Matiang'i to enforce suggestions in improvement of varsity education

Saturday February 18 2017


Commission for University Education chairman Chacha Nyaigotti-Chacha (left) and Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i address participants at KICD in Nairobi on February 16, 2017. Dr Matiang'i said university education must be improved. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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For two consecutive years, 2015 and 2016, a private university awarded degrees to candidates who had not qualified for them, as they never met graduation requirements.

The students had either not attended classes for the required number of hours or had irregularly been given waivers on some courses under the credit accumulation and transfer system.

In some of these cases, students apparently completed bachelor’s degree courses within nine to 12 months - a rare feat - because the courses ordinarily take a minimum of four years.

And there are clear stipulations for the student-lecturer contact hours.

According to Commission for University Education regulations, a bachelor’s degree is only awarded when a student has attended classes for a given number of hours as follows: applied sciences – 2,240; arts, humanities and social sciences – 1,680; medical and allied sciences – 3,960; pure and natural sciences – 1,785.

Master’s degree courses take 630 instructional hours.

As a procedure, all students’ graduation in any academic year must be approved by the university senate and that is subject to evidence that they did all the course work and sat all the examinations and passed – and ratified by external examiners.

Such procedures are not followed in some of the universities.

The lists of graduating students are presented to the senate and approved, but are subsequently altered, bringing on board those who never qualified.

In extreme contrast, some postgraduate students took too long to complete master’s or doctoral degree courses.

For instance, it took some students nine to 14 years to complete master’s studies and 11 years for doctorate.

Another private university got approval to offer a diploma course in clinical medicine but went ahead to offer degree studies in medicine and surgery, meaning it admitted and taught the students fraudulently.

These are among the findings contained in a report on universities that was released this week in Nairobi by Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i.

The report was based on an audit conducted among the country’s 70 universities in the past five weeks.

It details major shortcomings in the institutions, such as missing marks, poor supervision of postgraduate students and low completion rates.

Dr Matiang’i pledged to enforce the recommendations made in the report, noting they will be painful and disruptive, but inevitable.

As universities expanded in the past two decades and finances declined, the institutions devised numerous ways of attracting students.

But then, many students and those aspiring for university education also sought ways of obtaining the degrees without a sweat.

Universities have launched many courses that were not relevant to the economy.

For example, commerce and business courses, which are popular, are offered in more than 50 universities, flooding the market.

Others have fragmented courses such that what are typically units have been made full-fledged degree courses, leading to what the commission refers to as premature specialisation, and which denies students a chance to learn.

Some of these are bachelor’s degrees in logistics, operations research, and events and convention management.

“There was evidence of duplication of academic programmes based on competition for privately sponsored students between different schools in the same university (or other universities).

"In some instances, students had graduated from unaccredited academic programmes,” says the report.

The report also faults some universities for poorly handling degree certificates.

In one university, says the report, it was the registrar who printed degree certificates; yet this is a sacred duty that is generally done under tight security and often abroad.

What happens in this case provides a window for mischief and given that the controls at all stages of printing, storage and sealing of the certificates are weak, the sanctity of the certificates are compromised.

Shortage of lecturers is a serious challenge across all the universities, with most of them handling large numbers of students and hence compromising quality.

Equally worse is the situation at the satellite campuses established by the universities to reach more students across the country.

Most of them are a mere shell, no better than high schools, and depend on poorly remunerated and ill-motivated part-time lecturers.

“Some lecturers were teaching and supervising [master's] and PhD students who were pursuing studies above their qualifications.

"The best example is that of assistant lecturers, who are master’s degree holders, who were teaching master’s and PhD students in one university, and supervising their research work,” says the report.

Admission procedures have been violated, allowing non-qualified students to enrol for degree programmes.