Radical shake-up to boost quality in higher education

As part of a broad set of recommended changes to higher education aimed at raising quality, all PhD holders admitted via executive masters degrees will no longer be eligible to teach at universities in Kenya.

The recommendations by the Commission for University Education (CUE) are contained in a report entitled Policy Advisory on Rationalisation of Universities and Programmes in Kenya, which was presented to the Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed on 2 May.

Executive masters degrees permit executives and managers to study and work towards a degree while remaining in their full-time jobs. The CUE has proposed the formation of an inter-ministerial committee to harmonise accreditation of academic programmes whose graduates are registerable by professional bodies.

“All PhD holders admitted through executive masters degrees will not be eligible to lecture in Kenyan universities. The weighting and point system for publications should be reviewed to be consistent with international standards. This should be treated as a matter of urgency since the current system discourages collaborations and teamwork in research and publications,” reads the report.

The report also recommends that only chartered universities – public and private universities fully accredited and approved to admit students by CUE – will be allocated government-sponsored students.

Private universities at risk

This places the future of at least 13 private universities with letters of interim authority at risk since a majority of students in those institutions are sponsored by the government.

Mohamed acknowledged the recommendations and said that the ministry will consider them and take the necessary steps.

“It is clear from the report that as a ministry we have a lot to do for our universities. The ministry is determined to work closely with CUE to ensure that university students are getting quality education,” Mohamed told University World News.

Kenya’s Ministry of Education has also been tasked to gazette outstanding university charters and statutes to enable the review to be expedited.

According to the CUE, rapid expansion of universities in Kenya is the main reason for the problems universities are experiencing which challenge the quality and employability of university graduates in the country, as well as the national development agenda. The commission says the rapid expansion has not been matched by increases in academic resources, including staff with PhDs.

Proposed mergers

In the report, CUE recommends that the government should rationalise the number of programmes. It also proposes the establishment of programme-based centres of excellence, and the introduction of a regional university system based on the merger of universities whereby most of the existing universities become colleges or campuses of a limited number of main universities.

This would be similar to the system introduced in Rwanda which saw all universities merged and placed under the University of Rwanda.

Kenya has witnessed tremendous growth in higher education demonstrated by the increase in universities from 33 in 2012 to the current 73. With 31 public universities and six public university constituent colleges, the number of public universities in Kenya exceeds that of South Africa, which has 26 public universities, while Ghana has nine public universities. On other continents, the United Kingdom has 130 universities, Australia has a total of 43 universities,” notes the CUE report.

On 7 October 2016 the Kenyan president declared a moratorium on the establishment of new public universities in Kenya for five years.

Based on an analysis of existing gaps in training in universities, CUE established that the majority of academic programmes in universities are in the social and behavioural sciences category and that approximately half of the academic programmes are at undergraduate level.

To alleviate financial pressures in universities, the CUE recommends that the government develop policy around tax incentives for universities to avoid a situation where a sizeable proportion of funds sourced from funding organisations is taken up by taxes.