Reports that more than 10,000 university students are enrolled in degree courses that have not been approved by the Commission for University Education are astonishing. Even more jolting is the fact that the universities have been offering the programmes with the full knowledge that they are doing so in contravention of the law that guides higher education.
Coming in the wake of the launch of admissions of freshers by the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service, the reports have shaken the entire higher education sector and raised serious questions about the efficacy of quality control mechanisms put in place to supervise the institutions. Most of the programmes in question are clustered under Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees, and are offered by 26 universities.
It is unfortunate that the universities mounted the courses yet they had not been approved by the regulator and with complete insouciance to the hard-earned cash paid by parents in tuition and accommodation fees, besides the time and emotional energy invested in the lessons by the learners.
While it is not entirely true to say that the unapproved courses are worthless, the CUE, which is mandated to approve and supervise the institutions for standards, owes Kenyans an explanation. Why has it not approved the courses? Did the universities fail to apply for the accreditation of the programmes? Whoever is at fault, to declare the courses as bogus is not only a grave misnomer, but also an insult to the students, lecturers and institutions offering them.
In a sense, the degrees cannot be worthless. University education is not just about preparing one for formal employment but about knowledge acquisition, character formation, development of analytical and creative minds and the building of initiative and leadership skills. Still, in a developing country such as Kenya, a university education is seen a stepping stone to social mobility, stability and higher income. This explains why there has been an exponential increase in the number of higher learning institutions from less than 10 some 15 years ago to more than 70 today.
Besides living up to its mandate, the CUE must improve its communication to engage more directly with the universities and the public. It is critical to address the concerns of students enrolled for the courses in question and explain to them the options available to them and why the programmes are invalid.
However, the whole episode demonstrates the vexed issues higher education faces. The CUE must create order in higher education but that must be done through a well-laid down process.