University regulator gets commissioners, reforms begin

Kenya has finally selected commissioners to head its new higher education regulator, the Commission for University Education, or CUE, ending months of delays and potentially unlocking stalled programmes that had to wait for the leadership team.

Education Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi last week unveiled the nine members of CUE, whose appointment had been on the cards for eight months.

Planned reforms to Kenya’s state corporations and government agencies had delayed the appointments as well as those at other agencies. The reforms will see some state corporations and agencies merged while others will be scrapped, as the government seeks to stem duplication and slash a rising wage bill and running costs in public institutions.

Last November President Uhuru Kenyatta directed that ministries suspend appointments, recruitment, adjustment of salaries and allowances and the reclassification and creation of new state corporations. CUE is not among the agencies that will be affected by the reforms.

Kaimenyi picked leading academic Professor Henry Thairu as commission chair. The team includes CUE Secretary Professor David Some as well as Dr James Odero, Professor Wilson Langat, Millicent Omukaga, Lucy Wanja, Abudo Mamo, Fenny Mwakisha and Alvin Njuguna.

CUE’s activities had ground to a halt due to the absence of commissioners, whose job is to sanction the agency’s decisions.

Two months ago, Some raised a red flag over the impacts that the delay in appointments was having on the regulator, especially the approval of learning programmes. Now universities that have applied for course approvals are likely to have them evaluated.

Reforms can begin

The lag also stalled the roll-out of a crucial phase of reforms introduced through the Universities Act 2012, which was enacted in January last year and is aimed at streamlining and improving the management of university affairs.

The act created CUE, which will regulate both public and private universities, to replace the now defunct Commission for Higher Education, which regulated only the public sector.

“With the commissioners now in office, things can move and we will implement a number of programmes and reforms which we have lined up,” said Some.

The commissioners have their work cut out for them.

First, they come to office when concerns over the quality of learning are rising, with universities being accused of going after student numbers and not necessarily improving the state of learning.

“The quality of higher education is very worrying across the East African region. We were not ready to deal with rising enrolments in schools. Something has to be done to change this,” said Professor Mayunga Nkunya, executive secretary of the Inter-University Council for East Africa – IUCEA – the body charged with harmonising higher education in the region.

The commissioners will also have to deal with concerns that some universities, especially private ones, are mounting courses before getting an approval from the CUE. “We have had several such cases and we are dealing with them. This shouldn’t happen,” said Some.

CUE has drafted a series of regulations and standards for implementation in order to operationalise the Universities Act. The draft rules are currently being scrutinised by education and other stakeholders.

Among other things, public universities – previously governed by individual acts of parliament – will be brought under the same law. The guidelines make null and void all existing charters and letters of interim authority, which were previously required by institutions before they could operate.

The guidelines also provide for restructuring the Joint Admissions Board, or JAB, which selects students for state-funded programmes. The regulations will create a new body called the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service, which will select students for both public and private universities and will draw membership from both sectors.

As reported previously, private universities had no representation in JAB – a bone of contention for years as they missed out on top students, who were directed to public universities.

In the draft regulations, CUE details requirements for public and private universities as it begins closely monitoring programmes and accrediting new courses. Previously, public universities relied only on senates to approve courses while private institutions had to seek the green light from the former commission.