A recent audit of tertiary education in Rwanda has raised concern about its quality and an increase in questionable academic programmes even as private institutions grow in number.
The audit, which was used as the basis for suspending four private institutions and a number of academic programmes in six other universities, also raised concern about the qualifications and competence of the academic staff in the institutions.
The Mahatma Ghandi University Rwanda, Rusizi International University, Singhad Technical Education Society Rwanda and Nile Source Polytechnic of Applied Arts were suspended while several programmes in the medical and science disciplines were struck out in Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Open University of Tanzania, University of Technology and Arts of Byumba, Institut Catholique de Kabgayi, University of Gitwe and Institut d’Enseignement Superieur de Ruhengeri.
“Some of these programmes are so delicate that keeping them would be putting lives in danger,” said Papias Musafiri, Rwanda’s Education Minister.
The audit cited problems ranging from lack of trained lecturers, resources and infrastructure to offer the courses and over enrolment of students.
The increase of private universities in the country over the past few years has resulted in stiff competition for students, with some setting up satellite campuses across the country and introducing programmes that are seen as attractive to employers. In 2015, Mount Kenya University and University of Kigali were accused of inadequacies in their academic programmes and opening satellite campuses without meeting set requirements.
Rwanda has seen private universities rapidly increase from 14 in 2012 to 35 currently, in addition to over 19 public higher learning institutions that are grouped under the country’s flagship University of Rwanda along with the Institute of Legal Practice and Development.
Statistics from the Education Ministry show private tertiary institutions exceed public institutions in absorbing a huge number of the increasing student numbers who are enrolling annually.
The total number of students enrolled in universities was 87,013 as at 2014, an increase from 62,734 in 2010. While educationists praise the massive investments made in tertiary education, they point to deficiencies in finding competent academic staff to handle the courses both at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. They say this casts doubts on the students’ skills vis-à-vis the demands of the market, adding that more scrutiny was needed for online, evening and weekend courses.
While the Higher Education Council (HEC) requires universities to have more full time lecturers, official figures show part-time lecturers in private higher learning institutions outnumber full-time staff. As a result, most institutions rely heavily on unqualified full-time academic staff while part-time lecturers moonlight in multiple universities.
A recent Senate report showed this issue is prevalent at the University of Rwanda where the few available lecturers were too overloaded to handle courses.
Out of 4,000 academic staff at the University of Rwanda, only 19.2 per cent are PhD holders and of this 36 per cent are foreigners. HEC figures show that only 15 per cent of lecturers in private institutions are PhD holders.
However, Innocent Mugisha, the director of Higher Education Council told The EastAfrican that the shortage of qualified lecturers can never be used as an excuse during institutional and programme accreditation.
“These institutions make sure they have the minimum number of qualified lecturers required while seeking accreditation. But most don’t renew their contracts, and instead seek part-time lecturers whom they pay less,” Dr Mugisha said.
Dr Mugisha cites an unwillingness to inject money back into the business and pursuit of profits as the reasons why most universities are unable to upgrade their facilities, hire or retain competent staff even as they enrol more students each year.
A section of the affected institutions who talked to this newspaper poked holes in the audit findings, but officials from the Education Ministry said failure to comply with required standards within the six-month timeline would lead to the closure of institutions.