Bill casts doubt over universities’ foreign campuses

Kenyan public universities could soon be barred from operating campuses in foreign countries without government approval if a bill introduced for debate in parliament is passed.

The Universities Amendment Bill 2015, the latest version of which was presented to parliament on 24 November, seeks to amend the Universities Act 2012 so as to, among other things, make it illegal for public institutions to open campuses outside the country, without express approval of the Ministry of Education and the National Treasury.

The passage of the bill has been slowed down by numerous additions and amendments. It is now expected to be enacted early next year.

Clauses of the bill lament that public funds were being used to offer education to non-Kenyan students while the same institutions were having problems raising money to fund their operations back at home.

“Foreign campuses opened by public universities have turned out to be bad investments where institutions have even lost money,” said legislator Kimani Ichungw’a who introduced the clauses to the bill last month.

Accreditation difficulties

Besides the loss of funds, the legislator told parliament that the campuses had encountered problems getting accreditation by higher education authorities in the countries in which they operated.

“Some of the centres opened by the universities, especially in Tanzania, are yet to receive accreditation – clearly an indication of wasted public funds that could have benefited Kenyan students back here at home,” he said.

The bill has received support from the parliamentary committee on education.

Targeted by the bill are Kenyatta University and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology or JKUAT, which together operate a total of four campuses in Rwanda and Tanzania.
Kenyatta University spent a total of US$4.2 million setting up centres in the two countries, according to a report tabled before the Public Investments Committee of the Kenya National Assembly early this year.

Very limited successes

According to the same report, JKUAT has invested US$4.5 million in setting up campuses in both countries even though their visibility and profile in the East African states has remained lacklustre.

In September, JKUAT lost US$200,000 at its Kigali branch campus in Rwanda as a result of an alleged incident of fraud involving the purchase of land, an incident that resulted in the vice-chancellor, Mabel Imbuga, sacking the centre’s director.

A survey conducted in Rwanda in October this year by the Higher Education Council of Rwanda ranked the JKUAT branch at number 29 out of 29 universities operating in the country, perhaps a clear indication of an investment gone awry for a university that is well-respected and highly-rated back home, and is host to one of the most successful branches of the Pan African University.

David Some, head of the Commission for University Education in Kenya, has asserted that the commission never approved the opening of the new campuses outside the country, but both universities have denied such claims and have pointed to the fact that both the Education Ministry and the Treasury have representatives on the institutions’ respective governing councils.

Trouble at home

The introduction of the clause comes weeks after the Commission for University Education shut down six campuses operated by various universities within urban centres in Kenya after they were found to have failed to meet requisite standards, including a lack of physical facilities and a shortage of qualified teaching staff.

The bill comes at a time when the government has ordered a freeze on the licensing of new universities, in a measure meant to curb continued and unplanned expansion of higher education in favour of uplifting quality.

Two months ago, President Uhuru Kenyatta halted the establishment of new universities saying that the country had enough institutions to meet the educational needs for its current population of 46 million people.

“The freeze on the establishment of new universities will give the government the opportunity to give emphasis to improving the quality of existing universities as opposed to their quantity. Our focus now must be strengthening the institutions that we have, building their resilience and ensuring sustained quality,” local media quoted him as saying in October.