Kenyan universities given deadline to clear rot as quality declines

Wednesday March 29 2017

Graduands follow proceedings at a past graduation ceremony at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Karen, Nairobi. The East African member states are debating on a bill to harmonise higher education. File Photo

A graduation ceremony. Kenyan universities have until mid-next month to develop a roadmap for addressing irregularities. PHOTO|FILE 

By DAVID ADUDA

Kenya’s universities have been put on a tight leash after a recent audit report showed gross deficiencies in their systems.

They have been tasked with reviewing their academic programmes, reorganising their governance structures and revamping infrastructure to reverse declining quality and salvage their reputations.

Consequently, they were given 30 days to develop a roadmap for meeting those targets and submit it to the regulator, the Commission for University Education (CUE) — the deadline expires mid-next month.

According to the Quality Audit Inspection Report, which was conducted in January and February, most universities have been engaging in unprocedural, unprofessional, unethical and illegal practices. Currently, Kenya has 70 universities, 34 being public and 36 private.

Top on the list of accusation is a number of universities have awarded degrees to people who never qualified to pursue higher education or had not completed the requisite number of years to graduate. Cases are cited of students who graduated with bachelors’ degrees after studying for less than a year, yet the minimum duration is four years for those who join university straight after high school. It is only those who are admitted with recognised diplomas who take a shorter period — three years — because they benefit from a credit-transfer system.

Another case is reported of a Form Four leaver, who got grade D+ but was admitted to university and graduated with a degree in purchasing and supplies after only 18 months. The minimum entry qualification is grade C+, so the candidate should never have been admitted in the first place, and two, no course runs for less than two years.

Satellite campuses
Second, a number of universities were found to have set up satellite campuses without the approval of their own councils, let alone CUE. One such institution is Kisii University, which even before the audit was conducted, had been found to have established 13 campuses without the approval of its council. It has since closed the campuses.

The challenge is that these satellite campuses do not have appropriate infrastructure and qualified lecturers. In many cases they are in shady premises in backstreets of rural towns and staffed with high school teachers with post-graduate qualifications who lecture part-time. The most notorious are the so-called school-based degree programmes that target practising teachers. Under this programmes, teachers study during school holidays — April, August and December — and get degrees after only two years as each holiday was counted as a full semester.

Related to this, the universities have mounted all sorts of programmes in a bid to attract students. First, there is duplication of courses or they are split, so that what would be units within degree programmes have been turned into fully-fledged degree programmes. Some universities went ahead to change the name of their courses altogether, diverting from what was approved by the regulator; which amounted to duping learners.

This saw the Commission direct universities to stop the school-based programmes and all non-approved courses. It also abolished executive masters’ degree programmes because they had been abused.

“The Commission shall not recognise any awards to students admitted in academic programmes mounted without its approval,” said the report. “All academic programmes offered under the school-based or any other related names by the universities are stopped forthwith.”

The report was commissioned by Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, who was responding to public concern about the declining quality of university education. This decline was associated with unplanned expansion that was largely driven by the need for more money. The expansion was so widespread in the past decade as many public universities were established and private investors joined the craze in a bid to mint money as higher education became lucrative especially with the large number of high-school qualifiers.

The report also faulted the way examinations and graduations were conducted at the university. For example, it emerged that out of the country’s 70 universities, 13 had never spelled out their requirements for award of degrees and approval for graduation was haphazard. In principle, university senates are required to approve the list of graduands, who should have been taught for a prescribed period of time, sat and passed continuous assessment tests and final examinations.

However, this was never applied in some universities. Either the lists approved by senates were altered or students were presented for degree awards without the senates’ approval. Worse, some university administrators had leeway to print and change degree certificates at will.

“In one university, the Registrar generated degree certificates internally. The Commission noted weak security controls in terms of printing, storage and sealing of certificates, thus compromising their integrity,” says the report.

Equally worrying, the universities flouted regulations on postgraduate studies. Admissions were irregular and few had adequate lecturers and resources to run masters and doctoral programmes. Lecturers with only master’s degrees were assigned to teach masters and doctoral students, an affront to academic integrity.

The flipside was that many students were unprepared to pursue postgraduate studies and ended up taking up to 11 years instead of two years for masters and three years for doctorate programmes. Also cited was lack of proper supervision, with lecturers being unavailable for consultation and guidance, which delayed candidates.

Another area that was susceptible to abuse was the awarding of honorary degrees. Between 2012-2016, 27 universities awarded various honorary degree programmes but only nine complied with proper procedure. A practice had emerged where some vice-chancellors were recommending their friends and relatives for the honorary degrees in complete disregard to university procedure.

In summary, the report brought out the rote in higher education in Kenya but did not go further to make recommendations about how to reverse the decline. Issues of governance, funding, political interference, legal and policy frameworks were not brought out yet these remain fundamental pillars, which the ministry and the commission must pay special attention to.

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