KENYA: Government set to close unregistered colleges

In a move signaling the intention of cleaning up the higher education sector, Kenya could soon close up to 500 tertiary colleges said to be operating illegally. East Africa's biggest economy had given a 21-day notice - which expired on Friday - to 592 technical and vocational education and training institutes not registered with the ministry of higher education.

Higher Education Minister William Ruto said that by the deadline only a few of the unregistered colleges had come forward for registration, with some applications failing the test. "At the expiry of the deadline, all those colleges which have not passed the vetting will be closed down without further consultations with the proprietors," he told journalists.

This is the latest in a string of warnings issued by education officials over the past five years, during which unregistered colleges have mushroomed in the country's main cities to cash in on a growing demand for higher education in Kenya.

Educationists say that unscrupulous businesspeople are taking advantage of Kenyans' quest for education by establishing 'bogus' colleges.

According to statistics from the higher education ministry, there are only 445 fully registered tertiary institutions offering basic education - yet a further 592 have been operating illegally, admitting students and collecting fees from Kenyans.

The list of the recognised and registered colleges was published in local newspapers last week, causing panic among students enrolled in institutions not appearing on the list.

Of the 80,000 students who score the minimum grade for university entry annually, at least 50,000 miss out on a university place, leaving them with only one option - to enter tertiary colleges or end their ambitions for education.

In a bid to bring sanity to this crucial sub-sector, all the tertiary colleges will now be required to register afresh and have their premises inspected to check their suitability for offering certificate, diploma and degree courses.

"Colleges need to ensure that they have adequate and appropriate physical facilities and that there are qualified staff to implement the curriculum," said Ruto.

Analysts suggest that the situation is the toughest test Ruto has faced since his appointment as higher education minister less than a year ago.

The minister said that while it is one thing to educate people, "it is another thing to educate people in a way that adds value to society. These are the hands-on people but unless you have the people to make things happen - that technician, craftsman, tailor, mechanic and artisan - we are unlikely to attain Vision 2030", he said.

The crackdown on bogus colleges 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.

The multi-million dollar initiatives are seen by experts as having two main objectives - increasing access to higher education and fighting biting youth unemployment. Officials said tertiary level technical education and training institutes would be key to these efforts.

Youth unemployment has been rising and the accompanying serious social problems of increased crime and dependency present a major challenge to Kenya's coalition government. By upgrading some technical colleges to national polytechnics and developing youth polytechnics, the government hopes to improve access to training among youth, improving their chances of securing jobs.

The vetting of colleges will also afford parents and prospective applicants increased peace of mind, guaranteeing that they put their money only into institutions that are registered with the government and offer approved courses.

According to educationists, over the past few years parents and guardians have lost millions of dollars to bogus institutions, while students have been left holding unrecognised certificates, exposing them to rejection in the job market.

And the Commission for Higher Education, the body charged with issuing accreditation certificates, has recently come in for heavy criticism from the public for failure to act against institutions that offer substandard programmes or claim fake association and accreditation from top universities around the world.

Concerns have also been increasing that corrupt government officials have been issuing registration certificates to colleges that fail to meet the requirements, worsening the mushrooming of substandard institutions.

"There is a very stringent mechanism that all these institutions are supposed to adhere to. They are supposed to be formally registered, to have an address with a lease to make sure that they do not shift the next day," said Ruto.

At the same time he cautioned Kenyans to beware of institutions of dubious character, claiming to offer internal examinations and diplomas and certificates from curriculum developed by them - against the directive of the government - when all examinations should be developed by the Kenya National Examinations Council.

In Kenya, although the awarding of academic qualifications at universities is tightly regulated, the rules do not apply to businesses calling themselves 'colleges' or 'institutes', especially those offering distance learning programmes.

The scenario in Kenya's higher education sector is one where demand for places has outstripped supply, as indicated by the high number of students seeking education in Uganda, the US, Malaysia and the UK. Educationists maintain this has opened loopholes for rogue institutions offering degrees and diplomas to thrive, dealing a blow to the reputation of higher education in the country.

In the university sector, Kenya's public universities will this year admit 4,000 extra students to clear a backlog that has for decades forced students to wait for up to two years after high school to enter public higher education.

Despite this hike in enrolment, the problem of limited access to university persists. Of 82,000 students who scored the minimum C+ grade required to be admitted to universities, more than half - 57,000 - will miss out on places in 'regular' programmes in state universities.

The decision to admit extra students is seen by educationists as the beginning of a plan to rid universities of an admissions backlog of at least 40,000 students, and enable students to enter higher education straight from school.