Massive audit set to shake up universities

In what is being billed as one of the most comprehensive institutional reviews in Kenyan higher education history, the Kenyan Commission for University Education, or CUE, is to start the process of auditing all public and private universities on 23 January.

The audit process, expected to clean up those universities offering sub-standard courses and those not accredited by CUE, could see some campuses closed, degree programmes scrapped and unqualified teaching staff sacked.

The audit comes against the backdrop of a public debate about concerns over the declining quality of higher education in Kenya.

Among the key issues the Commission for University Education will be looking at are the structure of university programmes, modes of delivery, availability of academic resources for implementation of programmes, modes of assessment, learning environments in the university, learning facilities as well as extra-curricular activities.

In addition, the commission will look at minimum admission requirements, students' progression through academic years and the credit transfer system over the past five graduations. CUE is also looking at the examinations, certification processes and award of degrees with evidence of adherence to minimum standards, and graduation lists for the period between 2012 and last year.

The audit will give the commission a glimpse into what has largely been confidential information for the universities, effectively exposing the institutions to public scrutiny, especially with regard to how they set, administer and mark examinations and allocate grades to students.

Staff qualifications

The commission is also seeking data on the qualifications of all teaching staff. This could see thousands of employees lose their jobs as the commission implements new regulations which have set minimum qualifications for the appointment of lecturers and professors.

According to CUE CEO Professor David Some, the audit will cover the “appointment and promotion of academic staff based on qualification and merit, documented evidence of their CVs at the time of appointment or promotion and adherence to harmonised minimum criteria for appointment and promotion of academic staff in universities in Kenya since October 27, 2014”.

New guidelines which became effective this month require that academics who hold masters degrees – no matter their years of experience or number of publications – can only serve as junior lecturers and tutorial fellows and the threshold for appointment as a professor has also been pushed higher. Previously, academics were required to accumulate only 10 application points from scholarly writing, whereas a professorial appointment now requires a minimum of 60 points.

University management

The audit, which is expected to be concluded by early February, will also lift the lid on the management of Kenya’s universities, which are increasingly coming under attack for spearheading what educationists say has been a drastic decline in the quality of learning over the past five years.

Directing the CUE to conduct the inspection of universities on 22 December last year, Kenya’s Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i decried the questionable state of management in the institutions.

“Concerns, complaints, petitions and representations reaching my office suggest all is not well within the public and private universities in Kenya," he said.

After the university audit, Matiang’i has indicated he will make the scorecard for each of the universities public. Such information, said Daniel Ngugi, a lecturer based in Nairobi, would give prospective students a view of which universities had the best credentials, effectively helping them make the right academic choices.

The scorecard is expected to show dropout rates, completion rates, examination assessment and grading systems, average period taken to earn a degree, class sizes, as well as physical facilities and their utilisation, teaching and non-teaching staffing ratios, staff development initiatives and stabilisation of expansion programmes among other related issues, according to Matiang’i.

Series of reforms

The audit is part of a series of reforms slated for implementation this year. Last month, President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered the Ministry of Education to implement a directive that will tighten up criteria for students to graduate in a move seen to be targeted at politicians who have over the past three years flooded universities in search of ‘quick’ degrees, following a law that sets a degree as the minimum qualification for an MP, senator or county governor.

At the same time, the Kenyan president has 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. 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,” Kenyatta said in a speech.

According to Professor Some, the audit process will ensure that all the universities – public and private – are following CUE’s set guidelines in regard to course accreditation and setting up of facilities required for learning.

“All the universities must have the basic requirements to offer courses approved by CUE or risk closure,” he said.

Accreditation authority

CUE is now the primary institutional body for monitoring and accrediting higher education courses or programmes in Kenya in both the public and private universities.

In late December Kenyatta signed into law the University (Amendment) Act 2016 which gives CUE the sole authority to accredit universities’ degree programmes without the involvement of local professional bodies. However, CUE can engage professional bodies and associations to carry out inspections of universities on its behalf.

Academic professionals in Kenya have raised concerns about universities offering substandard courses including law, medicine, pharmacy and engineering because of the increasing number of students and also as a result of the mushrooming of satellite campuses in the country.

The CUE last year ordered the closure of 13 campuses of three universities – Kisii, Kabarak and Laikipia – following recommendations by a special advisory committee set up by Matiang’i.

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

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

Education experts blame the problem of sub-standard universities on uncontrolled higher education expansion over the past decade that has seen public universities open campuses in some of the country's remotest locations.