Region’s MPs worry about ‘quack’ private institutions

There is an urgent need for the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA) and member states from the East African Community (EAC) to address the issue of poor quality of education, especially in private universities, if the region is to train future drivers of regional social economic development.

The call was made by members of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) in Kigali, Rwanda, during the plenary session that adopted the assessment report of the committee on general purpose regarding the progress made by the IUCEA in the harmonisation of education systems in the EAC.

EALA members expressed concern over the quality of private universities, stressing that some are ‘quack’ universities, while others operate without meeting the minimum requirements. The report also highlighted challenges in harmonising higher learning education among EAC member states, despite all legal instruments being in place.

Institutions churn out uneducated graduates

IUCEA is an institution of EAC responsible for coordinating the development of higher education and research in the region. Instituted in 1999, the council currently has 133 members, including both public and private higher learning institutions, according to the committee.

According to MP Dr Ann Itto Leonardo from South Sudan, some private universities are operating at substandard levels, churning out half-baked graduates.

“I don’t know how it is here in Rwanda but, in other partner states, you find private universities operating at a substandard level and graduates are paying a lot of money, but they are not getting what they pay for,” she said.

Leonardo referred to the case in which she interviewed fresh graduates who wanted a job in the finance field but many of them could not tell the meaning of either budget or investment. “These are products of private universities,” she said at the gathering on 31 October.

Students and parents should not lose money

She also talked about “quack universities”, where students are tricked into enrolling but later fail to graduate after the universities have closed. She gave an example of Kampala University, which opened a branch in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, but closed without informing students, leaving them stranded.

“It turned out that the main branch in Kampala suspended operations without informing the students, who continued to pay and even go to classes. In the end, the students were not awarded their degrees,” Leonardo said.

She emphasised the need for the IUCEA to address the issues so that students and their parents do not lose their money and time.

According to MP Dr George Stephen Odongo from Uganda, the issue of quack universities should be addressed with urgency and the pursuit of quality education should be prioritised.

“There is an epidemic that has hit the EAC. It is an epidemic of higher learning institutions. There are so many that, today, you get a qualification from a university that you can’t trace a month later,” Odongo said.

Commercialisation is tainting quality

MP Mary Mugyenyi from Uganda said that, over the years, there has been a tendency to commercialise higher learning education, which has spoiled the quality of education expected of the institutions.

“What is an even bigger spoiler is that many of our educational institutions have commercialised education. Our countries have moved from the whole philosophy and the purpose of what education should be for to accrediting institutions that are driven by profit-making motives,” she noted.

Mugyenyi added that some private universities are accredited and start operating without proper structures, let alone appropriate staff.

“That is why you have accredited universities operating on top of the malls without proper structures, without proper, well-trained staff. I think the EAC, through the IUCEA, can address the issue of the accreditation of institutions of higher learning that are not driven by profits.

“Universities that are functioning well are publicly owned or owned by foundations that are working in the interests of the population,” she said.

Courses should be relevant

Members of EALA also requested the IUCEA to put more effort into overseeing activities to ensure that the universities offer quality education with the aim of driving the region’s social economic development.

According to Mugyenyi, the curricula and accreditations should be aligned with the needs of the countries other than copying them from the old colonial system. She also said that the issue of course relevance should be reviewed soon to avoid graduates ending up with useless diplomas.

“The quality of education is very important, the philosophy behind education is to train young people to grow up and be responsible citizens that can function and contribute to social economic development,” she said.

According to Odongo, much emphasis should be put on quality. He said that in the whole community, only a few universities, such as Makerere University in Uganda and the University of Nairobi, in Kenya appear among the top 50.

“What does it help to have gone to class but gained no knowledge and skills? They are not educated,” he said.

Odongo said that the IUCEA and the EAC partner states through the ministerial council needed to act.

“It should not just be the IUCEA only, it has to be the partner states. If we really want to tell the EAC story, then we need to focus our attention on strengthening our education sector. I think it is time for this community to pay attention when accrediting these universities that are becoming a disgrace to our community,” he noted.

More funding is needed

MPs also stressed that higher learning education was underfunded and urged the governments and partners to invest more in education to ensure that there are competent universities that offer relevant courses and carry out research that would lead to the development of the region.

“IUCEA is suffering from a lack of funding, and I am appealing to partner states to put their money where the future lies,” Leonardo said.

“The future of the EAC lies in good education, preparing our youth so that they will take over from us and take our community to a height where it can compete with other countries in the region and internationally,” she added.

Professor Callixte Kabera, the chairperson of the IUCEA, recently told University World News that they were working on the issue of quality education within the region.

“Issues of quality could be addressed through the collaboration of higher education councils of member states and universities. Information is shared on the list of accredited institutions,” he said.

“The council will keep encouraging sharing and updating information and improving collaboration through the improvement of information management and digital infrastructure, collaboration among partner states, and internal capacity improvements,” he added.