Opinion: Survival of the fittest dawns on Universities
By Ratemo Michieka
| April 23rd 2018
Quoting from Darwin’s Theory of the survival of the fittest of an organism depicts a clear picture of the current student enrolment to our universities. The fittest university program shall survive continuity.
This analogy is a clear manifestation of what is being witnessed now in the universities’ student intake. I write this article with a lot of concern on the future of those students who may have been selected for courses they did not apply.
The current situation of students’ apathy and non-saleable academic program is a very worrying trend that Kenyan scholars and decision makers must address – frankly and urgently.
THE HEART OF THE PROBLEM
What is ‘aching’ our universities programmes? Why aren’t students applying for the many programmes offered by a number of universities?
The answer is simple and includes marketability, duplication, and lack of future projection. A week does not pass without an elaborate and costly advertisement in print and electronic media of universities numerous programmes offered.
The just completed student intake to public universities revealed the current situation of non-performing programmes. It affirms Darwin’s Theory of survival. The fittest programmes will attract students and avoid total closure of the institutions. This scenario shall be witness soon.
Indeed there are saleable programmes that do not need any publicity. They are known and oversubscribed. It is extremely unfortunate that graduate medical students cannot be absorbed in an already impoverished society, yet we are importing doctors from foreign countries who are not acculturated to the local culture. This is pathetic.
Why the apathy in non-marketable programmes?
LACK OF A NICHE
A closer look of all our programmes in Kenyan universities reveals an overwhelming repetition of the same offer. This is true even within the intra-university and inter-university craze. The reason of this sad trend includes a copy-and-paste practice by the players. No new niche is sought, and no future prediction of market forces is explored. A Master’s Thesis could be apt to compare the development and actualisation of a new Kenyan university. The findings would unveil a glaring programme similarity across the universities.
What went wrong and when did the rain start beating on us? Setting up a credible university is a tedious, torturous, and time-consuming exercise. It is not a single short move with street pronouncement of authority. The work ‘nurture’ means care, protect, assist, develop, and let go after a long time of association. Therefore the up-bringing of a young university goes through a development process and chooses a unique character (course specialisation) to be associated with.
There has to be a competent and forward looking group of mentors. The mentoring university looks at among many considerations; qualified staff, facilities for planned faculties, programme uniqueness, marketability, and local and international linkages for their products – the students.
The Commission for Education has to a large extent adhered to the laid down procedures and regulations of accrediting universities and award of charter. However, in many times they have been overtaken by some pronouncements particularly in regard to public university colleges.
Political pronouncements for the establishment of new universities have heavily impacted negatively the development of these universities.
A quick look at a number of newly established universities shows a worrying trend of academic development. The problem is the speed and unpreparedness of a university college to a full-fledged university. Many of these university’s programmes are duplicates of older universities and are in danger of being closed.
There was no proper vision beyond the existing programmes from the mother university; rather, the attention was made on the staff hunting spree of all cadres especially the lecturers. Poaching from other universities became the trending strategy. Many university staff migrated to their local community where new universities were created. For instance, there are many who retired to their ‘homeland’ to become Vice-Chancellors or Senior Professor.
The move resulted into non-procedural promotions of persons without adequate qualifications. The consequences were grave and are manifesting now. Old programmes from the perceived nurturing universities were copied-and-pasted without proper critiquing of the same. Courses were adopted with minor editing of units and approved by senates without critical revision. Consequently, there was lack of preparation time, public scrutiny, and relevance of programmes to Kenya’s development.
Nevertheless, the transformation came at a time when lecturers had to survive in their programmes and started duplicating. I am not saying there must not be similarities in units or contents, but it is worthy note that certain programmes are over-subscribed and urgently need to be closed. Such programmes have become redundant and unsalable.
I do not think that a university working alone with non-attractive programmes can survive in this era of growing competitive market. Many will pack up and close.
The survival and success of a university course depends on market demand and satisfaction. Necessity is the mother of innovation. Jobs must be created by industries and technology. This is possible if we truly revise our programmes in regard to the country’s needs. University senates have a duty to reengineer their programmes and retool staff. Then they shall survive the competition.
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