Government reveals universities' new regulatory regime

President Uhuru Kenyatta and the Kenyan government have issued a slew of new directives and guidelines for universities for the coming year, as the authorities move to tighten the higher education regulatory regime.

The moves were made over the past month by Kenyatta, the Commission for University Education and the Ministry of Education, amid concerns that universities are compromising quality in their quest for ever-increasing student numbers.

First, Kenyatta ordered the Ministry of Education to implement a directive that will require all students to meet minimum admission and lecture times, in order to graduate.

The move is seen as targeted at politicians who have over the past three years flooded universities in search of ‘quick’ academic papers following a law that sets a degree as the minimum qualification for an MP, senator or county governor.

A government-allied MP, Oscar Sudi of Kapseret, is currently fighting off claims that he presented fake academic papers to the electoral commission to gain clearance to contest the 2013 general election. Several other politicians are also facing career-threatening suits over qualifications, with accusations that they have failed to meet the minimum threshold.

Second, the president issued a freeze on the establishment of new universities while calling for increased investment in existing institutions.

“Our focus now must be on strengthening the institutions that we have, building their resilience and ensuring sustained quality. These institutions have to be globally competitive in their operations and service delivery,” he said at a recent graduation ceremony.

“Quantity at the expense of quality has the potential to harm our country. We are also focused on ensuring that we develop the requisite skills to meet job market demands.”

Third, this month Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i said public universities that mismanaged funds or were involved in graft would lost their charters. Universities are said to be losing millions of dollars annually to mismanagement and theft orchestrated by rogue administrators.

Fourth, Matiang’i has ordered the Commission for University Education or CUE to carry out an enrolment audit of all university students to ensure that only those who have met basic admission requirements are allowed to take up courses.

Positive responses

Educationalists said the new directives would help address continuing decline in the quality of education in Kenyan universities, citing numerous problems facing institutions such as overflowing classes, strained facilities, high fees and shortages of lecturers.

For instance, according to government statistics the number of professors in public universities has risen by a mere 11% over the past three years while student numbers have soared by 56% – from 140,000 in 2013 to more than 300,000 this year – generating an ever-rising student-to-lecturer ratio. Private universities have better lecturer-to-student ratios.

Lecturers have been forced to take on bigger workloads, possibly compromising already shaky quality of learning.

Universities across the country have been on a recruitment drive, most notably hiring scholars on part-time contracts to teach the growing number of students.

But two months ago, CUE said it was working on a plan to phase out part-time lectures, blaming them for substandard learning in universities. The regulator said that from 2018 only holders of doctoral degrees would be allowed to teach at universities.

A recent survey by Ipsos, a consumer research firm, revealed that the perceived poor quality of university education in Kenya is pushing students out of the country.

Most Kenyans, the survey said, would prefer to study abroad, where they believe universities guarantee quality learning and prestigious qualifications. Employers too have raised concerns over the quality of graduates coming from Kenyan institutions.

Educationists have hailed the ban on expansion of universities, blaming the mushrooming of satellite colleges and tertiary institutions for the decline in quality.

“Campuses are established mainly for commercial purposes without consideration of the suitability of facilities. This is compromising the basic function of a university which is fostering learning and research,” said a strategy paper prepared last month by a team of university professors contracted by the Ministry of Education.

Earlier this year, CUE ordered the closure of 10 out of 13 campuses of Kisii University, one of Kenya’s fastest growing public universities, potentially threatening the institution’s existence, on the basis of inadequate resources and unapproved programmes.

The regulator has also kicked off a massive audit of all public universities to root out substandard campuses and institutions.