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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Erosion of quality in Kenyan varsities: Is it the cause of poor global ranking?

Graduands Emma Murenji, Karinamaryo Gael, Boniface Nyamos and Gatete Gerard celebrate during MKU’s 8th graduation ceremony on August 10, 2015 / JOHN MUCHUCHA
Graduands Emma Murenji, Karinamaryo Gael, Boniface Nyamos and Gatete Gerard celebrate during MKU’s 8th graduation ceremony on August 10, 2015 / JOHN MUCHUCHA

In the over 18 months since Fred Matiang’i was appointed Education CS in November 2015, he’s been fighting to end the rot that has seemingly lowered the quality of university education.

Other education sectors, including national exams management, were not left behind.

Recently in Naivasha, during an induction forum for newly appointed university council members for 22 public universities, Matiang’i named irregularities that have bedevilled university education.

He pointed out irregular establishments of satellite campuses, disrespect of basic admission rules and rampant abetting of plagiarism as the major problems in the sector.

Matiang’i praised the report of an audit he ordered last year, saying it was it was “accurate and institution-specific”.

In January last year, the Commission for University Education (CUE) ordered the closure of 13 varsity campuses for failing to adhere to set standards.

Matiang’i tasked professors George Magoha, Crispus Kiamba and Patricia Kameri-Mbote with verifying the claims.

In a report to the CS, the committee said it agreed with the commission’s findings and recommended the closure.


Sometime in October 2015, scientists from 200 research institutions attended a three-day conference at Chuka University, where scholars pointed out why Kenya lags behind in offering quality university education.

It became crystal clear that the state’s allocation for science and innovation in institutions of higher learning is too little to fund significant researches.

Chuka University vice chancellor Erastus Njoka said the underfunding limits progress in science and industrial development.

“Countries like Malaysia and South Korea allocate seven per cent of the country’s GDP to innovations in science and technology. That’s why they are ahead of us,” Njoka observed.

Adequate funding for research and technology is what stands between Kenya’s ability to manufacture its own vaccines and even vehicles, Njoka adds.

The conference, sponsored jointly by Chuka University and the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (Nacosti), established that the country allocated a paltry 0.9 per cent of its GDP to fund research in its universities, forcing researchers to seek funding from donors.

In a recent report, the CUE put three universities on notice over engaging in irregularities.

The audit report indicated that some universities were awarding degrees to students without following procedures, enrolling unqualified students and offering courses not approved by the commission.

It pointed out Kiriri Women’s University of Science and Technology, the East African University and Thika-based Gretsa University as institutions whose operations are questionable.

Even more drastic, the report recommends the shutting down of some of the universities, including Inoorero, Obama, Kenco and Landmark.

Education CS Fred Matiang’i said: “There are universities that have registered students who scored C for degree programmes, knowing this is in violation of the basic requirements of operating a university.”

The government’s move to audit universities follows claims that some institutions were blatantly violating basic regulations as well as ‘diluting’ education standards, hence compromising the quality of university education.

The report points out that at some universities, including Kisii University (Eldoret campus), the School of Business and Economics had 78 doctoral students but only two PhD holders as teaching staff.

According to the report, the same Phd holder lecturers still taught masters degree students, an indicator that quality of learning is not a priority in most campuses.


As demand for higher education continues to increase, world and regional ranking by diverse research institutions have constantly engaged in carrying out research that have culminated in ranking of universities.

The rankings have continued to give a picture of the quality of education offered in both public and private universities.

In most of the rankings carried out, global and regional research institutions in 2015, South African universities dominated the top 30 universities in Africa.

South Africa, in the latest Times Higher Education (THE) university ranking, had eight of her universities making it to Africa’s top 30.

The ranking puts Uganda’s Makerere University in third position after South Africa’s University of Cape Town and University of the Witwatersrand, while Kenya’s University of Nairobi (UoN) is ranked eighth in the continent.

According to the studies, UoN is the only Kenyan university that made to the top 30 African universities.

For slightly over a decade now, several research firms in the realm of education have carried out ranking of universities in countries, continents and globally, often raising questions on the credibility of their methodologies.

Research institutions that have used several indicators to rank universities across the globe include Times Higher Education, Academic Ranking of World Universities (Shanghai), Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings, US News and World Report.

The top 30 snapshot, according to THE, was calculated using the ratio of the citations received by an institution’s publication output between 2009 and 2013 and the total citations that would be expected based on the average of the subject field.

THE says an institution must have published a minimum of 500 research papers in the five-year period assessed, with at least 50 papers per year.

University of Cape Town published a record 5540 academic papers while the only Kenyan university on the list, UoN published 672papersin the past four years.

The less number of publications perhaps may have locked out many Kenyan universities in the Africa’s top 30.

Questions abound as to why Kenyan scholars are not publishing as much as their South African counterparts.

Another indicator used by THE was the frequency with which research works by the respective universities were cited by other scholars.


Another think-tank, QS, uses six indicators to rank universities across the world.

QS says its main objective is to help students make informed comparisons in their international study options.

The QS rankings compare the top 800 universities across four broad areas of interest to prospective students that include: research, teaching, employability of graduates and international outlook.

These four key areas, according to QS, are assessed using six indicators, each of which is given a different percentage weighting.

Academic reputation has been identified by the QS ranking as the top indicator in university ranking, contributing 40 per cent on a university’s rating. Employer reputation contributes ( 20 per cent), student-to-faculty ratio ( 20 per cent), citation per faculty ( 10 per cent), international faculty ratio ( 5 per cent) and international student ratio ( 5 per cent).

Being the “king” of ranking indicators is, according to QS, measured using a global survey in which academics are asked to identify the institutions where they believe the best work is currently taking place within their field of expertise.

QS points out that employer rating also involves a global survey that asks employers to identify the universities they perceive as producing the best graduates.

The purpose of employer survey, according to QS, is to give students a sense of how universities are viewed in the job market.

Local scholars agree that citations per faculty are central in putting Kenyan universities on the map.

Egara Kabaji, the deputy vice chancellor in charge of research and innovation at the Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, says universities will emerge top in global ranking if their research has impact in the academic realm.

“Most of our universities simply concentrate on teaching and have not put emphasis on research and publications in high-impact journals,” Kabaji says.

Kabaji agrees that the number of citations of a university’s scholars contributes significantly to the university’s ranking.

The professor says South African universities are ranked top on the African chart due to their country’s heavy investment in research.

“South Africa is ahead of many of us since they have invested in research,” Kabaji observes.

The quality of teaching is measured under the student-to-faculty ratio QS indicator.

This, according to QS, is a simple measure of the number of academic staff employed relative to the number of students enrolled.

US and UK universities have been dominating the top 100 universities globally.

According to THE ranking, the world’s top 10 universities are Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US), University of Cambridge (UK), Imperial College London (UK), Harvard University (US), University of Oxford (UK), University College London (UK), Stanford University (US), California Institute of Technology (US), Princeton University (US) and Yale University (US).

European University Association (EUA), a body that strives for quality universities in Europe, looks at one unique factor in classifying universities.

It looks at the number of global awards won by a university’s alumni to rank universities.

According to EUA, the higher the number of global awards a university’s alumni bags boosts an institution’s reputation and confidence.

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