Tackle challenges in public universities

The Commission for University Education (CUE) is entrusted with, among others, the following functions: promote, set standards and assure relevance in the quality of university education;monitor and evaluate the state of university education systems in relation to the national development goals;undertake or cause to be undertaken, regular inspections,monitoring and evaluation of universities to ensure compliance with set standards and guidelines; accredit and inspect university programmes in Kenya and  promote research and innovation.

These functions resonate with the current woes of most universities in Kenya. What steps has CUE put in place to remove these institutions from their current morass?

Has CUE advised the minister on the serious financial problems many public and some selected private universities find themselves in? Vice chancellors of public universities have said repeatedly that under-funding is hampering delivery of service. They have pondered how to mitigate the effects of this problem and have floated the idea of increasing fees levied on students.

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This is a good suggestion, but can it fill the deep hole that the institutions’ thirst for money has become? Before increasing fees, can we ask ourselves what the contribution of mismanagement and corruption to the liquidity problem has been? Could under-funding be a bogey for the bosses to hide their inefficiency and mismanagement? Has the commission assessed the case of each institution and given informed advice to the minister?

The exchequer

By charging high fees for accredition of courses and programmes, CUE could be the cause of the financial problems. It borders on lack of heart to levy such fees on near insolvent institutions that public universities have become. Curiously, both the commission and these institutions are financed from the exchequer. If the commission needs money to run its functions, it should get it from the exchequer.

The quality of service in most institutions of higher learning is lacklustre. They are understaffed. The situation is made worse in some private universities where lecturers are allowed to teach courses they did in undergraduate level. In the latter case, whenever CUE visits, they are given papers of part-time lecturers who are purported to be permanent staff.

Due to poor monitoring and evaluation, the commission does not counter check what it is given on paper with what obtains on the ground. Can we thus give a thumbs-up to the commission for maintaining quality?

Added to dilapidated infrastructure, low morale of the workforce caused by inept and colourless leadership, we get the source of the problem in our higher education. CUE needs to have enough personnel especially in finance, administration, pedagogy and infrastructure.

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Instead it has concentrated in micro managing universities. The truth is that like many Kenyan commissions, it’s only keen on which side of the bread is buttered.

To most

One of the mandates of higher learning institutions is research. By design, it is also a function of the commission.What has the latter done in supporting research undertaken in our institutions? That aside, do our universities support staff adequately to undertake research?

Apart from studies done by post graduate students and donor funded research, do we have anything to show that has either been funded by the commission or our institutions of higher learning? Even where donors are chipping in, do we put merit in selection of recipients and those in charge of the programmes? Which criteria is used for both? In all, the level and quality of research in our institutions is wanting.

What is CUE doing about duplication of programmes and atomisation of courses?  Public universities are bombarded from time to time with the need to come up with market driven courses. To most, the solution has been duplication and atomisation. Even the language of varsity mandarins has changed. Students are referred to as clients while lecturers are called direct service providers.

The talk on every manager’s lips is to commercialise the institution they head. Unfortunately, due to lack of vision, most of these desires have remained pep talk. But even where attempts are made, they become a fiasco due to poor leadership, mismanagement or corruption. Let us do away with commercialisation and put airtight mechanisms in place to stop pilferage of funds and wastage that is rampant in most institutions.

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An article on the status of higher education is incomplete without the twin issues of missing marks and cheating at both undergraduate and graduate levels. Have we ever thought of student, lecturer and managerial factors to these problems? Does CUE have a way in which it can address these issues?

Can the paper work it subjects the lecturers to help solve the problem? What does lack of long holidays in public universities add to the problem of missing marks? How does low morale of staff and inadequate instructional resources aid the issue of poor teaching? What of exam supervision  coupled with large classes made up of many candidates who want an easy life, thus hate attending classes and reading?

It is high time CUE evaluated its performance.Spending inordinate time and effort micro-managing universities to make money is not beneficial to our country.

The commission should try to employ or hire qualified staff to fulfill its mandate on quality.

Dr Ndaloh is a curriculum, instruction and educational media specialist at Moi university. [email protected]   

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