By Wachira Kigotho
The speed at which colleges in Kenya have been fabricating degrees is worrying.
Currently there are more than 800 degree programmes in the 22 public universities and their seven constituent colleges.
Additional degree courses are also offered through franchise partnerships with private academic garages.
But whereas there is nothing radically wrong with duplication of degrees across universities, the underlying concern is that some degrees are reproduced in different faculties, often appearing with different names. The other tragedy is that areas of study are fragmented in order to increase the number of degrees offered in a particular field.
On the face of it, Kenya’s university education system appears robust in terms of access but hard questions are emerging as to whether most of the degrees are a good investment.
Dr Carol Bidemi, an expert on higher education in East Africa, says the problem started in 2000 when the government under the instigation of the World Bank embraced commercialisation and entrepreneurial spirit as the engine to drive university education.
In perfect competition, public universities debunked their original missions as centres of excellence in specific areas and moved headlong to duplicate degrees of one another and also created new ones, popularly dubbed as market demand-driven degree courses.
“In order to attract full-cost paying students, the universities developed degrees that were intended to provide immediate knowledge and skills in job market,” says Dr Bidemi.
The outcome was fabrication of new soft degree courses in tourism, hospitality, event and convention management, environmental studies, counselling, recreation and leisure management, community resource management, sports management, entrepreneurship, project planning, small-scale business management, disaster management and peace studies among others.
In effect, the banality in which public universities have created new degrees in the last 10 years is almost a scandal in higher education as it is almost impossible to distinguish offerings of elite public universities and academic garages.
Whereas some of those programmes could have been studied as course units in traditional degree formats, they are currently offered as stand alone degree courses. Nonetheless, apart from having fancy names, some of them are shell degrees that do not attract employers.