Universities brace for key changes as CUE chiefs’ tenure end

Prof David Some

Anxiety has gripped the Commission for University Education (CUE) as the term of current commissioners ends next month.

With the exit of current Chief Executive Officer David Some, Kenya’s higher education is headed for major changes that will have a huge impact on how universities operate and the programmes they offer.

Prof Some will leave the Commission in September and is expected to take the required six months terminal leave. This means he is likely to take leave next month as he prepares for retirement.

As curtains draw on the term of the current commissioners and CEO, sector experts say the agency has a golden opportunity for “serious reforms”.

For the first time, it is not mandatory that a former Vice Chancellor (VC) heads CUE as the Universities (amendment) Act has expanded the minimum requirements of the CEO to a master’s degree.

Previously, only former VCs were appointed to lead the agency in what sector players say “frustrated genuine implementation of key reforms”.

Section 11 of the Universities (amendment) Act says: “A person shall be qualified for appointment as a commission secretary if he or she holds a masters degree from a recognised university in Kenya and also has 10 years experience in the management of a university.”

This means the agency can recruit any person within the sector who meets the requirement, but not necessarily a VC.

“We are seeing a situation where even a principal of a university college can assume the office as long as they can demonstrate management capability. VCs have been a club and it was increasingly difficult t

“Previous qualifications eliminated everyone else and pointed to a VC. In fact, most of them were political appointees save for Prof Some who was recruited competitively. This time, they have a chance to recruit a competent person as CEO to implement serious reforms,” said a vice chancellor of a top private university.

Former University of Nairobi Vice-Chancellor Prof Joseph Mungai was the founding CEO of CUE.

He was appointed in 1985 – with annual renewal – as Secretary of the then Commission for Higher Education (CHE), now known as CUE.

The Commission membership at that time included representatives from the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Finance, VCs and Deputy VCs from the major universities and directors from major post-secondary research and technical institutes.

Justin Irina was the commission’s second CEO.  Like Some, Prof Irina was a one-time VC of Moi University (1994-1998).

Other VCs appointed CUE secretaries include Prof Crispus Kiamba (UoN) and Prof Everett Standa (Kenyatta University).

Sitting VCs of public and private universities who spoke to The Standard on Saturday– in confidence and in fear of being victimised by the regulator– said appointing former VCs was the biggest mistake in higher education.

 “If a VC of a university becomes the regulator how will he or she oversee reforms at a university–for instance– where he was the boss?” said a Vice Chancellor of one of the top public universities.

They also said having VCs to serve as commissioners was a “disaster”. Former United States International University (USIU) Vice Chancellor Prof Freida Brown and Prof Mabel Imbuga Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) previously served as Commissioners at the CUE.

“These were probably the same persons who oversaw lapses in management of universities and were now tasked to reform the entire sector. Some of them–in fact all of them– failed to take drastic reform measures at CUE because they are/were part of the system,” said another VC.

The tenure of the current commission ends amid a damning inspections audit report it recently released on quality and standards of courses offered in Kenyan universities that indicted top management of universities.