University lecturers have refused to go to class as they demand higher pay; lecture halls are half-empty after mass failure of KCSE candidates; varsities are being deregistered; some are facing financial distress; and few are capable of funding research.
Is higher learning in the country facing a crisis or is it just a blip in the radar.
The higher education regulator — the Commission for University Education (CUE) — has already raised a red flag, warning institutions that are not following set standards and regulations will be shut.
Over the last two years, several universities have closed down campuses after falling short of the tough guidelines set by the commission.
Staffing in universities is at crisis levels. The requirement that all lecturers should have PhDs has sent panic waves with some campuses being shut over this requirement.
A 2016 report by the CUE revealed the highest number of academic staff with PhDs (27 per cent) were found in public universities compared to only nine per cent in private universities.
A paltry 4,394 students — one per cent of the total population of learners — are enrolled for doctoral degrees.
“In all categories of universities, there were fewer faculty staff at senior lecturer or professor levels. The bulk of staff were at lecturer levels.
"This is a cause of worry as it means there are very few academic leaders to mentor scholars,” the report said.
Another report by a task force on legal sector reforms — chaired by Mr Fred Ojiambo — warned if the Council for Legal Education were to insist universities abide strictly by the set faculty standards, very few would qualify.
“Such a move would be deleterious, since it would rollback the gains made in increasing access to legal education.
"It was further observed that in the council’s experience thus far, institutional capacity to produce PhDs in Law was non-existent, making it difficult to insist on the requirement that lecturers in the LL.B programme must be PhD holders,” the report released in January said.
Prof Mwenda Ntarangwi, the CUE chief executive officer, admits universities are facing numerous challenges but says they should not to be condemned.
Instead, they should be given an opportunity to improve.
“The institutions have challenges we are trying to address. They are struggling but on the right path. There are institutions that are doing well, others are midway; others are struggling,” Prof Ntarangwi said.
Kenya Universities Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS) chief executive officer John Muraguri told the Saturday Nation that institutions of higher learning must work harder to attract the best students.
He also warned those focusing on art courses may find it difficult to survive because funding of universities is now based on courses offered, with science courses getting more.
He said the trend that students prefer art to sciences should change: “We do not have statistics but we have witnessed cases where students request to change courses after only one semester,” he said.
Cases of missing marks have also becoming a serious issue as has the declining quality of examinations.
A report by CUE released last year revealed the process of internal moderation of examination was lax in some universities, leading to substandard examinations.
Last year, the then Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Keriako Tobiko, recommended the prosecution of a lecturer at the University of Nairobi who had been accused of demanding a Sh3,100 bribe to allow a student to resit an exam.
Adherence to set standards has been a big challenge for many universities.
This year, the then Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, revoked the operating licence of the Presbyterian University of East Africa (PUEA) and appointed three former vice-chancellors of public universities to work with its management following the revocation.
The PUEA Vice-Chancellor, John Mungania, says the institution and its sponsor are consistently addressing financial and other issues raised by the Council for University Education.
The Kenya Methodist University and the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA) were given one year to put their houses in order.
There has also been debate over whether universities should lower themselves to the level of teaching certificate courses due to poor performance in national examinations that have been witnessed in the last two years.
Last year in March, High Court Judge Chacha Mwita ruled that universities should continue to offer certificates and diploma courses.
He dismissed an application by private colleges, which had asked that universities be stopped from offering diploma and certificate courses.
In their response, universities had argued that there was nothing wrong with what they were doing.
Universities both private and public have been running a campaign to attract more students at certificate levels.
Last week, the issue was raised during the National Assembly’s Education committee meeting.
The vice-chairman of the committee, Mr Amos Kimunya, lamented some universities were offering three-month bridging courses to allow students to enrol for degrees due a shortage of students.
“We have to address this ‘clever’ technique by universities that seek to attract more students who have not qualified for direct university entry,” Mr Kimunya said.
The CUE has already cautioned institutions engaging in such malpractices that they risk losing their accreditation if found out.
“That is an unethical practice that is not allowed and we will not hesitate to take action,” Prof Ntarangwi said.
The commission has on several occasions insisted that universities should concentrate on offering degree programmes and post-graduate studies.
“There is a grey area in offering certificate and diploma courses and we need to be very clear about it. Want to establish what we do in order to have some clarity,” Prof Ntaragwi added.
According to CUE, universities are supposed to engage in high-level training of human resource at degree level as well as undertaking high-calibre research, which will have a bearing on the policies of both the government and private sector and improve productivity as well as academic engagement.
Lack of money is also a major challenge. Currently, public universities are undertaking projects estimated at Sh66 billion and have already used Sh20 billion.
However, the Ministry of Education has proposed that out of Sh99 billion allocated to universities, only Sh12 billion should be spent on development.
Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed has indicated she will take forward reforms initiated by Dr Matiang’i, saying they are critical.
“I will focus on building on what has been achieved and sustaining the momentum for reform in the education sector. We should deepen our impact and resolve to work together,” she said.
Besides a cash crunch, the higher education sector is also experiencing its fourth strike since March last year as lecturers and other staff in public universities demand better terms of service.
They are demanding an offer for the 2017-2021 collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and this is set to further complicate the academic calendar, with the result that students will spend more time in universities.
According to Universities Academic Staff Union (Uasu) Secretary-General Constantine Wasonga, the financial situation of universities has now reached crisis level and unless it is addressed, there is imminent collapse of higher education.
“Uasu calls for an urgent stakeholders forum to discuss the budget with a view to finding a lasting solution,” he said.
Prof Chacha Nyaigoti Chacha, CUE chairman, also told the Saturday Nation that universities are troubled because some have gone off the track for selfish gains.
“Each university has its own plan that it presented when getting a charter and it indicated how they were supposed to grow but most of them have abandoned those plans and are doing their own things,” he said.
A total of 69,151 students are set to join 65 public and private universities this year.
Universities had declared a capacity of 143,000 but this figure was revised to 93,000 by CUE after validation of degree programmes.