#FeesMustFall threatens academia as professionals consider corporate employment
Prof Roderick Walker
former Rhodes University Faculty of Pharmacy Dean
Higher education is under threat as academics consider departing the tumultuous environment, characterised by the #FeesMustFall movement and violence that has strangled South Africa’s universities in recent months, for a less complicated career in industry or business. National and international university professors shared their views on the future of pharmacy education and training at the 2nd National Pharmacy Conference.
“The #FeesMustFall issue is a real crisis for South African education as it plays out as a microcosm of South African society reflecting government’s inability to have stepped in more swiftly and resolved the tensions,” said former Rhodes University Faculty of Pharmacy Dean Prof Roderick Walker on Sunday, 23 October 2016.
Walker questioned why senior university staff and academics would continue working under the current conditions, including the violence that has characterised the #FeesMustFall debacle, when they could have relatively safe 8-5 jobs outside academia. Adding to that push was the reality that highly qualified academics earned ‘the same or sometimes less’ than interns.
Walker’s comments were made during a broader session on the future of pharmacy education and training, specifically the roles and responsibilities inherent in that environment, and included input from the University of Sydney Faculty of Pharmacy Dean and Professor of Pharmacy Prof Iqbal Ramzan, and University of Toronto Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy Associate Professor and Associate Dean of Education Dr Lalitha Raman-Wilms.
“The profession must be aware that if the (2016) academic year is not completed – and that is looking like a major reality in many South African universities – there will be a knock-on for the profession. There will be a lack of interns entering the system next year and a consequent lack of community health workers (in 2018),” Walker said.
Earlier he had commented that the global shortage of pharmacists, coupled with the attraction of international work opportunities and the poor salaries paid in academia, was draining the South African pharmacist pool.
Walker said the pharmacist’s role has significantly changed to now incorporate community health counselling, business, financial and cultural acumen, and the link between doctors, patients and the community. However, universities faced numerous hoops in changing academic programmes from the university committee needing to ensure the new programme was financially beneficial to the departments of health and higher education and training, the South African Qualifications Authority and the South African Pharmacy Council, to name a few. Adding to the complication was the subsidy-driven nature of the funding model.
However, changes to South Africa’s pharmacy courses have introduced elements of cognitive skills development rather than being wholly science based. There is a focus on primary healthcare, financial and people skills and some limited opportunities for specialisations.
“South Africa’s needs currently are for a generalised level, particularly at the undergraduate pharmacy level, but what cannot be forgotten nor quantified is the amount of informal learning students absorb via their discussions with students in other faculties,” he said.
Walker believes the post-graduate arena is the appropriate one for South Africa to offer specialisations as this also created the next generation of academics. This is particularly relevant considering the country struggles to attract qualified people to teach and research. He argued there was a place for pharmacy interns to undertake their community service year within the university structures as that would provide the platform from which to teach.
Ramzan said Australia currently has 43 universities, predominantly publicly funded. Undergraduate tertiary education attracts no fees from Australians, but government subsidies only cover around 45% of the expenditure. Pharmacy education is now a four-year Bachelor of Pharmacy degree with a fifth year practical work required before the board examination and registration.
In 2004 the Masters of Pharmacy degree was introduced as a full fee-paying two-year degree and the initiative has expanded the number of Australian pharmacy schools from 10 to 18.
Ramzan said, as with the profession internationally, the responsibilities of Australian pharmacists now embraced disease prevention and management, vaccinations, the medical cannabis programme and collaboration with other healthcare professions.
“Healthcare needs are changing and pharmacists must be sufficiently agile and adapt to evolving societal health needs. These include an ageing population and emergence of the non-communicable diseases epidemic,” Ramzan said.
Raman-Wilms said the Canadian socialised health insurance system provided free universal coverage, but not for medication until over the age of 65 years. Currently 40% of drugs are prescribed to the elderly but, by 2035 a quarter of the population would be over 65 years.