Tread carefully on plan to scrap 'useless' courses


Kisii University graduates toss their caps in the air during the University's 12th graduation ceremony. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

During his recent state visit to the United States, President William Ruto apologised to one of his daughters for refusing to allow her to study film. The apology came after he visited Tyler Perry Studios and the President discovered the great potential of the film industry, which he, most likely, considered a useless study programme eight years ago.

Paradoxically, soon after returning home, Dr Ruto asked vice-chancellors to scrap 'useless' university courses and consolidate programmes so that universities can concentrate on their key specialisations.

The debate about 'useless' courses is not new. Former Education CS Fred Matiang’i talked in 2017 about Kenyans studying "useless” degrees in universities, instead of diploma or certificate courses in TVETs.

“More than 80 per cent of students in universities are enrolled for Bachelor of Arts degrees, including BA in theology. This is okay...because we need all those degrees, but where are the jobs?”

George Magoha, as Education CS, also said Kenya was "churning out degrees which are valueless".

Degree certificates are considered 'useless' when their holders cannot get jobs. The tragedy in today's Kenya, however, is that no degree certificate - out of the hundreds of programmes offered by universities - can assure one of a job. Even a Medicine degree certificate no longer assures one of a job and hundreds of doctors are 'tarmacking'. It would therefore be misleading to talk about useless degree programmes and courses unless we are talking about all of them.

The truth of the matter is that all study courses are important for the development and health of a nation. How would our country look like without historians and theologians, for instance?

It would be wrong to push students to study programmes that do not appeal to them just because their prospects of getting jobs are low. Even the new competency-based curriculum puts emphasises on students' strengths. If a student likes Music or Literature, they should be allowed to study them and not be forced to go for the much acclaimed Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics (STEM). A country's progress and destiny are shaped by all study disciplines; STEM, Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. Ignore one and the country gets 'imbalanced'.

The solution is not to scrap the so-called unpopular courses. The best thing is ensure their survival by ensuring that they continue to be taught in universities despite the ongoing cost-cutting. These courses could, for instance, be incorporated into other programmes that will survive the purge.

While we have an acute problem of unemployment, our respective governments have contributed to the problem. For instance, they have denied STEM graduates jobs by allowing unbridled importation of all manner of goods thus stifling our industries, they have killed local manufacturing through high taxes, they have denied our engineers jobs by giving most construction work to foreigners and have even preferred Cuban doctors to local ones.

The government has also killed jobs in the Arts sector by failing to invest adequately in the film industry, thus denying film, literature and even music graduates jobs. By and large, the courses are innocent. It's government's choices that are making them 'unattractive'.