National university ranking system to boost quality

Kenya has moved closer to rolling out a national university ranking system in an effort to boost quality and make institutions more globally competitive. A proposed ranking has been crafted that will see universities compete across a range of parameters.

The ranking system, developed by the regulatory Commission for Higher Education, is also aimed at helping students to choose the best institutions and study programmes, while poor quality and unaccredited institutions will attract fewer students.

The move followed a survey carried out across the university system, to gather information from administrators, parents, students and other higher education stakeholders on benchmarks to be used in the ranking system.

The commission’s proposed model shows that Kenya is toying with two options, with stakeholders expected to agree to one or suggest combining the two. The plan is to pilot the system early next year.

Universities will be ranked annually based on the quality of teaching and learning, level of research and investments made in community service.

In one model, the three parameters will account for 40%, 40% and 20% respectively. An alternative model would see quality account for 40% of institutional scores, research 25%, community service 15%, finances 10% and general information 10%.

The national ranking will also incorporate indicators such as stability of the university calendar, the number of recognised academic programmes offered, job placements for graduates, physical facilities, student welfare and services, and staff turnover. Other factors to be considered include corporate governance, international linkages and student dropout rates.

Drafters of the ranking said such parameters would take into account the diversity of institutions as well as their different missions and goals, to ensure that no universities are given undue advantage.

Competition among universities in Kenya has been rising over the past two years, triggered by rapidly growing student numbers. More universities have emerged, presenting students with a wider choice.

The focus is now shifting to which universities offer the best educational services, prompting policy-makers to come up with a measurement tool. Universities have been competing both for school-leavers and adult learners seeking additional qualifications such as MBAs.

Latest statistics show that enrolment in Kenya’s universities has jumped 65% over the past three years, from 120,000 students in 2008 to 198,260 at the end of last year.

The Economic Survey 2012 revealed that there are now at least 67 universities – local and foreign – operating in Kenya, up from around 30 universities five years ago.

Kenya has been relying on international rankings, such as Spain's Webometrics, to measure the reputation of its universities in the global higher education arena.

The latest Webometrics survey, which ranks universities according to their web presence, showed that Kenya's top institutions had slipped several places, indicating that they have been slow to take up new technologies.

Kenya's Commission for Higher Education, or CHE, is expected to be charged with implementing the new national ranking system.

“The implementation process should begin with a pilot phase on a voluntary basis for purposes of validation, prior to full implementation of the rating of Kenyan Universities,” it said in the proposed model.

But educationists fear that rankings could also have negative connotations, among them damaging staff and student morale in poorer performing universities.

“There is also the possibility of prospective employers favouring graduates from the highly rated institution(s) and hence becoming biased,” said the CHE in a draft document that was discussed by stakeholders this month.

The proposed rankings come at a time when Kenya is looking hard for ways to improve declining quality in higher education, which has been attributed to overflowing classes and inadequate teaching staff. Perceptions of declining quality are believed to be pushing students to study abroad.

Kenya is working with the German Academic Exchange Service, DAAD, to develop the ranking system and hopes that the model will eventually be expanded to cover East Africa’s four other countries, as they seek to harmonise their education systems in the coming years.