Universities versus engineering board row escalates
The move resulted in student strikes in at least two universities in late July and August – the Technical University of Kenya and Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology. Students accused the university managements of hoodwinking them into enrolling in courses that could not guarantee employment.
“We have been here for two years studying electrical and electronic engineering courses only for the Engineers Board of Kenya to announce that it did not recognise our degree programmes,” said Kamau Njiraini, a second-year student at the Technical University of Kenya.
“All blame should go to the university administration for hoodwinking us into taking programmes they well knew were not recognised by the board. We ask the Commission for University Education and the Ministry of Education to intervene.”
A similar standoff between learners and university administrators ensued at Masinde Muliro University in Western Kenya where five courses were denied accreditation by the board, resulting in student unrest. The university subsequently sent all engineering students home indefinitely.
Other universities denied accreditation include Dedan Kimathi University of Technology, Kenya Methodist University and Daystar University. The universities of Kenyatta, Egerton and Moi, and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, had some programmes approved.
The engineers board published a list of 25 accredited courses in only five universities in August 2014, effectively not approving 47 other courses offered by eight universities in which more than 1,000 students are enrolled.
The 2014 bombshell resulted in riots at all of the eight public universities and months of closures and obliged the Commission for University Education, or CUE, to intervene.
But the board stood its ground, saying that it was mandated under law to accredit courses linked to the engineering profession.
CUE head Professor David Some loudly condemned the board’s action, arguing that the engineers board was using its powers to invade the territory of the higher education regulator.
This has led to questions being raised about the board’s powers to approve programmes that are assured and credited by CUE, why the regulator approved the courses and who had the last say when it came to the recognition of university courses.
According to Section 7 of the Engineers Act 2011, the board is empowered to “approve and accredit engineering programmes in public and private universities and other tertiary level educational institutions offering education in engineering”.
Some has since called for a review of laws establishing both his commission and those of other statutory professional bodies, to avoid conflict in future and give CUE the final word on courses taught in higher education institutions.
Other bodies with major say over what can be taught include the Law Society of Kenya, the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board, the Nursing Council of Kenya and the Institute of Surveyors of Kenya.
But it is the Engineers Board of Kenya that has been most assertive in executing its mandate, diligently exercising authority over what universities teach.
In rejecting the 47 courses it declined to accredit last year, the board cited, among other reasons, lack of qualified lecturers, a “weak curriculum”, course segmentation and duplication and an alleged lack of “professional focus”.
“Universities seeking to offer studies in this discipline must recruit competent lecturers to teach units including power systems, controls, machines, telecommunications and microwaves, electronics and microprocessors, among others,” the board said in a hard-hitting report signed by Nicholas Musuni, its chief executive and registrar.
He accused universities of “enhancing mediocrity and developing sub-standard degrees which amounts to cheating the public that they are offering degree courses while the menu consists of technician-based courses”.
The stubborn stance by the engineers board has elicited a backlash of resentment and anger among engineering professionals, many of whom are working but have been denied registration and the title of ‘engineer’ by the board because they graduated from a course not recognised by the body or failed to seek registration.
“The board has become a hindrance to training more engineers in Kenya. They are not allowing in new courses outside those they were themselves taught in, and it seems they fear flooding the market with new modern-age engineers,” lamented Kennedy Kimathi, a drilling engineer with a geothermal power company in Nairobi.
“It’s time this crop of 1970s engineers left the Engineers Board of Kenya.”