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Alarm over elevation of colleges to varsities

EDUCATION
By - | February 4th 2013

By Augustine Oduor

Kenya: There is a growing concern over the ongoing elevation of middle level colleges to full fledged universities.

Some 20 institutions have been lined up for elevation in a move to raise students’ enrollment and open up university education to Kenyans.

Just this week, President Kibaki granted Charter to Mombasa Polytechnic and elevated it to a technical university.

The institution is the first in the Coast region to be transformed and will now be called Technical University of Mombasa.

Kenya Polytechnic University College was re-named Technical University of Kenya and became the first technical university in Kenya.

Dedan Kimathi University of Technology in Nyeri was elevated December last year when it received a charter.

Until last year, Kimathi University had been a constituent college of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology for about six years.

Phase out

Others lined up for elevation are those in Kisii, Narok, Chuka, Kwale and Kitui and Kibaki is expected to confer charters to these institutions before the March 4 elections.

But even with these efforts, education stakeholders and commentators say it is ill informed for the state to elevate these institutions over what they say threatens to phase out the much-needed craftsmen and artisans to develop the country.

The directorate of the Vision 2030 has called for a well-planned exercise.

Vision 2030 Director-General Mugo Kibati said the middle level human resources produced by these institutions are key to the country’s development.

Kibati said he is not entirely opposed to the elevation exercise but called for a more careful and well-planned exercise that will not kill production of the needed skills.

A university lecturer termed it a dangerous move by the state if no room for middle level skills is left.

Prof Ben Sihanya of the University of Nairobi said there are no competent persons who can develop new products or even make good repairs.

“This is a retrogressive policy that is killing the human resource development industry for middle level skills,” he said.

Regular students

Sihanya said with the intended devolution to county governments, Kenya needs such skills more.

Minister for Higher Education Margaret Kamar, however, defended the move saying it opens up places for thousands of Form Four leavers.

Prof Kamar said her ministry hopes to double the number of regular university students.

She said even with the newly established colleges, it is still difficult to admit 10 percent of students who achieve the minimum Joint Admissions Board (JAB) cut off mark.

Commission for University Education CEO David Some also defended the move and said middle level colleges are still intact.

Prof Somesaid the institutions being elevated have been university colleges for over six years.

“These institutions have been functioning as universities for many years now. Some of their students have even graduated. They should have been elevated after three years but we were waiting for the University Act,” he said.

Knut national chairman Wilson Sossion said strong economies that have industrialised have heavy investment in middle level colleges.

“That is where technology and innovation manpower is developed.

Middle level colleges should be financed and sustained, rather than elevating them to universities,” he said.

He said if elevations are to make sense then it should be exclusively for the relevant skills.

He said some colleges tailored for certain courses have been elevated and many different courses introduced.

“Egerton was an agricultural training college. It produced the best extension officers but this was diluted by humanities,” he said.

He also cited Kenya Science which he said produced the best science teachers.

“We are no longer getting the best science teachers from there,” he added.

Kenya National Parents Association national chairman Musau Ndunda accused the Government of engaging in “emotional exercise.”

He said children have been made to believe that one can only be successful with university education.

“We must preserve middle level colleges. We cannot create a euphoria that everyone must go to university,” he said.

 “We cannot just do this because we want to increase transition rates to university education. There should be a commensurate access rate of transition to middle level colleges as well,” said Sossion.

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