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MKU sheds off costly excesses, improves on academics

Technology has helped Mount Kenya University streamline academics and shed off excess part-time staff capacity that unnecessarily gobbled up resources. Using its management information system (MIS), the university cut teaching units from 7,000 to 2,700 in January, enabling it to significantly slash the number of part-time lecturers on its payroll from 2,000 to 400.

Dr Ronald Maathai, Registrar, Academic Affairs, revealed that the university did not need the thousands of part-time lecturers across its 16 campuses.

“We realised that some units were created unnecessarily,” she said in an interview. “Some lecturers were teaching 12 students or less, and thus had a low workload. We also realised that some full-time staff members were taking less teaching loads. They would then give the full classes to part-timers. Technology has helped us tremendously. We can view from a computer the units offered and the number of students registered in any campus.”

This is possible because the university management centralised the Directorate of Teaching to gain a bird’s eye-view of academics.

The Registrar said MKU had fallen into the traditional part-time lecturing trap that snares many universities and costs them millions of shillings in unnecessary salaries.

Dr Maathai said the associate faculty had ballooned to become unmanageable. At one point, the university owed the lecturers Sh500 million, yet that was an unnecessary expenditure in the first place. After streamlining the units, the university managed to clear the debt. “The university was not in control of the situation… Most of the part time lecturers were pursuing their own agenda,” the Registrar noted. “They were not complying with university regulations. The problem was lack of coordination and managing of part-timers.”

The impact has been a huge improvement in class attendance because the university’s MIS helps monitor teaching.

“Daily class attendance has almost doubled from about 50 per cent to 90 per cent,” said Dr Maathai. “Coverage of the syllabus is 100 per cent. The campuses are often quiet because students are attending lectures. You will see very few students outside, and these are usually busy revising.”

The feedback from students has been that “we are zealous in chasing them to come to class,” according to the Registrar.

Dr Maathai said the MIS helped the university realise that it was offering too many units in its curriculum. For example, for business courses, MKU was offering 56 units against the Commission for University Education’s (CUE’s) recommended minimum of 40 units. Accordingly, the university has reduced these units to 42. The change will only affect new students. The

Registrar pointed out that implementing these changes was not easy. She recalled people asked her what magic she was going to employ to cut units from 7,000 to 2,700. Some even opposed the idea.

“Part-time teaching is a cash cow for many people,” Dr Maathai noted. “So it was natural for some people to campaign against and resist our new approach to managing the part-time community. As many universities were established, part time lecturing became a career commonly referred to as ‘moonlighting’.”

She said after the streamlining of teaching the Directorate of Teaching vets any new part-time lecturer for integrity, qualification and competence. Those who fit the bill are then eligible for interview. After that, their names are stored in the university’s database and should they misbehave or lack commitment, the university blacklists them.

“For example, we can say confidently that we know the 400 on our roster well,” said the Registrar. “With this kind of awareness, MKU will never be the same again. We use an approved curriculum, hire qualified and competent part-time lecturers and offer exams whose quality is assured through external examiners.”

Dr Maathai said this was a desirable state of affairs. “Academics is what brings students to MKU. So, we track a student right from admission to class attendance up to graduation. On class attendance, we monitor both students and their lecturers to ensure the syllabus is covered. Our exams are centralised. All students, irrespective of campus, sit the same exam.”

The Registrar has appealed to the CUE to create a database of all part-timers in Kenya to ease their monitoring. “We have to keep in mind that we are training for the nation.”

Mount Kenya University is a major contributor to employment creation in Kenya. The university employs full-time academic staff, associate faculty and research staff, administrative staff and support staff.

The academic, associate and research staff comprises professors, associate professors, senior lecturers, lecturers, assistant lecturers, tutorial fellows and graduate assistants.