Thousands of students fall victim to accreditation spat

Some six weeks after being sent home by universities, more than 4,000 students remain excluded from their studies amid a bitter war over course accreditation between the Engineers Board of Kenya and the Commission for University Education. Nothing has yet come of an attempt to alter the law to strip professional bodies of accreditation powers.

Last August the engineers board published a list of 25 accredited courses in five universities, effectively disapproving 47 other courses offered in eight universities. In rejecting the courses the board cited, among other reasons, lack of qualified lecturers, a “weak curriculum”, course segmentation and duplication, and lack of “professional focus”.

The Technical University of Kenya and Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology sent home students who had protested against the Engineers Board’s refusal to accredit the institution’s courses.

Egerton University ejected its entire population of more than 1,000 engineering students, sending them home indefinitely on 23 September.

Maseno University in western Kenya followed suit, ordering learners to leave after they held protests over non-recognition of courses that some had studied for up to three years.

Professional bodies take action

As the fate of the more than 4,000 engineering students remained unclear, other bodies swung into action.

The Council of Legal Education ordered Moi University to cease training courses in law, arguing that it was offering non-approved and sub-standard education.

It also cited allegedly high failure rates in various law schools, with 1,805 out of 5,588 candidates having failed to pass bar exams in 2014. The legal sector has blamed this problem on weak graduates from ‘parallel’ programmes that enrol self-funded rather than state-funded students.

However, the university moved to court and stopped the closure of its law school until further notice.

Other bodies with a big say over what can be taught include the Nursing Council of Kenya and the Institute of Surveyors of Kenya.

But the Engineers Board has been most assertive in executing its mandate, diligently exercising its authority over what universities teach.

A hard-hitting report signed by Nicholas Musuni, the board’s chief executive, accused universities of “enhancing mediocrity and developing sub-standard degrees, which amounts to cheating the public they are offering degree courses while the menu consisted of technician-based courses”.

The report also said: “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.”

Commission turns to parliament

As more professional groups sought to flex their muscles, the Commission for University Education, or CUE, asked parliament to quickly debate a draft amendment bill meant to strip professional associations of any role in accrediting courses.

“CUE would like parliament to move fast and pass the Statute Law Miscellaneous Amendments No 2 Bill 2015, to give the commission powers over all courses taught in universities”, said CUE’s CEO David Some.

He feared that learning in Kenyan higher education would be derailed if professional bodies were not reigned in. “Our instructions are clear, no institution should stop teaching any course that has been approved by CUE. They should ignore directives from professional bodies,” Some told University World News.

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”.

But the belligerence of professional bodies could end should the bill sail through parliament as it would override other laws and give CUE the power to inspect and determine the fate of all programmes taught in universities.