University regulators curtail Kenyan expansion spree

Local and neighbouring regulators have put the brakes on an expansion spree by Kenyan universities over deficient learning standards.

Institutions are facing a tough regulatory regime that has crippled expansion strategies that have seen Kenya’s universities spread their wings across most areas of the country and into neighbouring countries such as Tanzania, South Sudan, Rwanda and Uganda.

However, these local and regional forays are now under threat.

Late last month, the Tanzania Commission for Universities blocked Kenyatta University and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology or JKUAT – two of Kenya’s leading institutions operating campuses in the Tanzanian city of Arusha – and 17 others in the country from admitting students from next month. The commission cited unmet standards.

Following this decree, Kenya’s Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i ordered the two universities to also close their campuses in neighbouring Rwanda. It has emerged that the order followed complaints over non-conformity with set education guidelines.

“The ministry is concerned about the existence of the two campuses amidst the need for quality university education and prudent and responsible finance management in line with the Constitution, the Universities Act and the Public Finance Management Act 2012,” said Matiang'i in letters to Kenyatta University and JKUAT council chairmen.

“I urge the university council to deliberate on the way forward on the existence of the two campuses with a view of winding them up,” he added.

Rwandan audit

Last week, the Rwanda Higher Education Council said it is conducting an audit on all institutions operating in the country. The outcome of the audit, the Higher Education Council Executive Director Emmanuel Muvunyi said, will determine the fate of the campuses belonging to the Kenyan universities.

JKUAT started enrolling students in Rwanda in 2012 but suspended teaching in March this year after the council ordered it to seek more appropriate premises for its Kigali campus. This has affected about 3,000 university students pursuing both postgraduate and undergraduate studies.

Kenyatta University is yet to start teaching in its Rwanda premises, set up this year.

In 2015, the Rwandan government stopped Mount Kenya University – Kenya’s largest private university by student numbers – from offering five medical courses in the country, saying they did not meet set requirements. The Mount Kenya University Kigali Campus was opened in 2010 and mainly offers courses in health education and executive MBA programmes, with more than 4,000 students.

The clampdown on foreign campuses comes only months after Matiang'i ordered several universities to close their local campuses as they could not meet the quality standards set under the new Universities Act of 2016, which seeks to boost the quality of learning by eliminating non-conforming institutions. Under the law, the establishment of campuses and satellite centres has to meet minimum standards specified in terms of structures and location.

Proof of accreditation

Foreign universities are now required to submit proof of accreditation from their home countries before they are allowed to offer courses in Kenya.

In January, President Uhuru Kenyatta issued a freeze on the establishment of new universities and called for increased investment in existing institutions. Following this announcement, the Commission for University Education, the higher education regulator, closed 10 out of 13 campuses of Kisii University, one of Kenya’s fastest growing public universities, potentially threatening the institution’s existence.

Three months ago, the commission launched a massive audit of all public universities to root out sub-standard campuses and institutions following concerns over the faltering quality of learning as universities rapidly expanded student numbers.

Sources within the commission said a bigger crackdown is expected in the coming months following the completion of the audit.

Employers are raising concerns that while higher education has been producing growing numbers of graduates – estimated at more than 10,000 annually – many lack the technical skills needed by the economy.

A recent study by the Inter-University Council for East Africa, which regulates higher education in the East African Community’s five countries – Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda – said most graduates across the region are not fully prepared for the job market.

The study showed that Uganda has the worst record, with at least 63% of graduates found to lack job market skills. It is followed closely by Tanzania, where 61% of graduates are ill prepared. In Burundi and Rwanda, 55% and 52% of graduates respectively are perceived to be competent. In Kenya, 51% of graduates are believed to be unfit for jobs.