Universities defy order to stop diploma courses

Joyce Kambua (23), a clerk at a petrol station in Nairobi, is excited. She is joining a local university next month to study for a diploma in management – something she thought would not be possible after the government banned higher education institutions from offering diploma courses. But universities are totally ignoring the directive issued earlier this year.

Joyce thinks 2016 will be a great year, with the evening course she has enrolled for opening up opportunities for better jobs in future, an escape route from what she considers a low-paying and dull job.

“I have prayed day and night for universities to continue offering flexible diploma courses for people like me, who cannot for now afford the higher fees charged for degree programmes.”

So she thanks universities for defying the government. If not, she would have had to quit her job and study full-time for three years at a middle-level technical institution – or abandon her academic aspirations.

The directive

The directive against universities teaching diploma and certificate courses was first issued by Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology Jacob Kaimenyi in 2014. He asked the Commission for University Education, or CUE, to ensure that universities obeyed.

“Universities should stick to their core mandate of teaching degree courses and leave all the other courses to middle-level colleges,” said the cabinet secretary at the time.

In April 2015 David Some, CUE’s chief executive, ordered universities to concentrate on their “core business of offering degree courses”.

They must abide by the demands of the Universities Act 2014, which did not allow universities to offer courses that were in the domain of technical colleges, said Some, and asked universities to cease admissions by July 2015.

Popular defiance

However, higher education institutions ignored the order, admitting students for September 2015 and now admissions for January 2016 are in progress at all universities.

Indeed, a peek at local dailies and prime time television advertisements this month revealed a frenzied scramble for 2016 admissions at degree, diploma and certificate levels, as if the order had never happened.

Telephone and email enquiries directed to Some on the matter were not responded to, and secretaries said the CEO would comment “once he had time”.

However, a senior official at CUE who is not authorised to speak to the media but did, told University World News that the “loud defiance” was under review by the enforcement section of the body.

“The matter will be discussed at length in January and at a very high level. When you see such popular defiance of a directive it suggests the ban was not well thought-out, or was not even a realistic one,” the source added.

According to Patrick Mbataru, a lecturer at Kenyatta University, diploma courses offered by universities remain very popular, with a perception persisting among the public that they are more prestigious than those offered by middle-level colleges.

Flexible learning times including evenings and weekends, and the shorter period it takes to complete a course – one-and-a-half years as opposed to three years in government colleges – makes them even more popular, especially with self-sponsored adult learners, he observed.

“At another level, every degree course offered by a university can be scaled down to diploma level and this has also made university diplomas not only popular but very diverse.”

“With the demand remaining so high, universities must be finding it hard to stop teaching these courses and a sizeable number of the student population is made up of diploma and certificate students,” noted Mbataru, an agri-business lecturer.

Additionally, he suspects, institutions will find it hard to relinquish the courses when they so badly need the money they earn to finance academic activities, in the face of inadequate state funding for higher education.