University graduation hangs in the balance as lecturers withhold students’ marks

Catholic University of Eastern Africa
A dispute between a private university and part-time lecturers over pay has sucked in its students, including those who cleared school last year and are now being forced to re-sit examinations to graduate.

The Catholic University of Eastern Africa (Cuea) might be forced to put off its 35th graduation ceremony planned for Friday, where at least 1,500 students are expected to graduate.

The fresh round of examinations was administered last week after the normal end of semester evaluation. It is not clear if the examinations would have been marked and graded by end of next week to allow the students graduate.

The affected lecturers, who form the bulk of Cuea’s teaching fraternity, have been withholding marks and scripts for the units they teach since August last year, holding the university and students at ransom until they are paid. This has forced the institution to circumvent its own rules surrounding examinations.

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A number of affected students, especially those between the first and third years of study, have declined to seat the repeat exams but those supposed to graduate have been caught in a catch-22-situation. The students told Saturday Standard the university has ordered them to either repeat the examinations or forget graduating.

“If they can do such crappy things, what can’t they do? It means they can even tamper with the results. That is purely unethical,” said one affected student.

Endemic problem

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“Because of the graduation and the longing to clear school, everyone is a lone voice on this matter. What will happen if other lecturers do the same? Would they ask us to seat other examinations?” lamented another.

Cuea requires students to attend classes for a minimum 18 credit hours per unit in a given semester for them to be allowed to write examinations.

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Contacted, the institution refused to comment on the matter, but the Commission for University Education (CUE) said it will look into it.

“The question of missing marks is an endemic problem in public universities, but if it has crossed over to the private ones, it is very sad,” CUE chief executive David Some told Saturday Standard.

Although the commission does not audit finances in private universities, Prof Some said they would speak to the institution’s Vice Chancellor. “To rescue the situation, one of the things we are considering is asking them to push the graduation forward until this matter is solved, otherwise it would be unfair to the students,” he said.

Why the university’s administration decided to break its own rules on academic integrity is a question the university was not willing to answer. What is clear, however, is that this could just be the tip of the iceberg on how universities mistreat their part-time lecturers.

The happenings at Cuea have raised fresh concerns about the rot in the higher education sector.

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Saturday Standard has learnt that the university is facing a cash crunch believed to be behind the abrupt recalling of former VC Pius Rutechura to his parish in Tanzania after an audit early last year revealed a leak in which millions of shillings were lost.

The institution, which is one of the oldest private universities in the region, is owned by the Catholic Church through the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences of Eastern Africa (AMECEA), a body that manages development projects on behalf of the Vatican.

A layman, Justus Mbae, was abruptly hired as VC, breaking the university’s tradition of having men of the cloth run it.

But Prof Mbae has been struggling to keep the institution’s finances above water as revealed in a flurry of communication between the university and its striking part-time lecturers which we are in possession of.

“The university management wishes to inform all part-timers that negotiation with key partners on payment of arrears are at an advanced stage. This shall be concluded in the next two to three weeks after which payments will be done,” the institution said through a letter signed by its Chief Finance Officer BN Ngama on November 4 last year.

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Part-time lecturers are paid Sh1,500 per hour to teach undergraduate students and Sh2,000 per hour for masters and doctoral classes. The university has about 50 permanent lecturers at the main campus in Karen and more than 100 on part time.

Broken promises

The promise to pay them in November was not honoured. The dons who were on a go-slow then announced a strike through their umbrella body Catholic University Part Time Lecturers Association (Cupat) on February 17.

“We have also agreed that we shall not submit all examination results in our possession and the examination drafts for this semester. These actions shall be indefinite until we the undersigned receive full payment of arrears owed to us as at January 31, 2017 reconciled from November 2013,” they wrote to the management.

A meeting was then held between the two parties shortly thereafter, but no solution was found.

The institution then resorted to threats as the lecturers declined to set examinations for the semester that ended last week after getting fed with more promises.

“In the prevailing circumstances, the University Management hereby reiterates its commitment to pay off all your claims as soon as the cash flow improves which is hoped to be pretty soon,” Deputy Vice Chancellor Administration Finance and Planning Pius Ssetumbwe wrote to the lecturers on February 24.

“In the meantime you are requested to rescind your decision to strike, resume work immediately, return whatever mark sheets are in your possession and proceed to submit examination drafts for whichever units you may be handling,” he said.

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