Yes, universities in dire need of root and branch reforms

After so much procrastination, the ball has finally been set rolling. Prof George Magoha, Cabinet Secretary for Education might be the new broom  needed to clean the mess in our institutions of higher learning which, over the last few years , have lost their lustre.  It needed to be restored, and Magoha seems committed to seeing it done.

The task of determining suitability of some academic courses offered in universities and a review of staffing needs to determine  student /lecturer ratio and the impact on learning falls on the  Commission for University Education (CUE) . To this end, CUE has been given  up to July 31, 2019 to submit its report and recommendations. 

These will either make or break higher education. It would seem obvious that after carrying out reforms in primary and secondary schools, including the introduction of the new 2-6-3-3-3 curriculum, ultimately where these students end up for higher education should matter as well.

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The Ministry of Education has given CUE sweeping powers to draft a roadmap for what will herald a watershed moment in the education industry and complete the circle. The system is broken, so it needs to be fixed. Over time, the standards have deteriorated and there were growing fears that a degree certificate from Kenya would soon be devalued.

And besides such fears, Kenyan employers have often decried the poor quality of graduates being churned out by our universities. A number of companies and organisations have had to spend a lot of resources in retraining those they hire.

Markedly, there is a lack of skills necessary for a competitive job market. To take care of this anomaly, the reforms should consider the very crucial aspect of attachment to help learners acquire necessary skills prior to joining the job market. Clearly, that would give them an edge.

The report should be thorough and exhaustive. After all, we are not reinventing the wheel. There should be no room for a whitewash as happened before. CS George Magoha looks like one keen to follow through- after all he is an academic as well. He should be given all the tools and the leeway to push through with the reforms. On his part, he should carry everybody with him.

He should not be seen to be pushing the reforms down the throats of stakeholders. His push for the new Competency-Based Curriculum has run into opposition from the Kenya National Union of Teachers, who claim they were not consulted.

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The proposed reforms should include a re-assessment of the qualifications of both tutors  and students. Emphasis should be on good academic credentials to attract the best in the field, yet to achieve this, the carrot must be an attractive pay package for lecturers and professors.

 Admittedly, some of the  degree programme in our universities have little relevance and out of synch with the country’s aspirations to become a medium income country as envisaged in our Vision 2030 blueprint.

There are also brick and mortar issues. A university should look like any should- it should have space and room that promotes critical application of knowledge without much distraction. The present trend in which ‘any-building—does’, where colleges are situated atop shopping plazas or  squeezed between pubs  is counterproductive. These environments are not conducive to learning.

The reforms should also factor in the vexatious issue of accommodation. Where students live outside campus, there have been many downsides. Security of students is a major concern. Indiscipline reigns as students detract from learning to indulge in leisure, drug abuse, and immorality.

The reforms should take into account student welfare, like tuition fee and funding for general upkeep to discourage cooking in hostels and students from engaging in illicit trade in their rooms to raise money.

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More importantly, the place of research and funding in universities must be given prominence. Without serious research, quality is compromised, and without quality, a university ceases to be an institution of higher learning.

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CUEGeorge MagohaCabinet Secretary for EducationCommission for University Education