In the cut-throat race for numbers and funds, some institutions take shortcuts

Saturday October 3 2015

Commission for University Education Chief Executive David Some. The role of the commission is to accredit universities to offer courses while the regulators certify if the courses meet the professional and practical requirements. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Commission for University Education Chief Executive David Some. The role of the commission is to accredit universities to offer courses while the regulators certify if the courses meet the professional and practical requirements. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology has borne the burden of convincing the Engineers Board of Kenya that its engineering courses are solid and credible.

And, for a while, it seemed it was the only odd one, as the regulator consistently rejected its graduates and insisted they had to go back to class and undertake some courses to consummate their professional qualification.

However, it has now come to pass that Masinde Muliro was just the first casualty.

It is quickly emerging that several universities offering professional courses do not have what it takes to mount such programmes.

Their courses cannot pass muster and their graduates, therefore, are unripe for the job market.

Last month, the Engineers Board of Kenya added to the list the Technical University of Kenya and Egerton University, whose engineering courses were found not to have met the required standards.

Consequently, the university suspended four engineering courses — civil, mechanical, electrical and chemical — and sent the students home as it seeks to reorganise the programme to meet the accreditation standards set by the board.

At Egerton University, the board stopped three programmes — namely, civil and environment engineering, industrial and energy engineering and electrical and control engineering.

The reason for stopping the courses were: Lack of adequate and qualified lecturers, segmentation and duplication of programmes.

In simple terms, some of the courses offered as full degree programmes should actually be units within the mainstream engineering.

But the problem runs far and deep. Last week, the Council for Legal Education stopped Moi University from offering legal education.

Also stopped dead on their tracks were Catholic University and University of Nairobi’s two campuses — Mombasa and Kisumu.

The case at Moi University was most dramatic. Although the university has offered legal education for nearly two decades, the regulator established that the law school had the barest of the requirements to teach the course.

Prof Kulundu-Bitonye, the chief executive of the Council for Legal Education, outlined some of the shortcomings at the university, including absence of a moot court, which was a basic requirement for law training.

Law training requires trainees to do thorough reading and research yet the Moi law school had a miniature library that could only accommodate eight students, and even if shelves and space was not the criteria, there were no reading materials.

Worse, the law school had serious deficiency of academic staff, having only two professors and few Phds for a population of 1,600 students.

In a situation where lecturers are insufficient, library and reading materials are unavailable, the law school is just but a shell. This is a serious anomaly.

The problem is not just at engineering and law schools. It permeates other disciplines, too. Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board has equally taken exception to some universities offering medical and dentistry courses without its approval.

Subsequently, it has published a list of 11 universities in Kenya that have certified courses, as well others from the East African Community that enjoy reciprocal status since they have been accredited by their respective regulators.

Thus far, the serious anomalies in training are only being magnified in the disciplines with strong regulators. But it permeates all other areas.

Since the introduction of Module II (parallel degree) programmes in the 1990s, things have not been the same.

Whereas the philosophy was sound — to offer a chance to those who can pay to get admission and into courses of their choices and delink intake from bed space — Module II programmes have come with challenges.

Over time, the noble philosophy was sacrificed at the altar of cash as the government cut funding to public universities and pushed them to raise own revenues.

Since then, the focus shifted to revenue generation rather than quality education.

Concomitantly, private universities expanded phenomenally and the race for students became fierce, forcing universities to do what it took to attract students.

To appear to be attractive, universities resorted to a number of things. One, set up campuses across the country and even outside.

This explains why University of Nairobi, for instance, has law campuses in Kisumu and Mombasa, where it does not have the requisite facilities.

Two, diversify and introduce many courses to aggregate numbers. In this context, many courses have been introduced that are essentially units within degree programmes.

And this is what the engineering board referred to when it pointed out that some courses are segmented or duplicated from existing ones, hence do not add value.

This problem is prevalent across many programmes. An examination of the range of courses on offer at the universities is simply amazing.

For example, some universities offering journalism have the following as independent courses: bachelor of broadcast production, journalism and communication, language and communication and print journalism.

Essentially, this is one programme segmented into different degree programmes to draw in numbers.

Another example is tourism and hospitality where in one faculty, the programme is offered as distinct degrees using different names as follows: hospitality management, tourism, travel and tourism management.

Similarly, you have a university offering a bachelors degree in economics, economics and statistics, and business studies and economics.

The list is long. The same applies to agriculture, education, architecture and others.

Clearly, the duplication and segmentation is astounding. Not that courses do not evolve, but when they do so, there should be a reasonably large corpus of knowledge to merit that segmentation.

In the whole debate of regulation of professional training, the question has been the role of the Commission for University Education and the regulatory bodies.

The role of the commission is to accredit universities to offer courses while the regulators certify if the courses meet the professional and practical requirements.

On the whole, university education is going through trying moments characterised by inadequate funding and soaring numbers of qualifiers.

In this mix, the tendency to take short-cuts is great. But that is no excuse to compromise standards.