The profession of engineering in Kenya needs urgent action by policy makers to ensure fairness to all stakeholders.
The Engineers Board of Kenya (EBK) seems only concerned with the regulation of five traditional courses: mechanical, civil, agriculture, chemical, electrical and electronic engineering.
There are other engineering disciplines such as environmental, aeronautical, software, petroleum, geomatics that do not have a regulating body yet EBK (as provided for in the EBK Act), doesn’t think that those trained and qualified in these areas should use the title “engineer” nor practise in Kenya.
Local universities are being threatened with court action should they admit students to study “unrecognised” engineering courses yet they are allowed to mount any course and conduct research on any discipline.
The contradictions in the legal regime have made a bad situation worse. The Universities Act 2012 that established the Commission for University Education (CUE) says one of the commission’s functions is to accredit and inspect programmes.
Similarly, the Engineers Act 2011 grants powers to EBK to approve and accredit programmes in public and private universities and other tertiary institutions.
By their nature and traditions, universities (also established by Acts of Parliament) are expected to exercise academic freedom.
They have Senates which must approve the curricula to be taught, who should teach, whom should be taught and how they must be taught.
The various Acts establishing the universities do not mention anything to do with universities being answerable to other organs to approve programmes before they are mounted.
We need to correct the anomaly in our legal regime governing university education by drawing a line under the confusion in engineering that has caused anguish to students and parents.
Is it CUE or professional bodies that should regulate the universities? Why the double and costly accreditation process?
Ideally, professional bodies should deal with universities through CUE but carry on performing their role of registering professionals after graduation and generally maintain order in the practice.
Woe unto universities offering professional courses! There are so many bodies trying to milk the universities dry.
We have EBK, Architectural Association of Kenya, Medical and Dentists Board, Pharmacy and Poisons Board, Board of Registration of Architects and Quantity Surveyors, Kenya Medical Laboratory Technicians and Technologists Board, etc.
These bodies, including CUE, charge between Sh300,000 and Sh1.5 million to accredit or review a single programme capacity and competence in curriculum development notwithstanding.
Vibrant universities are expected to review their curricula every two or three years. Before implementing changes, they are supposed to send copies to CUE and the professional bodies.
In any resubmission, the universities must pay afresh. By the time the back and forth correspondence between the three institutions is complete, the proposed changes would have become obsolete.
The time and money expended by institutions in responding to professional bodies is simply energy and resource sapping.
These bodies are publicly funded, but go ahead to demand huge sums of money from similar public institutions.
A survey by the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Massachusetts, USA, revealed that professional accreditation is a valuable, often necessary, incentive to institutional development, but that it is costly, cumbersome and often unfair.
Professional bodies should stop trivialising teaching and training, which is likely to stifle the growth of universities.
In the fullness of time, EBK and its ilk risk promoting a compliance culture that may make professional programmes too narrow to be considered higher education in the full sense of the term.