Summit seeks to breathe life into varsity education

Top Ministry of Education officials, key sector decision-makers and foreign dignitaries will meet next week to discuss the state of university education in Kenya.

The one-week conference, a partnership between the government and World Bank under the banner of ‘improving higher education performance,’ is yet another attempt to find solutions to what is ailing university education.

The conference to be chaired by Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha will be attended by delegations from Benin, Tanzania, Malawi, Somalia, Sudan, Mozambique, World Bank team and select international speakers. However, with numerous reforms meetings already held, audits conducted by Commission for University Education (CUE) and many policy directives by top government officials, questions are now being raised on the progress of university education reforms.

Key goals

Reforms initiated under Cabinet Secretaries Fred Matiang’i, Amina Mohamed and Magoha are yet to firm up despite numerous calls and directives to realise the goals.

Recent directive by Magoha to merge universities was opposed, with Vice Chancellors offering alternative reforms path based on financing.

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In his reforms plan enumerated during his state of university education meeting in Nairobi, the CS proposed right-sizing and down-sizing of university staff, rationalisation of academic programmes, consolidation of universities and campuses and a total freeze on the establishment of new universities and satellite campuses.

But this was not the first attempt to rationalise staff. In 2017, during a state of universities conference at the Kenya School of Government, CS Matiang’i froze staff recruitment and directed that some be retired and some sent home as the government pushed for a contractual tenure regime.

It was also not the first time programmes rationalisation was floated. In 2017, CUE released a checklist of items that would constitute world-class academic experience in Kenyan universities.

Among them were employment of appropriate staff, mounting accredited courses, having appropriate infrastructure and quality teaching by qualified staff.

CUE also released an audit report that unearthed several unethical practices with some universities offering non-accredited programmes and some graduating unqualified students while locking out others.

Yet the same problems still dominate universities to date.

Reading 2019/2020 budget statement last year, National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich said the reforms plan that will include merger or closure of some universities and university campuses was a Cabinet decision.

Reforms plan

However, a Ministry of Education report released last year proposed to increase access and participation in higher education through expansion of existing infrastructure in new universities reforms plan.

The National Education Sector Strategic Plan (2018-2022) proposes to provide libraries, lecture halls, laboratories, tutorial rooms and ICT facilities with priority given to new universities.

The proposals deviated from the initial plan to shut down or merge some of the non-viable public universities in the country. VCs opposed the mergers and maintained that the greatest undoing in universities is poor funding, which must be addressed. They said universities mergers will automatically fall in place if an enhanced financing plan where the cost of training a student is shared between the university, parents and the government.

“The net effect of this will be enhanced competitiveness that will automatically see unpopular programmes or universities merged,” the VCs said.

Yet, next week another high-level meeting will discuss university reforms.

Details reveal that universities funding, quality of education, staffing, state of research and institutions management will form part of the debate.

The Higher Education Loans Board and Kenya University Funding Board will have a joint presentation on ‘Financing of Higher Education in Kenya- Status, Emerging Challenges and Proposed Reforms.’ Also to be discussed are Quality Assurance mechanisms and programmes, research and innovation, achievements and challenges among other key topics.

World Bank representative Roberta Bassett will speak on the State of Higher Education in Africa with comparisons to other regions.

And at the end of the conference, another report will be documented on higher education reforms.

Whereas some of these objectives may sound new, they have formed part of discussions on university reforms in similar forums in an effort to address the higher education state.

In 2016, a deliberate effort was made to discuss the State of University Education through a conference held at the Kenyatta University under Matiangi.

During the meeting, comprehensive data on critical areas of enrolment, staffing, graduation trends and financing– which are very critical to the Ministry of Education–were provided.

The state of research in universities and the role it plays in identifying problems were also discussed. A State of University Education report was generated and universities were on the spot for diluting quality of higher education by introducing many courses, which are narrow in scope and not market driven. The CUE report also accused Kenyan universities of failing to develop staff to adequately serve the huge number of students.

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Ministry of Educationuniversity educationEducationWorld BankGeorge Magoha