Lack of qualified staff fuels closure of some campuses

The closure of a string of satellite campuses has been announced over the past two weeks as universities move to comply with government directives aimed at halting the falling standards of degree programmes in some public institutions. Among the key institutional failings identified in the review process is the lack of qualified academic staff.

Kenya’s second oldest public university, Moi University, announced last week the closure of its Kericho and Nakuru campuses in 2017. The announcement followed the closure late last month of five satellite campuses of Kisii University and the announcement that it would halt admissions of students to programmes lacking the necessary academic staff.

In January, the Commission for University Education, or CUE, ordered that 13 campuses of three universities – Kisii, Kabarak and Laikipia – be closed.

Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i subsequently gave the institutions one year to make improvements, and set up a special advisory committee consisting of professors George Magoha and Crispus Kiamba – both former vice-chancellors of the University of Nairobi – and Professor Patricia Kameri-Mbote to verify the recommendations.

In its report submitted on 25 October, the committee confirmed the necessity to close 11 of the 13 campuses.

The committee, which conducted on-site inspections, found that many satellite campuses were running too many programmes, some of which had not been accredited by CUE. In addition, the quality of learning and standards of physical facilities on the campuses were unacceptable.

Too few PhDs

Most particularly, campuses lacked sufficient numbers of qualified staff, and had unfavourable staff-student ratios. In some cases, masters degree holders were teaching PhD students, the report found.

For example, at the Eldoret campus of Kisii University, the School of Business and Economics had 78 PhD students but only two of its staff members held PhDs. Those same two staff members also taught 266 masters students.

“The explanation given was that the gaps are filled by either having masters degree holders teaching PhD and masters students or by part-time lecturers. The lack of faculty staff at the campuses puts into question the quality of learning in these institutions,” stated the report.

The committee advised the university to stop further admission of new students and recommended closure of the universities before the end of the year. The rationalisation plan envisaged the transfer of continuing students from these campuses to main campuses.

Joseph Akama, vice-chancellor of Kisii University, said the university had scaled down academic programmes and realigned others according to availability of academic staff in the respective disciplines. The university had recruited 51 PhD degree holders as lecturers in various disciplines.

The revelations over university staffing have added to growing concerns about the deteriorating quality of university teaching and learning in the country.

Uncontrolled expansion

Education experts blame the problem on uncontrolled higher education expansion over the past decade that has seen public universities open campuses in some of the country's remotest locations. The country’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, last month ordered a freeze on the formation of new universities.

Universities in Kenya have grown exponentially as demand for higher education has soared. The country currently has 58 universities, consisting of 34 public and 24 private universities. In 2012 there were only nine public universities in the country.

A recent CUE report established that the current professor-to-student ratio stands at 1:98. Out of a total of 16,318 university lecturers, 8,693 have only a masters degree while 656 have diplomas.

The government is expected to implement fresh guidelines over a five-year period that will require all university lecturers to hold PhDs. This ruling is expected to take effect in November 2018 and applies to both private and public institutions.

Commercial purposes

According to the committee’s report, university campuses are established mainly for commercial purposes. This has compromised the basic functions of a university which are to foster education, learning and research.

“The committee is cognisant of both the need to access university education and for public universities to supplement their sources of funds. However, this must not compromise the quality of learning,” the report said.

“In future the establishment of campuses must adhere to the relevant legal provisions. Because the quality of learning in most campuses has been compromised, there is need for restorative measures that will set them on the right trajectory.”

The committee established that the legal, policy and regulatory framework for universities was quite exhaustive but universities’ compliance remained low. In this regard it recommended the setting up, for those universities without them, of in-house legal and quality assurance and enhancement offices to deal with regulatory and compliance issues.

These offices would also bring to the fore other concerns that compromised optimal university management and were not necessarily contained in the main statutes, the report said.

Bringing in the deans

It was noted that the directors and deans, as representatives of the university senate, were not well-versed in how academic programmes are run. For example, deans were not involved in advising on the number of slots available for any particular class.

Furthermore, some universities shone at infancy but weakened over time instead of maturing into strong credible institutions, the report noted.

It said the absence of individuals such as professors who could nurture universities into full maturity might be a contributing factor. University leadership needs to creatively integrate a critical resource of professors who help in nurturing the vision and growth of the university.

The committee recommended urgent training of senate members on governance and management and faculty peer learning as a mode of strengthening the capacity of the senate. For example, deans should exercise their role in determining what is taught, how it is taught, who teaches and who is taught, the committee said.

Flouting of CUE standards

The report indicated that there was a problem in the relationship between most universities and the CUE which is mandated to advise the government on the creation of universities, accredit private universities, and enforce quality standards.

“There is limited appreciation by the universities of the role of CUE and universities flout CUE standards and regulations with impunity. CUE’s approach in compliance is punitive and their interventions come too late in the day resulting in conflict between universities and the CUE,” the report stated.

“There is not continuous engagement between universities and CUE. Universities have not integrated consultation with CUE, as a partner, in matters concerning standards, such as the establishment of campuses, mounting of programmes and requisite faculty staff, among others.”

The report recommended that the CUE and the Education Ministry conduct regular audits of all universities to ascertain their capabilities and shut down those found wanting.

“We need sanity in higher education. Over and above ensuring that standards are met, CUE should seek to advise and guide the universities as a partner that is interested in the realisation of universities’ visions,” the report said.