Parallel university courses are a drag on quality education

Thursday December 19 2013

Moi University Annex Campus’ first year

Moi University Annex Campus’ first year students listen to Moi University Vice Chancellor, Prof Richard Mibey’s speech on October 31, 2013. PHOTO: Jared Nyataya /NATION 

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The advice by former Kenyatta University Vice-Chancellor George Eshiwani to public universities to do away with parallel degree programmes should not be casually dismissed.

Although we may not entirely agree with his position that the programmes should be dispensed with altogether given their financial contribution to the institutions and the opportunities of higher education they create, Prof Eshiwani’s arguments raise fundamental issues.

First, as the scholar points out, the programmes have led to high student enrolment that is not matched by the number, or quality, of the teaching staff available.

Indeed, a recent audit of the Council for University Education showed universities are in dire need of lecturers with doctorates to meet the requirements resulting from high student numbers. 

The small number available cannot employ proper teaching methods like tutorials owing to the large class sizes; nor can they mark scripts meticulously or offer individual attention to students.

The establishment of satellite campuses in nearly all towns means the lecturers spend too much time commuting from one to the other, and do not have enough time to prepare lectures.

Nor can they do research or publish scholarly papers or books.

The import of this has been the churning out of half-baked graduates, who cannot suit the needs of industry. It is no wonder that the Federation of Kenya Employers recently raised the alarm, saying, local graduates, some holding Masters degrees, cannot do their jobs with any creativity or diligence.

The problem is compounded by the fact that the number of public universities has risen from just seven three years ago, to more than 20 this year.

The universities must take Prof Eshiwani’s suggestions seriously.

If they don’t, they will keep producing semi-literate graduates, who cannot address the country’s future human resource needs.