnover. However, what seems not to be fully known and understood is the actual turnover rate of academic staff of Nigerian universities. To empirically explore the problem of academic staff turnover, the following research questions are raised.

1. What is the rate of academic staff turnover (partial and permanent leavers) in Nigerian Universities between 1990 and 1997?

2. Is there any difference in staff turnover (partial and permanent leavers) among the academic staff structure (Professors, Senior Lecturers and Lecturers)?

3. Is there any difference in staff turnover (partial and permanent leavers) among academic staff in different disciplines?

4. What is the rate of staff turnover (partial and permanent leavers) among make and female academic staff in Nigerian Universities?



The population of the study comprised of the 36 Federal and state universities in Nigeria and the 12,212 academic staff as at the 1993/94 academic session. It also included those former academic staff who left the employment of the universities within the period of study.

The sample size of eight universities was drawn from which 290 lecturers, 98 senior lecturers and 54 professors formed the subjects of the study.


The main instrument for this study was a questionnaire titled: "Academic Staff Turnover Rate In Nigerian Universities (ASTRU)". The instrument was validated with the help of senior colleagues at the University of Benin and Delta State University. This was pilot tested with 32 academic staff of the Delta State University which was not sampled. The reliability yielded a coefficient of 0.91.

The instrument was designed to obtain personnel data from the universities concerning academic staff list for the years under study, the number, sex, discipline, and status of those who left.

Data collection and Analysis

The researchers personally visited the eight universities to administer the instrument (ASTRU) and employed two research assistants who were staff of the various universities. Out of a total of 900 questionnaires administered, 442 (49%) were returned and found useable.

The instrument was also administered in Europe, America, and Southern African countries through the assistance of three known former lecturers in Nigeria, resident in these countries who offered to act as research assistants in these countries where they reside.

The first stage of the data analysis involved the coding and tabulation of the academic staff strength of the universities for the period of study and the number of leavers according to status or structure and disciplines of the academic staff. The remover rates were thus computed. Graphs were also used.


The following results presented in tables I-IV and figures I-II were obtained.

Question 1:

What is the rate of academic staff turnover (partial and permanent leavers) in Nigerian Universities between 1990 and 1997?

As shown in Table I, the average turnover rate for the period under review is 16.18%. A total of 1,476 permanent leavers and 2,378 partial leavers left the Nigerian Universities during this period. Out of the 2,378 partial leavers, 1,398 (58.79%) were either on sabbatical or extended leaves of absence. This is further represented in figure I.

Question Two:

Is there any difference in staff turnover partial and permanent leavers among the academic staff structure (Professors, Senior Lecturers and lecturers)?

The results from Table II showed that professors had the highest average rate of turnover of 20.88% followed by the Senior Lecturers 20.79% and Lecturers 13.12%. In absolute terms, the permanent leavers among lecturers were 795, followed by Senior lecturers 365 and professors 316.

Question Three:

Is there any difference in staff turnover partial and permanent leavers among academic staff of different disciplines?

As shown in Table II, the Social Sciences had the highest average rate of turnover of 20.58% with the highest rates recorded in the 1993/94; 32.17% and 33.49% respectively. The Sciences followed with an annual average rate of 17.55% while the humanities had the lowest annual average rate of 8.23%.

The Sciences had the highest permanent turnover rates in all the years of study (1990-1997), except for the 1992/93 academic year when the Humanities had the highest total turnover rate of 15.56%.

In absolute terms, however, the results also showed that out of the total of 1.476 permanent leavers for the entire years under review, the Sciences had the highest absolute number of leavers (1080), the Humanities followed with 238 and the Social Sciences had only 158 leavers.

Research Question Four

What is the rate of staff turnover, partial and permanent leavers, between male and female academic staff in Nigerian Universities?

The female academics had higher rates of turnover. For the permanent leavers the females had 7.22% as against 6.68% for males and among partial and total leavers.

A further look at the turnover rates showed that the female academics of the professorial grade recorded, on the average, the highest annual average rate for all category of leavers (25.63%). The female professors recorded very high turnover rates of 38.10% and 33.33% for the 1991/92 and 1992/93 academic years respectively.

In absolute terms, 1,323 male academics out of the 1,476 permanent leavers left the University system during the study period. This represents 89.63% or 189 yearly permanent leavers as against the 153 (10.37%) female permanent leavers or 22 female permanent leavers leaving the Universities annually.

Discussion of Results

The study was carried out to determine the rate of academic staff turnover in Nigerian universities between 1990 and 1997.

The first research concern sought to determine the rate of academic staff turnover in Nigerian universities between 1990 and 1997. The findings showed a total average rate of turnover for the years under review to be 16.18%, which can be said to be high, even though authorities have not agreed on a minimum rate or even a ceiling. Yeager (1969), however, viewed turnover rates above 25% as high enough for concern. Nevertheless, turnover rates above 10% can be regarded as high, particularly in a study like this which deals with the educational system where stability of particularly the most senior grades is needed for continuity, stability and efficiency. It is important to observe that to attain efficiency, intelligent scholars as well as senior and experienced lecturers must remain on the job for a relatively long period of time. This would give ample opportunity for them to train the young and new entrants to be proficient on the job. The findings of this study to the effect that 162 of every 1000 lecturers leave the universities yearly certainly underscores the age-long adage that "experience is the best teacher." The rate of 16.18% turnover must certainly give cause for serious concern to the survival, stability, and efficiency of the Nigerian University system.

Indeed, the findings of this study further confirm the studies of Okunrotifa (1982 and 1985); FGN (1989): NUC (1990) Saint (1993); Tarpeh (1994) and the World Bank (DAE) (1995) which showed that turnover rates in African Universities are high.

The second research-concern examined the academic staff turnover structurally. That is among professors, senior lecturers, and lecturers over the years of study. The turnover rates of the academic staff structure over the years showed that no category of lecturers had a total turnover rate that was less than 10%, except for the 1991/92 academic year. The findings showed that on the average 20.88% or 209 professors out of every 1000 professors left the Nigerian universities yearly; 20.79% or 208 senior lecturers out of every 1000 senior lecturers left yearly and 12.12% or 121 out of 1000 lecturers left yearly.

That Nigerian universities are chronically, drained of their best and most senior academics is no longer in doubt. Although this finding, to some extent, contradicts Ehrenberg and Smith (1985) who argued that age is probably the best predictor of who will move, it strongly affirms their proposition that education is the single best indicator of who will move within an age group.

It was revealed that the most experienced academics have the highest propensity to move. This could be attributed to the fact that academics, and indeed distinguished scholars, are often within international labour markets and as such are highly marketable globally. This favourable condition has been fully exploited by the Nigerian senior academics who have left the universities for the junior and ill-experienced "baby-lecturers" in search of greener pasture. A situation where the distinguished and experienced professors and senior lecturers, after serving for no less than twenty years of teaching, research, and nation building, decide to move out when they are mostly needed, in search of better paying jobs within and outside the country calls for serious concern. The ability of the universities in playing their traditional role as agents of allround social, political, economic, scientific and technological development stands threatened.

This study also assessed the turnover rates across disciplines of the academic staff. The findings agreed with the Human Capital Theory, which explicitly points to the fact that differences exist in skills, knowledge, and hence, disciplines. The findings showed that the Social Science disciplines had the highest average rate of turnover of 20.58% while the sciences had the highest absolute number of leavers (1080 academics).

The findings support Guidice (1999) that the high turnover rates, particularly among the Social Sciences and Pure Sciences, have rendered most of these departments empty, leaving many departments with "no tenured professors or experienced instructors" of any kind to teach. The Humanities were also not left out. The average annual turnover rate was 12.33%. It was only the 1994/95 academic year that had a turnover rate of 9.58%. It can therefore be argued that the decision to pull out of the universities cuts across all disciplines as all academics, irrespective of their disciplines, regard such mobility as rewarding and worthwhile. Also the skills and knowledge of these academics are in high demand in industry, regionally or internationally. For example, in the 1992/93 academic year, the Humanities had the highest turnover rates (15.56%).

The fourth research-concern examined the turnover rates between male and female academics.

The results showed that on the average, female academics had a higher turnover rate than the males. However, the reverse was the case in the 1990/91; 1993/94; 1995/96 and the 1996/97 academic years. Going by this trend, the males could continue to rise above the females' turnover rates, particularly in view of the males' absolute advantage. Nevertheless, the findings lend support to the studies of Reynolds(1951) in Zabalza et al (1979); Ehrenberg and Smith (1985), that female workers have higher propensities towards quitting than male workers.

The major reason, which can be advanced to support this finding, is the fact that the female academics are very few in number, in relation to their male counterparts. For example, out of a total of 3,115 academic staff in the 1990/91 academic year, only 401 or 12.87% were females. Thus, one female leaver can be equated to more than 12 male leavers. The figures also showed that there were only 157 female lecturers in the professorial and senior lectureship positions as at the 1996/97 academic year. This figure represents only 3.99% of the entire academic staff strength. In this era of women's liberation, when women are struggling for equal representation in political and public positions, one can observe that there is the likelihood of far more available opportunities for the few women with high academic status in relation to their number. They are, thus, likely to be more mobile than their male counterparts. Also most male academics that are married to female academics emigrate with their families. This is in addition to single female academics that may have to resettle due to marriage.


It could be concluded that turnover rates among Nigerian academics remained very high throughout the last decade of the twentieth century. The turnover rates have been very high across all categories of academic staff in all disciplines and sexes.

To redress the implications of the findings, it is therefore recommended that attractive remuneration and welfare packages comparable to those offered in the oil industry should be provided university teachers to attract the best products as well as retain high calibre academic staff if there would be continuity and quality in the near future.


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Associate Professor of Educational Planning and Acting Head
Department of Educational Administration and Foundations
University of Benin, Benin City Edo State-Nigeria

Lecturer in educational planning.
Department of Educational Administration and Foundations
Delta State University,
Abraka, Delta State, Nigeria

Kessler, Rachel (2002). The Soul of Education Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

The author seeks to tell readers how educators and parents of diverse backgrounds come together to find ways to invite soul into school; and without violating the "separation of church and state." Deep moving stories and profound questions of students respond to the yearnings of young people expressing deep connection, meaning and purpose, silence, joy, creativity, transcendence, and initiative--each involving the inviting of soul into the classroom.

Without healthy forums led by responsible adults, young people seek these gateways on their own, sometimes in destructive ways like drugs, sex, suicide, hazing, and even murder. Helping children find constructive ways to express their longings increases their motivation to learn and become better citizens.
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Author:Nwadiani, Mon; Akpotu, Nelson Ejiro
Geographic Code:6NIGR
Date:Dec 22, 2002
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