Sunday, December 9, 2012

MPs reject proposal to lower varsity fees

PHOTO | FILE First-year students register at Kenyatta University on September 10, 2012. MPs rejected last-minute changes to the Universities Bill (2012) which would have substantially lowered university fees.

PHOTO | FILE First-year students register at Kenyatta University on September 10, 2012. MPs rejected last-minute changes to the Universities Bill (2012) which would have substantially lowered university fees.  NATION MEDIA GROUP

By BENJAMIN MUINDI [email protected]

Parliament has rejected last-minute changes to the Universities Bill (2012) awaiting presidential assent that would have substantially lowered university fees.

The amendment sought to end double accreditation of university programmes by the Commission for Higher Education – now called Commission for University Education (Cue) – and professional boards.

Cue charges a standard fee of Sh150,000 to evaluate a degree programme while the other nine professional boards charge between Sh300,000 and Sh1 million to evaluate the same programmes in each university.

It is this cost that the universities pass on to the students, making it expensive to study law, medicine, engineering, nursing, dentistry and pharmacy.

The amendment that Parliament rejected sought to give Cue the sole mandate to “accredit and inspect university programmes” and the professional boards to work with the commission rather than the universities.

“For the avoidance of doubt, only the commission shall have the powers to perform these functions (accreditation and inspection of university programmes),” the rejected proposed amendment read in part “... Where any conflict arises between the provisions of this Act and the provisions of any other law in relation to accreditation of institutions or programmes of universities or any function of the commission, the provisions of this Act shall prevail”.

The boards involved in accreditation are Engineers Registration Board (ERB), Council of Legal Education, Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB), Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board, Nursing Council and the Veterinary Board. Others are Kenya Medical Laboratory and Technicians Board and the Clinical Officers Association.

In addition to charging the universities for accreditation and evaluation, PPB charges individual students Sh1,000 for what they call indexing.

Higher Education Permanent Secretary Crispus Kiamba said there was a need to bring order in the system, arguing that the professional boards had “congested university regulation”.

“Ultimately it has made university education expensive because the institutions have to pass on these extra costs to the students or come knocking at the doors of the government asking for more funds,” Prof Kiamba said. “I hope very soon we will revisit this issue and think soberly on it. All these professional boards now need to work with the Cue.”

Prof Kiamba singled out ERB, which was recently taken to court after it failed to acknowledge degrees from Moi and Masinde Muliro universities, yet they had been approved by the Cue.

The board was ordered to pay Sh200,0000 to each of the students for shattering their dreams to become engineers.

“In a country like ours where citizens place a premium on university education, it is not right to leave graduates in a suspended state where they do not know their fate especially where parents have made sacrifices to educate their children, students have taken out loans from the Higher Education Loans Board and are expected to repay these loans and the state has invested taxpayers money in facilities and educating engineering graduates,” said Justice David Majanja in the ruling in October.

Justice Majanja noted that the action of ERB in purporting to accredit universities and courses does not have any legal basis either under the Engineers Registration Act, the Moi University Act or the Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology Act.

On Saturday, Prof Kiamba said there was a need to revisit the issue in the future. “It does not make sense to have the regulatory bodies going to the universities as it makes the process murky,” he said.

And in an earlier interview, the head of the Council for Legal Education, Prof Wanyama Kulundu-Bitonye, said the country could emulate South Africa, where all professional bodies and associations fall under the accrediting agency of the government.

This way the evaluation of programmes is reduced to only one body but assisted by representatives of the professional associations to make sure the training being offered is up to scratch.

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