Kenya plans to bar its universities from offering diplomas and certificates, starving them of a key income stream as it seeks to streamline higher education to boost quality. Universities must now concentrate on their core business – degrees – leaving colleges to handle lower qualifications, in a move that should help government regulate the college sector.
The government action, which is part of a raft of recommendations by a government taskforce, is expected to stop a trend that has seen universities ‘partner’ with tertiary colleges to offer diplomas and certificates.
In fact, these relationships have almost wiped out the college subsector, because universities took over most of the colleges and made them their campuses as they sought to grow their income streams to fund expansion, in response to demand for their services.
“Universities should exclusively concentrate on undergraduate degree programmes, postgraduate courses, doctoral studies and postgraduate diplomas,” said the report by the taskforce.
“Kenya must fix its higher education sector if it is to get the right human capital to drive growth,” said Samson Njoka, an educationist in Nairobi.
“Barring universities from offering diplomas only means that they can now concentrate fully on degrees. This gives the government some space in regulating the colleges subsector to ensure they offer only what is required in the market,” said Njoka.
The taskforce comprises educationists charged with realigning Kenya’s education system with the new constitution, which has ushered in a devolved system of government.
Colleges had recently complained to government about the growing penetration of universities into their territory and the threat they represented. The recommendations come at a time when Kenya is planning to conduct an audit of mid-level colleges to establish their capacity to produce qualified graduates.
The Ministry of Higher Education has come up with a set of guidelines within which colleges must operate, focusing on courses relevant to labour market requirements. Traditionally, low investment in technical courses like engineering and electronics has been a major setback to Kenya's economy as employers struggled to find graduates for such positions.
As previously reported, in January, government cracked the whip over the college sector, putting 200 institutions on notice in a crackdown that has seen 21 managers face criminal charges for operating illegally.
With steps taken to halt erosion of the quality of higher learning in the country, it is hoped the new proposed ban will entice investors into the mid-tier level of education, which has previously been largely neglected by government regulation.
The college subsector is a crucial one. More than half of the 200,000 students who sit for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education annually join tertiary colleges after failing to secure places at university.
The proposed ban on universities offering diplomas and certificates is part of a reform agenda in the tertiary education sector that will see Kenya spend US$56 million in donor funding to strengthen vocational and technical training countrywide, and help boost the country's skills base. The plan includes building new technical education and training institutes and elevating some to national polytechnic status.
Kenya hopes to use the reforms to strengthen its tertiary education system, effectively boosting access to education.
And it is hoped the reforms will help equip millions of the country’s youths with skills thereby improving their chances of securing jobs. Youth unemployment has been on the rise and the accompanying serious social problems of increased crime and dependency present a major challenge to Kenya's coalition government.
As University World News previously reported, government's National Strategy for University Education, to be implemented by 2015, wants existing universities to set up campuses in strategic rural areas that specialise in assigned fields such as dry-land farming, tourism and hospitality, marine sciences and environmental resources.
Educationists argue that once the ban is enforced, colleges will have an opportunity to grow – and some could even be upgraded and allowed to offer degrees.
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