How universities have fought to keep offering diplomas and certificates


Diploma in Catering and Accommodation graduands celebrate during Nyeri National Polytechnic's 3rd graduation ceremony, on March 21, 2022. [Mose Sammy, Standard]

Over the years, universities have fought attempts to take away the teaching of diplomas and certificates from them.

In separate legal battles, universities have defended the reasons why they need to teach these courses, while middle-level colleges have made their case to prevent institutions of higher learning from encroaching on their domain.

The first attempt in 2015 by the Kenya National Association of Private Colleges (Kenapco) to challenge the amendment failed at the High Court, thereby clearing the way for universities to offer these courses.

Kenapco moved to the High Court, saying they were institutions licensed to offer diplomas, certificates and bridging courses under the Technical and Vocational Training Authority (Tiveta) Act.

The University Amendment Act of 2014, under section 20 (1) (e), states that all universities are allowed to offer diplomas and certificate courses.

After the amendment to the law, both public and private universities were granted the authority to admit students to diplomas, including postgraduate diplomas and other academic certificates.

This change was made to the Universities Act of 2012, aiming to provide clarity to certain sections of the Charter. Previously, Section 20 of the Act only granted universities the power to confer degrees, including honorary degrees.

In their legal case, Kenapco argued that universities, which operate under the authority of the Commission of University Education (CUE) and the Ministry of Education, had unlawfully encroached upon their domain by offering courses such as certificates, diplomas, and bridging programmes.

The suit also involved the National Association of Private Universities of Kenya (Napuk), which was joined as a party.

Former Education CS Jacob Kaimenyi voiced his support for limiting universities to teaching only degree and postgraduate degree programs. He believed that certificate and diploma courses should be exclusively offered by middle-level colleges.

In the court documents, the association argued that the amendment to the Universities Act of 2012, introduced through the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Act No. 18 of 2014, infringed upon their rights.

Kenapco contended that these amendments were enacted and approved without stakeholder consultations or involvement.

“Specifically, the amendment to section 20 (1) (e) was enacted without proper public participation by the people of Kenya, including the petitioner,” they said.

In their plea, the petitioner requested a restraining order against universities, prohibiting them from marketing, advertising, promoting, or offering diplomas, certificates, and bridging courses.

Justice Isaac Lenaola dismissed the case filed by Kenapco, the lobbying group representing over 200 member institutions.

CUE, in support of the Kenapco case, argued that the 2014 law undermined its role as the regulator of university education, impeding its ability to effectively fulfill its mandate.

“The amendments were introduced and swiftly passed in the National Assembly without any public consultation or engagement with relevant stakeholders, disregarding the Speaker’s ruling to the contrary,” CUE said.

However, the debate did not come to an end. In 2018, the government made extensive efforts to alleviate the growing tension within universities, three years after Justice Lenaola’s ruling.

During this time, a fresh debate emerged, questioning whether institutions of higher learning should continue offering certificate and diploma programmes.

In September 2018, a high-level meeting was convened, where it was highlighted that universities are legally mandated to provide certificate and diploma courses under section 20 (1) (e).

The meeting was attended by senior officials from the Kenya National Qualifications Authority (KNQA), Technical Vocational Education and Training, as well as representatives from the Kenya Universities and Colleges Placement Service (KUCCPS) and the Curriculum Development, Assessment, and Certification Council.

Subsequently, it came to light that the latest  attempt to revoke universities’ authority was prompted by reports indicating that qualifications offered by certain institutions lacked standardisation.

It was revealed that some graduating students had completed their studies with a minimal number of academic hours.

Former Principal Secretary in the State Department of Vocational and Technical Education (TVET), Kevit Desai, clarified that the government had no intention of prohibiting universities from providing certificate and diploma qualifications.

“According to the law, universities are permitted to offer diplomas. However, we insist that they must obtain accreditation from the Technical Vocational Education and Training Authority (TVETA),” Desai said.

Desai further emphasised that the programmes offered by universities must be regulated by the relevant authorities to ensure compliance with the standards set by the Kenya National Qualifications Authority (KNQA).

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