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Why degree certificate faces bleak future

The debate on the authenticity of degree certificates held by our potential or current leaders has left my head spinning - both as an academic and a citizen of this country.

It exposed deeper issues than the degree certificates and where they are got from. So fixated on the degree and its holder, we could easily skirt the key issues and undercurrents. 

One is the weaponisation of information in political contests. That is not unique to Kenya. Do you recall the debate that former US President Barrack Obama was not American?

In Kenya, it’s about a degree certificate and where one got it from.

You will hear more such allegations. There is even one on citizenship.

As a requirement for big posts - from governor to president, a fake degree certificate could easily disqualify someone from the contest or cast doubt on their integrity. 

The framers of the law on the degree should have been more ingenious.

They should have specified that the degree certificate should be got a number of years after KCSE or high school. This would discourage future leaders from seeking degree certificates in anything or from anywhere to satisfy the IEBC requirements. 

That is why none of the contested degree certificates is in nuclear engineering, statistical mechanics, quantum physics, medicine, financial engineering or econometrics. 

Demanding a degree so many years after high school defeats the purpose of acquiring a degree. It’s an experience, more than books.

You meet new people and new perspectives which change your thinking and hope for the better. 

You even meet future spouses or business partners. Most importantly, you become more confident in yourself and your world.  It’s even better if you leave the comfort of your village and hamlet. That is why online learning shall never equal face-to-face. It denies us the real-life experience.

Going to campus is more than books and exams. Higher education does not benefit from bringing services closer to people. 

Having a degree and doing what it stands for are two different things.

 The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) hasn’t proved that a degree holder will be a more effective leader, as was originally envisaged. Perhaps they should offer potential governors, senators, MCAs, and presidents, among other leaders an aptitude test on leadership. 

Unlike corporate CEOs who must show results, our representatives have no clear targets or measures of their productivity. Bills and new laws are not a good measure, they could take years to yield results and often have unintended consequences.

For example, will new traffic laws reduce accidents or increase bribes?

The other measure of our representatives’ productivity is the projects they carry out in their constituencies or jurisdictions. But they use taxpayers’ money and not their own.

Perhaps, the number of private-sector jobs created in their jurisdictions would be a better measure of their success. Why then do we demand a degree if we can’t measure its effectiveness?

Why not let the market do its work and determine who can be a great leader? With all the money that goes to education, why do we assume that voters are not enlightened enough to know who can be a leader and who can’t? Conventional wisdom seems to suggest voters pay scant attention to a candidate’s level of education.

Their money, oratory skills and party affiliation make all the difference.

But let’s accept that in some parts of Kenya, a degree matters on the polling day. The third undercurrent is that we hate reading and seeking new ideas.

Many competitors

Anyone who has taught knows that fact. Curiosity is going through a painful death. The crowding in our institutions of higher learning is driven more by the need for jobs and promotion, not our love of knowledge. The sort of degrees pursued by those seeking to satisfy IEBC requirements tells it all. When did you last buy a book?

A motivational one doesn’t count.

The fourth undercurrent leaves my head spinning even faster - the degree certificate is under threat.

It has too many competitors. That includes short courses and experience. Universities particularly in the West have mounted short but well-targeted courses that last a few months. One can get a cocktail of such courses to build a solid CV.

Ever seen adverts for micro-bachelors? The Covid-19 pandemic caused a revolution in higher education.

It made online education more acceptable. This opened room for well-branded universities to conquer the world. Degree certificates are no longer protected by borders.

We now have to compete with any university in the world.

We have two choices; up our game because the competitors are at our doorsteps online or we become forgotten and buried by an avalanche of well-established universities. 

That has not stopped our presidential contenders from promising more university campuses. But will they compete globally? We may have to become more flexible. Our regulator should allocate a percentage of courses one should take from the degree-granting university, say 50 per cent. The student can take the rest of the courses from any university in the world or other local universities depending on the cost, attractiveness and innovation. 

For example, if I need a Bachelor of Commerce with 48 units, I could take 24 units from The University of Nairobi and take the rest from China, the US, South Africa and Nigeria etcetera.

This will entice our students to be global and enterprising.

Universities would mount attractive and marketable courses that address real-life problems. 

Five is that the degree certificate is not the only status symbol. Cars, residence, family name, and wealth, among others are competitors. Add cross-racial marriages. The other symbols are “ visible” unlike the certificate which you can’t go brandishing on the streets.

Curiously, I find cars with lots of stickers from foreign universities in affluent suburbs. 

The degree’s other competitor is results or performance. What can you do with your degree?

Would alternative certificates do the same? Think of professional certificates like the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), among others.

 The performance of your degree is supported by your life experience. That’s why studying abroad, internships, gap years, volunteerism and other experiences matter so much today.  Instead of focusing on a single degree certificate and its authenticity, we should ask what is the future of that degree.

And enhance its competitiveness at the global level. Will the Competency-Based Curriculum do that?