Ten campuses closed, dozens face ban, in quality drive

Tucked away on the outskirts of Kenya’s capital Nairobi, the Commission for University Education has been criticised for not having ‘bite’ in regulating the higher education sector. But this month the commission rose from the shadows, ordering 10 university campuses to close in what could be a turning point in salvaging the country’s higher education system.

Amid allegations of massive cheating in university exams and the existence of rogue colleges and universities, the commission known as CUE has long been accused of inefficiency and failing to crack the whip over either problem, even though it is backed by an elaborate legal architecture.

Now the regulator has closed 10 out of 13 campuses of Kisii University, one of Kenya’s fastest growing public universities, potentially threatening the institution’s existence.

It has launched a massive audit of all public universities to root out sub-standard campuses and institutions. This follows concerns expressed by independent educationalists over the faltering quality of learning as universities have rapidly expanded student numbers.

CUE Chief Executive Professor David Some said the commission had also placed over a dozen university campuses under review, giving them 90 days to address various audit queries raised in evaluations.

“We are going all-out to ensure that all universities and their campuses follow set out guidelines in regard to accreditation of courses, establishment of institutions and setting up of adequate facilities,” said Some.

Tough new regulations

The announcement of the campus closures has angered university administrators and students, who are threatening to protest against the action.

But the commission is unbowed. It is drawing its powers from a new set of regulations that it has now started implementing to guarantee quality of learning in Kenya’s universities.

Under the new Regulations, Standards and Guidelines, which officially came into effect this year, the establishment of campuses and satellite centres has to meet minimum standards specified in terms of structures and location.

There is a penalty for non-compliance of US$58,830 or three years' imprisonment or both.

Foreign universities will be required to submit proof of accreditation from their home countries before they are allowed to offer courses in Kenya. For local institutions, the accreditation agency will require core courses to be declared before starting operations, and accreditation will revolve around the core courses.

Public universities will also be subjected to quality assurance overseen by the commission – a role previously prevented by university acts. Universities are expected to not just expand capacity but also provide quality education in an environment conducive to learning.

CUE has started 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 commission in its earlier rendition.

“All institutions of learning must meet the set of basic standards or we close them down,” said Some.

Growing concerns

In recent years, employers have been raising concerns that while higher education has been producing growing numbers of graduates – estimated at more than 10,000 annually – many lack the technical skills desperately needed by the economy.

These concerns saw the government in 2011 order a fresh round of inspections of private universities and colleges to ensure that quality programmes were being offered to students. But the results of this audit are yet to be made public or the recommendations implemented.

Independent educationists are in support of the commission’s onslaught against universities.

“Look at it this way: something had to be done. Kenya’s university education is in a shambles and the waning quality of learning can’t be allowed to get worse. Universities have to operate within set rules and regulations,” said a former public university vice-chancellor who consults for the government.

“There comes a time when one has to crack the whip. Not everyone will be happy but at the end of the day, Kenya has to show some commitment to producing quality graduates who have the capacity to compete in the global sphere,” he said.

Major problems uncovered

It is not only universities that are battling a quality crisis.

Late last year, the government revealed that among hundreds of other tertiary institutions operating in Kenya, only 11 had legally registered to offer training. The rest were operating illegally – a major admission of failure – meaning that thousands of graduates hold worthless certificates.

Officials from the technical and vocational education and training authority said most colleges had avoided its audits, which kicked off last October with the aim of weeding out academic malpractices in the sector. Over the years colleges have been the top option for school-leavers who miss admission to private and public universities.

A TV exposé aired last year unearthed a certificate and diploma mill at one of Kenya’s leading aviation colleges. It also uncovered widespread rot in higher education institutions, many of which engaged in academic malpractices and some of which were dishing out qualifications without requiring a person to step into a classroom or study.

Leading professional bodies have been up in arms over the falling quality of graduates. The Engineers Board of Kenya, for example, recently rubbished more than half of the engineering degree courses being offered by universities, saying that they had not been approved. The board accredited only 29 out of 67 engineering degrees offered in public institutions.

Late last year, the Council of Legal Education jumped on the bandwagon, ordering the closure of Moi University’s law school – one of the country’s oldest law faculties. It also sought to stop two campuses affiliated to the University of Nairobi from admitting new law students, saying the physical facilities and teaching resources were inadequate.

The universities disputed the claims, saying they were well equipped to run law courses. These stand-offs are continuing, and have created bad blood between professional bodies, universities and the Commission for University Education.