Universities face seachange over diplomas and doctorates

Kenyan universities will be allowed to offer both degrees and diplomas following a policy reversal that has thrown institutions a major lifeline in a tight regulatory environment. And in another dramatic policy reversal, the government has announced that the requirement that only academics with doctorates are eligible to be lecturers was counterproductive and hurting the sector.

The High Court in Nairobi dismissed a court application late last month by the Kenya National Association of Private Colleges asking for universities to stop offering diploma and certificate courses. The association’s plea was in line with government policy that universities should leave diplomas and certificates to colleges.

The move, aimed at streamlining the higher education sector and boosting quality, meant universities would be starved of a key income stream.

Universities now have an opportunity to admit those more than 50,000 prospective students who failed to meet the threshold for university admission for degree study.

The ban on diplomas and certificate courses at universities was part of a raft of recommendations by a higher education taskforce aimed at improving quality and streamlining the sector. The move aimed to stop a trend that saw universities 'partner' with tertiary colleges to offer diplomas and certificates.

Income stream

These relationships, the taskforce argued, almost wiped out the college subsector, because universities took over most of the colleges and turned them into their campuses as they sought to grow their income streams to fund expansion.

The reversal means the universities can continue to seek these collaborations, which help to bolster their earnings to fund operational and expansion costs amid declining government subsidies.

In the coming financial year which begins in July, public universities will have to operate on US$200 million less than the budget originally requested from Treasury.

Colleges have recently complained to the government about the penetration of universities into their territory.

The court ruling comes at a time when the ministry of education is planning to conduct a fresh audit of mid-level colleges to establish their capacity to produce qualified graduates. This, educationists project, could see hundreds of colleges, which have mushroomed over the past 10 years, particularly in Nairobi, shut down over substandard facilities.

Two years ago, the government cracked the whip on the college sector, putting 200 institutions on notice in a crackdown that saw 21 managers face criminal charges for operating illegally.

Fake PhDs

Together with the 24 March High Court ruling over diplomas, the policy reversals around PhDs will have a significant impact on the way universities operate.

While many studies have found a strong correlation between the qualification levels of lecturers and research productivity, the government now says the directive has triggered a race for doctorate degrees which could hurt the quality of learning by bringing into the market fake PhDs.

The reversal in the rules around employing only PhD-holders as lecturers is expected to slow down a target set by the government to produce at least 1,000 PhDs every year, in order to create the next generation of academics, alleviate the lecturer shortage and provide the high-level skills Kenya’s rapidly growing economy needs.

Latest government statistics show that more than 90% of the nearly 25,000 people who graduate from universities annually are at the undergraduate level, which has left the country with a one-sided workforce made up of first-degree holders. The government further estimates that only around 5% of people leaving universities in the past three years had attained a masters or PhD qualification.

With the number of students admitted in universities annually surging by over 10%, way faster than the growth in the teaching force, Kenya is increasingly facing a crisis as the student-lecturer ratio rises beyond global averages.