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Why our universities are teaching factories

COMMENTARY
By Wesonga Robert | September 13th 2018

At the turn of the millennium, which is when I joined university, there were just six public universities, and five private. Eighteen years later, Kenya boasts over 30 public universities and more than 18 private.

This variance accounts for over 37 new institutions of higher learning in less than two decades. Considering what some of these universities have become, I am not sure if ‘boasts’ should be the word here. In forty years – between independence and the year 2000 – the country saw just six universities come up.

No hyperbole

It may be deemed an exaggeration, but this influx of universities in under two decades – some housed on mere apartment blocks – has occasioned the transformation of the university from the citadel of high knowledge, research and innovation, to teaching factories whose principal objective has been attracting numbers and churning out “products”. This does not necessarily mean that teaching happens anyway.

In spite of existing legislation, the hunger for a university degree has over the intervening years seen quality thrown to the dogs in favour of quantity. In that time, the ‘best’ and most popular university, therefore, has become that which admits and graduates the highest number students.

Forget that admissions have up until 2017 (when admission guidelines were clarified by the Ministry of Education) gone on in total disregard of the minimum requirements for entry. In line with “he who pays the piper calls the tune”, having a pay cheque has often guaranteed a student a course which they do not have the requisite aptitude to see through.

For several years before 2017, universities knowingly allowed students who did not have the minimum C+. Besides, stories abound about some universities that admitted students with less than C+ to pursue Bachelor of Education degrees knowing too well that such students would never be employed by the Teachers Service Commission. With regard to the quality of human resource and quality of teaching, the less said about it, the better – at least for now.

Curse of market-driven courses

This endeavour to attract numbers has been witnessed in the creation of programmes – the so called market driven courses – without paying attention to the availability of qualified lecturers, technicians and facilities. What this means is that the university has been invaded by a business-mindedness that is keen on increasing ‘sales’.

In other countries, specific universities are famous for specific contributions to society; in Kenya, each university has struggled to become a master of all trades but no doubt most have only succeeded in being jacks of those trades. Numerous are the institutions that have started medical schools without teaching hospitals and qualified academic staff.

In some cases, we have heard of the plight of graduates such as those from several engineering schools who have completed university education only to be told that the programmes they have spent money and time to pursue are not accredited by the relevant professional bodies.

At the Kenya School of Law, 78 per cent of the students failed the 2017 bar examinations. This casts doubt on the quality of teaching, instruction and evaluation in the universities whose examinations all these students had passed. The legal fraternity is better off because they have the Kenya School of Law to check the competence of those who end up in the field to practice Law.

If our universities cannot be trusted to ensure quality, then it is important for the Commission on University Education should intervene and find means of streamlining examination so that we are sure of the quality of people that enter the job market.

Any business model must undertake a cost-benefit analysis and endevour to minimize cost as it increases benefit. It is however intriguing to see how universities go about attaining this.

A lot of faculties and departments in our universities have prioritized increasing student enrolment, without factoring in a corresponding increase in the human resource to contribute to curriculum delivery.

No pay for teachers

Consequently, the need for part time lecturers comes up. Anyone who has been one, or knows a part time lecturer, will tell you that this group includes some of the most mistreated and disenchanted people in this country.

Amongst them, you will find a people who will do their jobs (often half-heartedly) because of the conditions of engagement.

Some have to wait for up to six years before being paid – if ever at all.

In short, it is not uncommon for a part-time lecturer to see the students they taught in the first year graduate with degrees before they get paid for that very work done.

It is obvious that we have gone so far down this road of commercialising our universities. In any case, business is not bad when done with the good of the greatest number of people in mind.

This is why our universities need to realize that they owe the society more than they owe themselves.

 

Mr Wesonga is a Lecturer at University of Kabianga - Kericho

[email protected], [email protected]

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