Of lost exam certificates, land title deeds and property rights

A former white settler’s farmhouse near Ol Kalou in Nyandarua County.  [XN Iraki, Standard]
NAIROBI, KENYA: A title deed confers to you the right to own land, which is why most of us love showing off the document.

The sense of accomplishment that comes with owning a piece of land, where it is located notwithstanding, can be heady for some.

It may also stem from the assurance that we have a property to bequeath our children and collateral to acquire loans from banks and other lending institutions.

A title deed makes it easy to sell or buy land. It is a sacred document in many countries, especially in Kenya where skirmishes at the family and community level over land are legendary.

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Major differences

Colonialists are credited with the concept of titles. Local communities owned the land through trust. Even today, large swathes of land have no titles.

In the same way a title deed can secure your future and that of your descendants, an academic certificate gives the right to own intellectual property. 

A certificate is a constant reminder of the mastery of a certain craft.

Unlike the title deed, however, it cannot be inherited, sold or transferred. Once you die, your certificates become useless.

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In both cases, location matters. For land, for instance, if it is strategically located, say near a highway or town, its value is higher.

Where you acquired your academic certificate, on the other hand, has a bearing on the credibility of your credentials; for example, when hunting for a job.

A good example is comparing a Harvard or Oxford graduate with one from a university that no-one has never heard of.

Besides the conferment of ownership, an academic certificate and a title deed have major differences.

A good example is that while you can physically see the land the title represents, you can’t see what the academic certificate represents.

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This is reflected in how we conduct ourselves in interviews and on the job. While a title deed can be transformed into money in an instant, the fruits of education are labourious as they involve putting in many hours in class and on the job if you are lucky to get one. 

The other difference is that while the value of a title deed can be enhanced by developing the land, for instance by putting up commercial or residential buildings, an academic certificate’s worth can only be enhanced by the reputation of the granting institution. 

It takes years to build the reputation of a given institution. A degree certificate from Oxford University is more valuable than that from “Githaka-ini University” that no-one has probably ever heard of.

Legal backing

This is why universities compete for ranking. Higher-ranked institutions charge more in fees because of the perceived value of the certificate they confer at the end the learning process.

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For primary and secondary education certificates, the value comes more from the grade than the institution. But the emergence of private schools has changed this notion because they offer extracurricular activities like music, ballet and piano.  

It has been suggested that one way to enhance the value of certificates is to break the monopoly in certification in lower exams like KCPE and KCSE, which has remained intact despite all the talk of liberalisation.

Why can’t examining bodies such as Kenya National Examinations Council exclusively play a regulatory role while leaving other bodies to administer exams?  This would create competition and enhance the value of certificates just like in universities.

Registration of practitioners by their respective bodies after graduation enhances the value of holders’ certificates by regulating the supply and quality of manpower.

Suppose lawyers had no law society, accountants had no ICPAK and doctors had no registration board?  

More professional bodies are getting legal backing to create a monopoly in their respective fields. The argument is that they are out to protect the consumer and enhance standards. The downside of this, however, is that it reduces the supply of practitioners, especially to vital fields such as health.

Sadly, joblessness is a reality and the job market today is oversaturated with “unemployable” graduates. 

To digress, have you ever asked yourself why academic certificates are not replaceable? If you lose your KCPE, KCSE or degree certificate, be it through a fire or any other natural calamity, you are on your own.

Paradoxically, you can get a replacement for the much-valued title deed but not the exam certificate.

Intellectual deeds

Today, many young people are jobless because they are unable to have their certificates that they lost under varied circumstances replaced.

The alma mater have their original details. Why can’t the certificate be replaced? This state of affairs has excluded these young people from the job market because of lack of “intellectual title deeds” - the certificates. The sad reality of this scenario is that at their age, an academic certificate is the only personal property of note that many young graduates have.

Failing to replace their lost certificates is akin to disinheriting them. If academic certificates can be cancelled, why can’t they be replaced?

-The writer teaches at the University of Nairobi

Title DeedsJacob KaimenyiHarvardOxford