Local varsities must pull up their socks to compete on global stage

A new survey has once again bared our universities' lackluster performance. In the study, only University of Nairobi (UoN) features among the top 1,400 universities globally at position 801.

In a country teeming with universities, this is hardly good news. In 2018, five Kenyan universities; UoN, Egerton University, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Moi University and Kenyatta University were ranked among the world’s 2,500 top-performing institutions.

According to World University Rankings 2020, among the top 10 institutions are University of Oxford, California Institute of Technology, University of Cambridge, Stanford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, Harvard University, Yale University and Imperial College London.

UoN was placed at position 20 in Africa. The highest-ranked African institution is South Africa’s University of Cape Town at position 136 globally and top in Africa. Uganda’s Makerere was ranked number 601 globally and 11 in Africa. Tanzania’s University of Dar es Salaam is ranked at position 29 in Africa but was not among the top 1,000.

Egypt has the highest number of universities that made it to the list with 20 institutions. In second position was South Africa with 10, Algeria eight, Tunisia six, Nigeria four, and Morocco three universities.

Exactly what is the reason behind our universities' poor performance? What are the other institutions doing right that we are not?

One may be tempted to argue that our students are not up to scratch. But this is far from the truth. Why? Because at the moment the UK and USA are scratching their heads trying to find a solution to the cheating menace in their universities, which is partly being perpetrated by Kenyan students. For a pay, the Kenyans have been writing essays and theses for some of their counterparts in these countries. The cheating syndicate was busted in August last year.

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If our students are this bright, why do we rank so lowly where it matters? The answer may be in the yardsticks used to measure performance. Apparently besides research, the learning environment, citations, international outlook and industry income are also major factors.

This newspaper has several times complained that our universities have been punching below their weight. That calls for the speeding up of university reforms, which have been on the cards for quite a while.

Funding that would go a long way in aiding research, a critical measure for ranking, must also be stepped up if our institutions are to compete on equal footing with the global giants.

Yet even as we pitch for enhanced funding, incidences like the standoff at UoN over who should be appointed vice-chancellor score off the institution's reputation. Politics, which always finds its way into other spheres of life, should be kept out our institutions of higher learning.

Between 2015 to date, there have been too many industrial actions involving universities academic staff on issues that revolve around remuneration and a better working environment. With such run-ins, it would take a miracle for a Kenyan university to rank among the ‘Oxfords’ of this world.

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Kenyan UniversitiesUoNWorld University Rankings 2020