International collaboration could land academics in jail

Kenyan universities entering into local collaborations with foreign higher education institutions without express permission from the country’s university education authority risk severe punishment – even including jail terms for people involved.

The Commission for University Education, or CUE, has warned that such a breach of laws could result in imprisonment for up to two years or a fine of US$11,000, or both.

The regulations are part of the government’s efforts to regulate and quality assure a higher education sector that is rapidly expanding and evolving, and a burgeoning private sector. They appear not to be aimed at, for instance, international research partnerships.

“The commission wishes to remind all those concerned that any collaboration entered into with a foreign university without a permit from CUE is contrary to Universities Regulations 2014 and amounts to a criminal offence,” said a notice signed by commission head Professor David Some.

“Pursuant to provisions of Universities Regulations 2014, no foreign university shall collaborate with a local university or tertiary institution in offering academic programmes without the authority of the commission.”

Equally cautioned are student recruitment agencies – local and foreign – that have been enrolling students in universities abroad without registering or obtaining a recruitment permit from CUE. They could face a similar fate if found to be operating against the law.

Under regulations gazetted in June 2014, institutions offering programmes in collaboration with foreign universities were granted a grace period of six months to seek recognition from CUE, or completely abandon such partnerships by the end of one year. This period is almost up.

Similarly, placement agencies were to seek licensing from the commission within six months or face sanctions.

The regulations

The regulations were gazetted by Education Cabinet Secretary Professor Jacob Kaimenyi last year, to enable implementation of the Universities Act 2012, which among other things created the CUE, giving the body wide-ranging powers to control and regulate the higher education sector.

Under the act, a foreign university must apply for a licence from the commission before being allowed to partner with a local institution. The commission can revoke a certificate of authority to collaborate should it feel that a licensed university has broken the law.

Further, foreign institutions must be accredited in the country of origin and can only offer academic programmes that are accredited in the home country.

In the case of partnerships, the institutions involved must sign and submit to CUE a memorandum of understanding detailing the scope of their cooperation.

Under the provisions and on receipt of an application for authority to collaborate, CUE must appoint a collaboration review panel to investigate the veracity of the application and, if satisfied with the collaboration, ask the commission to grant permission for it.

Placement agencies will be issued with one-year renewable licences, which CUE has the authority to revoke at any time if it thinks the agency is operating in breach of the law.

“Any person who commits an offence against these regulations in accordance with the Universities Act 42, 2012, is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding Ksh1 million (US$11,000) and in the case of a continuing offence to a sum of Ksh50,000 (US$530) per day for every day the offence continues, or to imprisonment for a jail term not exceeding two years, or both,” Some said.

Prior to the rules, universities entering into collaborations did not need to seek a permit from the authorities and were only required to notify CUE’s predecessor, the Commission for Higher Education, that they had entered into a partnership.

Recruitment agencies also used to operate freely. All they were required to do was obtain an ordinary business licence to operate.