Debate on unaccredited degree programmes in a number of universities rages on amid concerns over quality of learning in these institutions. But are all unaccredited courses useless?
Derick Geoffrey has always wanted to become a lawyer. The Criminology student at Tom Mboya University believes that when he graduates, he will choose between becoming a lawyer and working with a human rights group.
Last week, however, Derick’s career aspirations looked uncertain when his course was listed among degree programmes that are being offered at the university without a nod from Commission for University Education (CUE).
Kenya Universities, Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS) raised quality issues with 133 degree programmes in 26 public and private universities and university constituent colleges.
The placement body had argued that these courses were not accredited by the universities regulator.
Tom Mboya University was one hardest hit with 25 unaccredited degree programmes out of the 37 programmes it offers. Panic prompted a protest at the university that would only be calmed down by anti-riot police.
“The course is perfect. We are taught by very smart lecturers who never miss class and get the best exposure to real-life cases when handling the practical part of the course. I am shocked that Criminology is being called a useless course,” says Derick.
The second year student leader at the university says he has not made up his mind on whether to transfer to another institution or enroll in a different programme.
Vanessa Njeri, a first-year student who scored a C+ in KCSE and was admitted at Tom Mboya University to pursue Actuarial Science with IT, was confused when she learnt that the course should not be taught at the university.
“I have been shocked from the time I learnt that I was pursuing a course that isn’t accredited. I am very confused and I haven’t made up my mind what to do. I hope this is some kind of mistake that our administration and commission will straighten soon,” says Njeri.
If Tom Mboya University is having a hard time with her students, then the Lukenya University is in an even tighter spot after all the six degree programmes it offers appeared on the list of rejected programmes.
Dr Paul Mwania, the registrar at Lukenya University, has already started receiving requests from students seeking transfers to other institutions with accredited programmes.
“There is a lot of confusion among students as we speak. Imagine telling someone that the course they are pursuing is useless. I have already spoken to students who are seeking to transfer to other schools,” says Dr Mwania.
Mwania says including Lukenya University on the infamous list was a mistake that needs to be corrected. He says the university, that sits on 2,100 acres in Kibwezi, had distinguished itself in offering innovative courses in agriculture and had received a go-ahead from the universities regulator in 2015 when it obtained a letter of interim authority.
Lukenya University offers Bachelor of Science degree in dry land agriculture among its six programmes.
“As a university, we wish to make it known that all six programmes offered at the university are accredited by the Commission for University Education and we have all approval papers in that effect,” says Dr Mwania.
He said CUE’s requirement was that a university have at least two accredited programmes before it was handed a letter of interim authority.
Dr Mwania says labelling degree programmes as ‘useless courses’ hurts credibility.
“Education is a very sensitive matter and we need to assure our partners, parents and students that we are offering quality education. Everything is wrong if indeed the commission made that list instead of going to individual universities to advise them,” says Dr Mwania.
Tom Mboya University School of Business Dean Dr Alphonse Odondo says all programmes offered at the university were accredited by CUE.
“Constituent colleges only offer courses that are mounted in their parent universities. Tom Mboya being a constituent college of Maseno University only offers courses approved by Maseno University senate,” says Dr Odondo.
According to Derick, nevertheless, the university located in Homabay County, kilometres away from its parent institution faces challenges with its infrastructure and facilities. “All the courses we learn here are perfect. The only problem comes with the IT part because we don’t have enough computers in our computer labs,” says Derick.
Are there useless courses?
Recently, a graduate at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology posted a suicidal note on Facebook citing frustration in getting work. He blamed his predicament on his ‘worthless’ degree certificate.
“Before I die, a university degree is just a piece of paper,” Alfred Kibet had said in a post followed by a chain of messages where the graduate poured out his frustrations and desire to end his life.
“I might not be as proud but it has my name. When I die, frame it and use it as the picture on my coffin. That is my wish. Bye,” he wrote in a post that was accompanied by a photo of his degree certificate.
Information that was provided in the photo indicated that Kibet had graduated with a second-class lower division degree in Soil, Water and Environmental Engineering.
The posts on Kibet’s Facebook account, which was later de-activated, sparked debate on the quality of degree courses and frustrations graduates suffer after graduation.
The debate came at the time KUCCPS had raised quality issues with 133 degree programmes in 26 universities.
However, Hezbon Abong, who graduated with a degree in Soil, Water and Environmental Engineering at JKuat says the degree is one of the most marketable courses on the job market.
“I find it hard to understand when someone says the competency I earned from university is useless. It is one of the courses that provide countless opportunities in agriculture, water and sanitation, environment and many others,” says Abong.
Even before Eng Abong graduated in 2009 from the university with a second-class upper division, he had already found a well-paying job.
He had already done four internships and accepted a short contract by the time he was sitting his final exams.
So far, the WASH governance specialist at USAid, who earlier worked at the NGO as an engineer, has held about eight different jobs. Sometimes he works on different projects with different employers.
Eng Abong faults fresh graduates who lose hope fast before they even try. “The problem with fresh graduates in this field is that they want to become engineers the moment they step out of school. This may not always be possible. I worked in many non-engineering positions for two years before I found an engineering job.
“There (is) a lot to do out there even while you are still a student. Accept quality assessment projects. Do research in water and sanitation. Accept community development jobs. Venture into water policy issues. In fact, there is a huge gap in water policy issues as no single county in Kenya has a policy on water. These are some of the things that students and graduates in the field should be doing,” he says.