Government to rank universities from this year

Kenya plans to start ranking its universities based on their performance and the quality of graduates they are producing, to raise their profile globally. The move, which begins in April, is intended to boost the faltering quality of education in the country.

Higher Education Permanent Secretary Professor Crispus Kiamba believes the move will not only stoke competition among universities but will also help market Kenyan institutions globally to attract foreign students.

“We want a system where students can compare and choose which university to join,” said Kiamba. Globally, ranking is common in higher education systems and has become key in marketing courses to international students.

The planned Kenyan rankings, educationists say, should address growing employer concerns that the skills being produced by universities do not meet job market needs and that graduates are ‘half-baked’.

The new system should also help weed out rogue institutions offering unaccredited degrees and diplomas.

Kenya has just kicked off a survey across universities, which will see administrators, parents, students and other higher education stakeholders proposing benchmarks to be used in the ranking system.

Once data has been gathered, government will publish a list of universities and their rankings according to the benchmarks. This will help students to choose institutions and study programmes. It will also mean that unaccredited institutions will attract fewer students.

The proposed ranking system, educationists argue, could also help universities address current challenges such as overflowing classes, strained facilities, high fees and shortages of lecturers – which are said to be hurting quality.

“The quality of learning in some universities has been declining,” said the country's new National Strategy for University Education. “There is a shortage of doctoral-level lecturers as a result of rapid expansion and brain drain.”

Efforts at improving performance in Kenyan universities could not have come at a better time. The perceived low quality of university education in the country is said to be pushing students to study abroad.

A recent survey by Synovate, a consumer research firm, revealed that most Kenyans would prefer to study abroad, where they believed universities guaranteed quality learning and were prestigious. Of the 1,044 students polled in the survey carried out towards the end of 2011, 57% said they would prefer to study at a foreign university than a local one.

The ranking system could be adopted by Kenya’s neighbours in the East African Community once their higher education systems are harmonised in the coming years. The German Academic Exchange Service, DAAD, is said to have been preparing a ranking system for Kenyan universities, a project that is also to be rolled out to other East African countries.

Kenya has been relying on international rankings such as the one by Spain's Webometrics to measure the reputation and credentials of its universities in the global higher education arena. The current Webometrics survey, which ranks universities according to their web presence, showed Kenya's top universities had slipped several places, indicating that local universities have been slow to adapt to new technologies.

A 2011 report by the European University Association shows that the existence of rankings encourages universities to improve their performance. But the question remains as to exactly what type of actions they lead to.

“Striving to improve their position in the rankings, universities are strongly tempted to improve performance in those specific areas that are measured by the indicators used to prepare rankings,” said the report, Global University Rankings and their Impact.