President Kibaki has signed into law the Universities Bill (2012) setting the stage for a major overhaul of university education in the country.
For the first time, both public and private universities will now be governed by a single law, while the Acts forming the seven public universities will be repealed.
All the universities in the country will now come under the law that has empowered the Commission for Higher Education – to be called Commission for University Education (Cue) – to regulate the sector.
“The Universities Act, 2012 provides for the development of university education, the establishment, accreditation and governance of universities,” said the statement from the Presidential Press Service.
Under the Universities law, Cue will be closely involved in the monitoring of universities programmes.
In public universities, the senate had the final say in such programmes.
“The commission will undertake or cause to be undertaken, regular inspections, monitoring and evaluation of universities to ensure compliance with set standards and guidelines,” the law states.
This will increase scrutiny of the public universities by the Cue.
At the same time, chancellors of the public universities will no longer be appointed by the President under the new law, but the university community and the alumni will determine who will clinch that position.
“A person shall only be appointed as a chancellor where the person is of high moral character and integrity in accordance with the Chapter Six of the Constitution,” the law reads in part.
The Joint Admissions Board (JAB) charged with admission of government-sponsored students to public universities has been disbanded in the new law.
The board will be replaced by the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service.
Unlike JAB, whose main province was to admit government-sponsored students to the seven public universities and their constituents, the new body has been given an extended mandate and shall admit students in universities and colleges.
It shall also offer career and guidance services to the students entering institutions of higher learning in the country and shall have a board governing its work in coordinating admission services.
This is a major shift from tradition where JAB has always admitted students to the universities on the basis of bed-capacity at the institutions, and with little regard for the choice of degrees that they hoped to pursue.
Well-off parents have therefore taken advantage of the inadequacy of the Jab’s selection criterion to seek admission to the public universities directly through the self-sponsored programmes, usually referred to as the parallel degree programmes.
The net-effect has been that students from rich backgrounds choose the courses they wish to pursue at the expense of thousands from humble background who are thrown into courses they did not even apply to study.
Thus, a candidate who scored B enrolls to study law or medicine through the parallel programme while an A- candidate is forced to take a non-professional course under the regular programme.
Currently, there are more parallel degree students enrolled in the public universities than the regular students admitted through JAB, with the former opting to commute from their homes or seek accommodation outside the universities.
These are some of the gaps that the new agency will seek to seal while working with the Higher Education Loans Board to determine the eligibility of the students to be awarded loans and bursaries.
The new law has also set up the Universities Fund, which will be the government agency handling all money allocated to universities by Parliament, through donations, investments or endowments.