University audit reveals litany of problems

Kenyan universities have been given 30 days to outline corrective measures to address a litany of misdemeanours ranging from flouting of admission criteria to ‘rampant’ abuse of executive degree programmes, the offering of unaccredited programmes as well as the failure to follow rules for student-to-staff ratios.

These and other problems were revealed after the report on the quality audit conducted by the Commission for University Education, or CUE, of the country’s universities was released on 16 February. The audit was part of sweeping reforms aimed at addressing chronic quality issues in the country’s higher education system.

In a widely circulated two-page summarised report of the findings, CUE Chairperson Professor Chacha Nyaigotti-Chacha revealed that in some universities there were “missing marks, delayed completion rates, and unaccountability for students at all levels”.

Furthermore, the quality of school-based programmes geared towards teachers studying part-time during their holidays was “wanting”.

“The programmes do not afford adequate contact time between the learners and their lecturers, do not afford the learners sufficient exposure to quality degree research, library time and interaction between the learners themselves,” the report said.

The report states that the commission is to work with the universities concerned to convert the school-based courses into quality part-time programmes.

During the report launch Education Cabinet Secretary Dr Fred Matiang’i said the government would ensure that all recommendations were fully implemented.

Working group

According to the Kenya News Agency, a joint quality assurance working group has been set up to implement the recommendations of the report and ensure each university adheres to high quality standards. The group will have representation from university chancellors, vice-chancellors, the council of universities, and the CUE.

The audit also observed “rampant abuse” of the executive degree programmes aimed at working professionals, including the use of such qualifications for admission to academic programmes as well as gaining employment as academic staff in universities.

According to local media reports CUE has, following the report’s release, ordered the suspension of all academic programmes under the school-based programme and the executive degree programmes.

Regarding teaching staff in the universities, it was found that a number of universities were not complying with the ratios of full-time to part-time staff, as stipulated in the Standards and Guidelines. In addition, the number of non-academic staff was found to be high in relation to academic staff, thereby straining resources allocated to the core functions of teaching and learning.

In many universities, the lecturer-to-student ratios were also “clearly prejudicial” to quality teaching, research and accurate assessment, the report said.

The greatest challenge to quality

Describing the problem of high student-to-lecturer ratios as “the greatest challenge to the provision of quality education in most of our universities”, the statement said the commission had directed the universities to ensure that class sizes and staff-to-student ratios were within the allowable limits.

The report also said that during the 2017 graduation cycle, all universities will be expected to ensure that all students receive transcripts and results prior to graduating.

“In order to achieve the latter, each university is required to establish and implement an effective electronic student and data management system within the next six months. Universities that fail to comply with this requirement will be severely sanctioned, including possibly losing of their university status,” it said.

According to the report, some Kenyan universities had “diluted” the tradition of awarding honorary degrees and were “even abused by others”.

“In addition to ensuring that the established and laid down procedures for identifying honorees and awarding of honorary degrees are followed, the commission will henceforth work with universities in Kenya to safeguard… the honorary degree tradition.”

Flouting admission criteria

The audit revealed that some universities were not strictly adhering to admission criteria, allowing some students to gain entry to undergraduate programmes using pre-university and bridging programmes, which are not recognised in law.

It also exposed rampant abuse of the Credit Accumulation and Transfer System and the fact that many universities did not have anti-plagiarism policies and systems. In some respects, this had allowed universities to engage in anomalous practices in the preparation of theses and dissertations by their students, the report noted.

“Universities have been required to urgently develop anti-plagiarism policies and acquire appropriate systems to ensure high standards of scholarly work,” said the report in its recommendations.

The audit further established that many universities had not instituted internal quality assurance policies, systems and mechanisms, in line with universities' regulations. All universities are required to establish and strengthen their internal quality assurance structures, systems and mechanisms by 30 June 2017.

Universities will also be obliged to prepare and submit to the commission an annual report in a prescribed format.