KENYA: Professional bodies reject degrees

Kenya's higher education sector is battling a fresh crisis after two key professional bodies refused to recognise the degrees of hundreds of engineering and law graduates, prompting uncertainly over their futures.

The Engineers Registration Board has declined to recognise engineering degrees from three of Kenya's leading universities: Egerton, Kenyatta and Masinde Muliro.

A similar fate has befallen law graduates from some public and private universities after the Council of Legal Education rejected their papers.

Other organisations - including the Institute of Surveyors of Kenya, Chartered Institute of Accountants, Pharmacy and Poisons Board, Medical Practitioners and Dentistry Board, Nursing Council and Veterinary Board - have also been pushing universities to improve degree quality.

Educationists argued that the stamping of authority by professional bodies was a signal that the job market was becoming frustrated with the quality of graduates from Kenyan universities.

The engineering and law bodies said their decisions were taken largely because the universities had low quality curricula, lacked qualified lecturers or had duplicated courses, and because there was a general lack of professional focus. This has irked universities.

The professional bodies also argued that some institutions have failed to meet accreditation rules while rushing to meet surging demand for degrees, and lack the facilities to cope with rising student numbers.

Higher education enrolments have been rising by around 40% annually for the past five years, while public subsidies have increased by 4% to 5% over the period. According to official figures, the number of students in public universities was 143,000 last year, up from 101,000 the previous year.

Kenya has for years been suffering a quality crisis blamed on uncontrolled higher education expansion that has also seen public universities open campuses in remote parts of the country, where there is considerable doubt over the quality of teaching and learning.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga recently called on universities and professional bodies to end the dispute, which could cost parents, guardians and students millions of shillings in fees and other charges for degrees that might have no value in the labour market.

He said in response to the Engineers Registration Board decision: "While the quality of education must never be compromised, the board must guide universities into strengthening programmes to ensure graduates meet international standards."

"The board must hold talks with schools of engineering and come up with workable solutions so that students are not disadvantaged," Odinga urged.

So far, the engineering body has refused to accord accreditation status to 47 ongoing and planned engineering courses. Kenyatta University had eight engineering degrees in various fields rejected on the basis of lack of lecturers, inadequate laboratories and segmentation of degrees.

"Kenyatta University is doing what it can to ensure its engineering students meet the demands of the Engineers Registration Board," said Vice Chancellor Olive Mugenda recently. "The university is, for example, restructuring and harmonising courses in line with the ERB's requirements in order to get accreditation."

The Council of Legal Education said graduates with inadequate degrees would not be admitted to the Kenya School of Law, a key requirement before they can start practising. One of the affected institutions is Kabarak, a private university, which the council has refused to endorse although the Commission for Higher Education has allowed it to offer law degrees.