New Cabinet Secretary George Magoha is quite right when he describes university education in the country as being in jeopardy and urgently in need of a thorough clean-up.
The Education CS cites some of the ills bedevilling the sector as tribalism, duplication of courses, staffing shortages, funding shortfalls and unplanned expansion, all of which contribute to poor quality of education.
A country’s high-level human resource capacity is mostly determined by how vibrant and robust its universities are. This is because these institutions prepare the next generation of engineers, doctors, architects and a host of other professions for the job market.
If the universities are lacklustre and enervated, the quality of their graduates tends to be run-of-the-mill, uncompetitive and unimaginative.
This is tragic because studies have shown a high degree correlation between higher education and economic growth.
Investment in top quality education creates a conducive environment for a positive impact on the size and quality of the population, mortality rate, health and a civilised work culture with a direct impact on income generation and economic growth.
This is why the quality of education offered in the universities is a matter of paramount importance and which should be guarded like a treasure trove. The country’s economic prospects depend on it and so does the future of the learners.
Over the past four decades, higher education has expanded exponentially from one university in 1970, to 33 in 2012 and 70 in 2016.
This has been attributed to population growth, wider access to basic education and a strong social demand for higher credentials.
Yet this expansion has been so rapid that the economy has been unable to absorb the thousands of university degree holders who graduate every year, leading to desperation spawned by increased joblessness after years of academic toil.
Most universities, especially the newer ones, are dogged by dire staff shortages, lack of funds, inadequate learning materials, weak management systems and unprofessional examination procedures.
But parents continue to pay through the nose to have their children get a university education so they can have an edge in the job market.
This sorry state of affairs is what makes Prof Magoha’s pledge to crack down on the institutions timely.
The CS has shown his mettle, having stamped out cheating in national examinations when he was the head of the exams council. He also proved his management credentials as the University of Nairobi vice-chancellor for 10 years.
The time to stem the systemic crisis in the universities is now and Prof Magoha has his work cut out for him.