Universities could be dealt a blow if a proposal by the education reforms team to restrict the institutions to degree courses is adopted.
The Standard has established that the Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms wants all universities barred from teaching diploma and certificate courses.
It emerged that the matter has split members of the task force as some argue that certificate and diploma courses all fall under higher education.
“These can be taught either in university or Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges. What is however true is that TVETs cannot teach degree courses,” said a member of the task force.
Others argued that most universities have middle-level colleges that would fall under the TVET arm.
The Standard has established that the reforms report would be released this week.
Last week, the team held an education stakeholders validation meeting at the Centre for Mathematics, Science and Technology Education in Africa (CEMSATEA).
During the meeting, it emerged that broadly task force recommended that the 2-6-3-3-3 education system remains unchanged.
They also proposed that there will no longer be the categorisation of schools as National, County, Extra-County, or County.
There will however be options in subjects to be taken by learners to determine career choices and the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Education (KICD) would be required to rationalise the number of learning areas.
Even though the issue of abolition of boarding schools was discussed The Standard has established that the committee was split on whether they should be done away with entirely.
What was however agreed on was the need to strengthen boarding schools in marginalized counties to increase access to education.
Also proposed by the team is the move to streamline the functions of the Teachers Service Commission (TSC), among them is moving all quality assurance functions to the Ministry of Education.
Presently, both TSC and Ministry have quality assurance departments which oftentimes duplicate roles, a matter that has in the past led to serious clashes between the two bodies.
At universities, Councils have been proposed to get back the power to higher vice-chancellors and their deputies. These functions are presently being performed by the Public Service Commission (PSC), a matter that has been a source of grumbling in the institutions of higher learning.
This means that university councils will advertise for the jobs, conduct interviews and nominate three names to be submitted through the Education CS for appointment by the president.
The team also wants the placement of students by the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS) to be delinked from funding.
The Universities Act presently says that KUCCPS coordinates the placement of government-sponsored students to universities and colleges.
This means that all students placed by KUCCPS automatically qualify for bursaries, a matter that is in direct conflict with the new funding model proposed by the president.
The team also wants to support the merger of all funding bodies, resonating with the new funding proposals of universities and students.
The team strongly recommends that the Universities Act be amended to accommodate the proposed changes.
What will however excite public debate is whether universities should teach certificates and diploma courses, if the taskforce reports make such strong recommendations.
If adopted, this proposal means an amendment to the Universities Act Section 20 (1) (e) would be instituted.
And if passed in Parliament and assented to by the president, this level of academic certification will only be taught and awarded in middle-level colleges.
University sector players however say that TVETs should phase out teaching of non-technical courses.
They argue that private/commercial TVETs mainly offer non-technical courses which are taught in universities.
“If you bar universities from offering certificate and diploma courses all students wishing to take technical programmes will be enrolled in private TVETs,” said a university management official.
The argument seems to be supported by Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu who last year, directed all TVETs to phase out business courses.
In a circular released on December 23, last year, Machogu said that the government has put a lot of emphasis and resources on Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (Stem) courses in TVET institutions.
The CS said that it is important that the government gets value for the huge resources invested in the TVET institutions in that regard.
“You are therefore required to develop a roadmap towards the phasing out of business courses in your respective institutions within three years from the date of this circular,” Machogu said.
He further said: “You are required to develop strategies to increase enrolment in STEM courses and ensure that there is no drop in the overall enrolment in your institutions.”
The circular was sent to all principals of National Polytechnics, Kenya School of TVET, Institute of Technology, Technical Training Institutes and Technical and Vocational Colleges.
The elephant in the room, it emerged, is that most of these TVETs offer non-technical courses which they need to phase out.
The proposal by the education reforms team however renews the debate on whether universities should be allowed to teach certificates and diploma courses, a matter that was adjudicated twice in court in 2015 and 2021.
The first attempt in 2015 by the Kenya National Association of Private Colleges (Kenapco) to challenge the amendment failed at the High Court, clearing the way for universities to offer the qualifications.
Kenapco moved to the High Court claiming that 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 diploma and certificate courses.
Under the amended law, all public and private universities were allowed to admit students to diplomas, including postgraduate diplomas and 'other academic certificates.
The institutions were also allowed to admit students to degree courses, including postgraduate degrees and honorary degrees.
These were the changes to the Universities Act 2012 that sought to clarify sections of the Charter.
Section 20 of the Universities Act previously only allowed universities powers to award degrees, including honorary degrees.
In their case, Kenapco claimed that universities, which are under the authority of the Commission of University Education (CUE) and the Ministry of Education, had encroached on their operation by illegally offering courses in the nature of certificates, diplomas and bridging courses.
The National Association of Private Universities of Kenya (Napuk) were enjoined in the suit.
Then Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi supported the plan to restrict universities to only teach degree and postgraduate degree programmes, noting that offering of certificates and diploma courses should be left to middle-level colleges.
The association in court papers argued that the amendment to the Universities Act (2012) through the Statute Law (miscellaneous amendments) Act No 18 of 2014, infringed on their rights.
Kenapco also argued that the amendments were passed and assented to them without any stakeholder consultations or involvement.
"...in particular, the amendment to section 20 (1) (e) as it was enacted without proper public participation by the people of Kenya including the petitioner...," they argued.
In their prayers, the petitioner wanted universities restrained from marketing, advertising, promoting and or offering diplomas, certificates and bridging courses.
Justice Lenaola dismissed the case filed by Kenapco, the lobby that represented more than 200 member institutions within the Republic of Kenya.
The Kenapco case was supported by CUE which argued that the 2014 law weakened its role as the regulator of university education, making it unable to effectively continue carrying out its mandate.
“The amendments were introduced on the floor of the National Assembly and immediately passed without any reference to the public as well as relevant stakeholders and against the ruling of the Speaker to the contrary,’’ CUE argued.
CUE also argued that the amendment amounted to discrimination against colleges and instead favouring the Universities in order to defeat the commercial viability of colleges by denying them the right to fair competition.
“The amendments have resulted in a big conflict between the Universities Act and the Technical and Vocational Training Authority Act in that the said amendments have given the universities mandate to directly offer diplomas and certificate courses which are and ought to be a preserve of Technical and Vocational Training College,” CUE argued.
But this debate did not end there. In 2018, the government made frantic efforts to calm simmering tension in universities. This was merely three years after Justice Lenaola's ruling.
At the time, a fresh debate was raging on whether the institutions of higher learning should offer certificate and diploma programmes.
A high-level meeting was convened in September 2018, and it was heard that universities are mandated by law to teach certificates and diplomas under section 20 (1) (e).
Senior officials of Kenya National Qualifications Authority (KNQA), Technical Vocational Education and Training, attended the meeting.
Also present were officials from Kenya Universities and Colleges Placement Service (KUCCPS) and Curriculum Development, Assessment and Certification Council.
It later emerged that the third push to deny universities the mandate was a result of reports that qualifications offered by some institutions were not standardised.
It emerged that some students graduating had studied for a few academic hours.
Then Principal Secretary in the State Department of Vocational and Technical Education (TVET) Kevit Desai said the government has no intention to stop universities from offering certificate and diploma qualifications.
“By law, the universities are allowed to teach diplomas. But what we are insisting on is that they must be accredited by Technical Vocational Education and Training Authority (TVETA),” Desai said.
Desai however said that the programmes offered must be regulated by relevant authorities to comply with standards set by Kenya National Qualifications Authority (KNQA).
Even with these assurances by the government, a second case filed in 2021, asking the court to declare Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendment) Act 8 of 2014 unconstitutional flopped.
The High Court in Nairobi dismissed the case filed by Robinson Kioko which would have barred universities from offering certificates and diplomas.
Kioko argued that opening universities to offer education which ought to be taught in technical colleges does not respond to the needs of the country to have a technical workforce.