Time to clean house in higher education

Monday April 16 2018

By EDITORIAL
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The publication of the list of university admissions last week has triggered public debate over the status and future of higher education in the country.

It brought to the fore issues that lie masked in the growth of universities and high school performance.

On the surface, some of the glaring issues exposed were the inability of certain universities or academic programmes to attract students, signalling that they are irrelevant and perhaps ought to be scrapped altogether.

But underneath was the question of strategic direction and thinking about the entire education sector.

In the quest to expand university education in the 1990s and early 2000s, the government set up institutions all over the country without thinking about their long-term viability.

AUDIT

Paradoxically, they were never properly funded, compelling them to mount parallel degree programmes to generate income to sustain themselves.

To raise the numbers, however, the universities lowered the admission criteria, taking on board students who had flunked but sanitised them through so-called bridging courses.

It was until an audit last year by the Commission for University Education (CUE) lifted the lid on universities that flouted cardinal academic rules and threw quality standards out of the window.

On the supply side, the country had perfected a system of exam cheating at Form Four that fed the morass in the universities.

ADMISSIONS

But arising out of the stringent rules introduced to curb cheating, the number of university qualifiers fell sharply.

And here again was a problem: The pendulum unrealistically swung to the extreme.

The drop in Form Four performance is questionable.

Although cheating was eliminated, it does not mean that our children have become so daft that a cohort can only produce 142 As and 2,714 A-s out of more than 600,000 candidates as happened last year, and that just about 70,000 qualify for university admission.

Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed must initiate a review of the education practice and administration.

We see signs of deeper malaise and the cure must be strategic; neither reactive nor political.