Radical changes to higher education sector

The Kenyan government has published a bill that seeks to introduce radical changes to higher education, establishing a Commission for University Education, to be vested with wide-ranging powers, as one of four new bodies running the sector in the country.

The Universities Bill 2012, published on 24 September in Kenya gazette supplement 121 and signed by Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister Margaret Kamar, abolishes the decades-old Commission for Higher Education (CHE), which has hitherto regulated the sector, and replaces it with the Commission for University Education (CUE).

The proposed new bodies also include the Universities Funding Board, to coordinate financing of universities; the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service, to handle admissions to public universities and colleges; and the Technical and Vocational Education (TVET) Funding Board, to handle funding of the TVET sector – a role previously left in the hands of individual, middle-level colleges.

The draft bill, which is due for debate and approval in the country’s parliament and is expected to come into force early in 2013, spells the end to another decades-old body, the Joint Admissions Board, an almost ad hoc body constituted by vice-chancellors of public universities purely for sharing out places among students eligible for admission.

The bill vests the newly proposed Commission for University Education with wide powers, including advising government on university education policy, undertaking accreditation inspections, monitoring and evaluating the state of university education and ensuring compliance with set standards.

To be funded by the government, the new commission will have five appointed members serving for at least three years each, including a secretary to the commission and a chairperson, whom the acts stipulates must be a doctoral degree holder.

Universities – public and private alike – will be compelled to have uniform management structures, including the university council, the management board, the senate, and vice- and deputy vice-chancellors.

To conform and operate in line with the provisions of the proposed law, all the country’s public universities must repeal the legal acts governing them as soon as the draft becomes law.

The proposed new Universities Funding Board is to be managed by a board of trustees constituted by nine members appointed by the education minister, headed by a secretary and financed by government. It will be mandated with coordinating and sourcing finances to run higher education institutions from local and foreign sources alike.

Previously, public universities in Kenya have been funded by the state as well as being self-financing through investments and fees levied on students.

The draft bill also implies that private universities could benefit from public funding should the government deem this to be necessary and allocate money to them through parliament. “A private university shall account for any funds received from the government,” says section 50 of the legislation.

The proposed Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Board will run the affairs of the Kenya universities and colleges placement service, with an expanded mandate also to handle admissions to middle-level colleges.

The main functions of the board will be to coordinate placement of government-sponsored students to universities and colleges – a function that will be performed centrally for students graduating from high school and qualified for university education.

The TVET Funding Board will perform similar roles to those of the universities funding board, sourcing cash to run technical training institutions.

The TVET institutions in Kenya are acknowledged to be in bad physical shape, with government’s only assistance being provision of tutors and with funding being left solely to parents by way of fees.

Nevertheless, the institutions are widely perceived to offer superior practical and technical training, said to be much sought after by industry, where TVET graduates are preferred to degree holders, who are less endowed with practical skills.

Despite the sweeping changes the bill proposes, the country’s Higher Education Loans Board (HELB) remains intact and unaffected, perhaps in acknowledgement of its critical role in financing students taking university courses.

Minister Kamar has on several occasions stated HELB’s desire to expand funding to include students in private universities and middle-level colleges.