Why Matiang’i’s drastic steps will save our higher education

Saturday March 12 2016

Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i addresses the media during the release of Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination results for 2015 in Nairobi on March 3, 2016. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE |

Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i addresses the media during the release of Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination results for 2015 in Nairobi on March 3, 2016. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

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A mind-boggling number of Form Four leavers with passing grades will miss places in public universities this year.

Many of those poor chaps tried their best but could not really hack it, which means all the investment they made and the sacrifices by their parents, meant very little in the end.

The assumption, of course, is that all these fellows really did try to get good grades with university education in mind, a leap of faith that may not be backed by empirical evidence.

But to get back to the point, if so many young people cannot get places at university, where is Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i coming from when he decries the high number of colleges affiliated to main universities sprouting up in every town?

His argument that these colleges are stretching the resources of these universities makes plenty of sense.

His cure for the problem, though rather drastic, may in fact, be exactly what the doctor ordered - don’t license any more, and don’t guarantee any more loans for brick-and-mortar investments.

When you look at the number of buildings which have been turned into university campuses in Nairobi alone, you will realise that either Kenyans love education to the exclusion of everything else - which is highly debatable considering that they hardly read after school or university - or that education has been commercialised to a high degree, and damn the consequences.

But in fact, what Kenya needs most is not a huge number of paper degree-holders, but a population that possesses documents that can pass muster anywhere in the world.

It is true that the craving for higher qualification has gradually turned into a craze.

Almost everyone wants to go to night school or to enrol for long-distance (digital) degree programmes.

These days, you get PhDs in the most unlikely of places.

The number of half-baked fellows with the titles “Dr” before their names has grown stupendously - chaps who cannot construct a sensible paragraph or maintain an argument without sounding shallow and pedestrian.


One day, we shall rue the erosion of quality in our education system which has been going on steadily over the years.

This reminds me of when I started my career as a secondary school teacher.

I had not graduated and so I got a job in a small school in a satellite town in Nairobi.

Even in those early days, the school was scandalous, perched as it was on the third floor of a building in the middle of town.

The ground floor was a bar which, thankfully, operated only after 5pm, while the second was occupied by tenants.

The head-teacher was an affable elderly man while the owner just appeared at the beginning of the term to collect fees and pay his teachers with post-dated cheques.

Needless to say, I did not last a day after graduation, the owner having balked at the idea of paying a cent more than the Sh6,000 a month we had agreed on. I did not look back while walking away.

Anyway, what is Dr Matiangi’s beef with the quality of higher education today?


First, he says, many universities are borrowing heavily to buy buildings to house new colleges.

In fact, he says, some universities can no longer service the loans they already have, yet they are still keen on borrowing more, and the government is left holding the can.

Secondly, the competition for more colleges means the universities do not have the wherewithal to offer real education due to manpower constraints, lack of research facilities and space, and they are, therefore, forced to offer inferior education.

It is a fact that some universities cannot even pay the salaries of their part-time staff.

How can demotivated lecturers who are MA or MSc degree holders and are not paid regularly be expected to offer their very best?

“We cannot allow this madness to continue in the education sector,” says Dr Matiang’i, inevitably nicknamed Magufuli due to the way he has shaken the sector in the short time he has been minister.

With such resolve, there’s hope that one day, we shall not witness an army of unemployed and unemployable “graduates” with fake MBAs marching in town chanting “haki yetu”.

We have no choice but to restore sanity in our institutions of higher learning and the integrity of the courses offered. It can be done.