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The unfortunate woes of the Kenyan Engineering graduate


Engineering is one of the world’s most respected and coveted professions. If you asked a primary school child what he/she wants to become after growing up, many would mention Medical doctor, Lawyer, Engineer, Pilot etc.

The high demand for engineering degree courses coupled with the high cost of training engineers; creates stiff competition among form four finalists in Kenyan high schools as they battle out for the few slots available in the few Kenyan Universities offering training in engineering. This results in very high cluster subject points requirements for those who join engineering programmes in Kenyan public universities.

Enrolling in an engineering degree programme in a Kenyan university is not a guarantee that one becomes an engineer in the future. There are many drop-outs due to the enormous amount of hard work, resilience and sacrifice needed to satisfactorily complete an engineering degree course. Many join these courses only to realize the difficulties involved and opt out for lesser demanding courses. Others have to take longer than necessary as they repeat some academic years, while some fail in exams altogether and are unceremoniously discontinued.

Currently, graduating with an engineering degree in Kenya does not offer one an edge in the job market due to the high rate of unemployment in the country. Graduates are forced to take up any job that comes their way, including clerical and teller jobs in local banks, just like any other graduate. The government does not seem to recognize the efforts and resources used in training engineers as it treats them just like any other graduates.

Unlike Lawyers, Medical doctors and Veterinary doctors who join the civil service at a higher job group, engineers are lumped together with other professionals such as teachers, economists, human resource officers, public administrators etc. No institution or organization is available in Kenya to address the welfare of engineers in the public service, but we have regulatory bodies that are obsessed with overregulation of the engineering profession, with no regard to the welfare of the engineers whatsoever.

These bodies include the Engineers Board of Kenya (EBK) and the Institute of Engineers of Kenya (IEK), whose difference is only in their names, but work as one entity. In fact, they share one floor and they are neighbors in Transcom building in Upper Hill, Nairobi. In some instances, the officials of IEK are also officials of EBK.

These bodies and have cunningly crafted laws that require any practicing engineer in Kenya to be a member of the two. One important thing worth noting is that since the establishment of the two engineering bodies in early 60s, the two have managed to block more engineers from registering than they have managed to register. One is therefore tempted to believe that the two bodies are in existence to ensure only a few graduates are registered so as to create artificial shortage of engineers in the country for their own benefit.

Engineers’ welfare notwithstanding, the training of engineers in Kenya has been faced with tremendous challenges that end up disadvantaging the graduates. The efforts by many Kenyan universities to expand their programmes and offer the much needed engineering courses have hit a snag, thanks to the insensitivity and careless attitude portrayed by both the training institutions and the regulatory bodies.

In the recent past, we have had reputable public universities such as The University of Nairobi, Kenyatta University, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Egerton University and others, initiate engineering programmes without proper and adequate consultations with the profession regulator, resulting in serious disagreements between them and the regulator.

These disagreements impact heavily on the graduates of such programmes who are barred from practicing that which they were trained to do to earn a living from. The stalemate has created a pool of highly educated graduates who are unemployable and hence desperate and hopeless. Cries by these graduates have gone to deaf ears. Neither court cases nor petitions to parliament have helped, and the graduates are left in the cold with no one to come to their rescue. Why then should we be surprised when highly educated desperate graduates join militia groups such as Al-shabaab?

The enactment of Engineers Bill 2010 into Law saw the Engineers Board of Kenya (Formerly, Engineers Registration Board of Kenya) acquire enormous powers in regulating both the training of engineers and the practice of professional engineers in the country. The Act criminalizes any activity or involvement of unregistered person in any form of engineering work in the country.

Any employer found to have engaged any person not registered by the Board to perform any engineering activities in the country is also liable for court action. This literally means that by many universities teaching engineering courses not approved and accredited by EBK, they are actually training people to commit crimes in the future. If you look at any engineering job advert in Kenyan papers or in the internet nowadays, you will realize that there is always a clause that requires the applicants to either be registered or be registrable by EBK. What this literally means is that any graduate who holds a degree from any of the unaccredited engineering progammes is equivalent with a form 4 drop out. This is too sad given the efforts, time and resources such graduates used to acquire such difficult degrees.

Graduates from Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology and Egerton universities wrote a petition to parliament in 2009 to have their grievances addressed. Parliament could not help them and they proceeded to the high court. The high court through Judge Manjanja ruled in 2012 that all engineering graduates from public universities ought to be registered unconditionally and be compensated for the time lost.

However, in what appeared to be concerted efforts by EBK and IEK to ensure that these graduates earn no living; EBK immediately filed an appeal case to reverse the ruling. The appeal case dragged until June, 2015 when the court of appeal overturned the ruling leaving the poor graduates in the cold with no help on sight. Earlier in 2015, many universities’ students including University of Nairobi, Technical University of Kenya and Kimathi University of Science and Technology held demonstrations, some which were destructive, trying to have their grievances heard. As usual, the Commission for University Education, Ministry of Education and the regulator promised to address the issue, but nothing has happened to date.

As I write this article in my small room in Adelaide South Australia, I am one of the victims of this ugly stalemate, which I believe is responsible for my chronic stress. Despite winning a prestigious scholarship to pursue masters of engineering in Civil and Environmental engineering at The University of Adelaide, a world class university, I am full of desperation and hopelessness. My hard work may never yield fruits when I return back to Kenya unless a sensitive person in authority, with much regard for human rights, rises to the occasion and addresses the issue of registration once and for all.

My story is rather disturbing: I grew up in a poor polygamous family where I am the only one who went past primary school in a family of 7. I attended a poor local public pry school and got admission to a District High School but never enrolled due to lack of fees.  I ended up joining a local day school where I studied through bursary and donations from well wishers. By God’s grace and hard work, I passed form four national exams in 1999 and got admission to study Bachelors of Science degree in Agricultural Engineering at the University of Nairobi in 2001.

This happened to be the beginning of my woes. During admission at the university, word went around that many students in the programme I was joining used to drop out and those who graduated never got any employment. This prompted me to apply for transfer to the faculty of education, an application that was never accepted and I ended up pursuing the same course. I began feeling desperate as soon as I started attending classes since I felt my future career was uncertain. Many students from well to do families opted out of the course and joined parallel degree programmes in “better” courses such as Bachelors of Commerce, Law, Civil engineering, Electrical engineering and Medicine. Myself I had no choice but to continue, thanks to Higher Education Loans Board (HELB), whose loan was my sole source of money for fees and upkeep.

A sense of hope begun in my 2nd year (2002), when the then department chairman, Professor Larry Gumbe, announced that the university was changing the title of our degree from Agricultural to “Biosystems and Environmental Engineering”, with minimal rearrangements of the course contents. This was meant to equip the graduates in line with market demands and make the programme attractive to future students and industry employers. In 2004, the changes were effected and there was hope at the end of the tunnel; or so we thought.

Surprisingly, those who graduated with the new name found very friendly job market in various organizations. The industry response was tremendously good as predicted by the good professor. However, the joy was short-lived. A section of lecturers from the department of civil engineering at the University of Nairobi, who were opposed to the changes right from the beginning took their issues to Engineers Registration Board (ERB) where they happened to be powerful officials. Word has it that when their objection at senate level flopped, since they couldn’t convince the senate why they were opposed to the new name, the said lecturers vowed never to allow graduates from the new programme to register with ERB. A threat they whole heartedly implemented and have seen us suffer till today.

Being a lucky poor man, I got a job in the Ministry of Agriculture in 2008 as an agricultural engineer. There was hope in my life at last. However, the hope was cut short when a new scheme of service was introduced requiring all engineers in the ministry to be registered. This meant that under this scheme it was mandatory for one to be registered with the professional body so as to qualify for any promotion.

Since 2008 till today I have never moved from job group K because I can’t be registered by the engineers board of Kenya which does not recognize the programme at the University of Nairobi from where I graduated in 2006.  My colleagues with bachelor’s degrees in general agriculture are now in job group M. It’s disheartening and very demoralizing to see that people are so insensitive to subject their fellow citizens to a suffering of this nature with no mercy at all.

It is unfortunate that you have to study difficult subjects for five years only to be treated like trash in your own country with no one in authority bothering with your predicament which is purely the making of state institutions. My only hope now is that by God’s grace, after graduating with my master’s degree, I may secure a good job with an international body that does not require EBK registration. This is because EBK does not consider post graduate qualifications for registration.

My story is just one of many that are untold. I am very lucky to have secured a job whose future is, however, uncertain. Many engineering graduates sharing my predicament cannot secure any employment in any field of engineering. This is happening when the universities continue to teach engineering courses knowing all too well that the graduates are destined to doom.

As we speak, there are a total of 24 engineering programmes offered at local public universities that are not accredited by EBK and therefore their graduates are unemployable. The case of the University of Nairobi is a sad one. The EBK Chairman, Eng. Wanjau and his deputy Prof. Gichaga are both senior staff members at the school of engineering, University of Nairobi. Why haven’t they collaborated (since 2004 till now) with the relevant academic departments to ensure Environmental and Biosystems engineering programme in the university they teach is accredited by the board they chair? May be they are part of the problem and need to be investigated.

Injustice continues to be meted on the poor graduates. May be some of us will reach retirement age without ever having the opportunity to utilize the skills we painfully acquired from our state universities. The courts have slammed doors of justice. Parliament is busy with other political issues and don’t seem to offer any solution.

In the meantime, the universities are still teaching these courses. All they care about are fees paid by students. Then I ask: How long does it take for government institutions to sort out a problem of their own making? When will Kenyan leaders walk the talk and empower the youth? When will the efforts of the hard working vulnerable groups be recognized and rewarded? When will the young Kenyan graduate engineers be allowed to earn a decent living from the skills they acquired painfully and expensively from local public universities? Who will rescue young engineers from desperation and hopelessness in Kenya? When will justice, which ought to be our shield and defender, come into play?

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