MISSION QUALITY

Time is right for deep reforms in university education

In Summary

• We must go back to the basics; university must be about teaching excellence.

• Learning must be both rigorous and joyful.

A past University of Nairobi graduation ceremony. /PATRICK VIDIJA
A past University of Nairobi graduation ceremony. /PATRICK VIDIJA

The expansion of university education in the last 15 years was unprecedented. Satellite colleges mushroomed. Tertiary institutions were converted to universities and colleges. In the era of devolution, political pressure has been piling to open at least one university in every county. Private universities proliferated.

There was a bounty harvest of students. What became known as Module II or Parallel programme proliferated and money flowed. Universities were awash with cash to pay for the establishment of new and distant campuses. Things changed drastically when questions were raised about the academic quality of the programmes.

According to Education CS George Magoha, universities have introduced what he calls funny and irrelevant courses, which attract few students. The CS questioned the quality of PhD and master's degrees. In his view, 90 per cent of PhDs awarded by most universities are fraudulent. His view is shared by many.

 

A quality audit conducted by the Commission for University Education in 2017 was as revealing as it was depressing. The quality and credibility gaps included: quality of programmes and faculty; qualification of students; rampant plagiarism; lack of internal standards for quality assurance; faculty to student ratio, and faculty competence.

We must ramp up investment in teaching and learning resources; laboratories, classrooms and lecture halls, internet and education information services. We must also invest in improving the quality of student life and student experience on our campuses.

Prof Everett Standa, former Chief Executive Officer of the Commission for Higher Education, now CUE, was the first to raise concerns about the PhD qualified faculty. He warned training of PhD faculty was not keeping pace with the proliferation of universities. His caution was not taken seriously. Nearly 10 years later in 2018, former Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed raised the alarm about the dearth of PhD qualified faculty across all universities—private and public.

In just two years since the last audit report, Education CS Magoha has directed the CUE to prepare and submit a report on the status of university education within a month. Is Kenya’s university education in a crisis?

The rapid expansion of university education was also in many ways buoyed by what seemed like a rapid, near exponential increase in demand. Before the stringent measures instituted by Former Education CS Fred Matiang'i and sustained by Dr Mohamed, there seemed to be an abundance of qualified students coming out of high school. The number of students who scored the minimum C+(plus) grade dropped by about 48 per cent between 2015 and 2016.

We have an opportunity to rationalise and institute far-reaching reforms in university education. We must ramp up investment in teaching and learning resources; laboratories, classrooms and lecture halls, internet and education information services. We must also invest in improving the quality of student life and student experience on our campuses. Learning must be both rigorous and joyful.

We must go back to the basics; university must be about teaching excellence. Professors must be held accountable for student outcomes. While research is important, professors must be rewarded and promoted for quality teaching and service.

We must also fix university governance. Senior leadership of our universities must be held accountable; both for institutional performance, especially fiscal, and student outcomes.