Heed Warnings On The Quality Of Varsity Education In Kenya

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The arrest of five academic staff of Masinde Muliro University regarding a strike over salaries may appear like an isolated incident, but when it is viewed against the backdrop of a new report by education stakeholders over the state of colleges, it begins to take a new dimension.

On Friday, police arrested some professors and university staff for the offence of “rioting after proclamations” after they raised key issues concerning the welfare of staff.

The working conditions of staff has been a source of concern for education stakeholders for some time, and as the education experts who met in Nairobi last week pointed out, ultimately the quality of education is compromised if these matters are not addressed.

The report by these stakeholders noted that the number of qualified teaching staff was grossly inadequate, with only 5,604 professors serving a national student population of more than half a million when 9,000 are required. Therefore, students have to make do with 8,693 university lecturers with masters’ qualifications. The problem is aggravated when 70 per cent of those who seek PhD qualifications drop out.

The stress levels of the teaching staff rises significantly when their course loads increase — currently there are 3,408 academic programmes that are taught in public and private universities, and when student enrollments increase, the volume of work rises correspondingly. While we appreciate that the types of programmes offered in universities is largely determined by the nature of the institutions, market forces, availability of resource and controls by professional bodies, there should be greater consensus among stakeholders about relevance of the degree programmes offered. The Commission for University Education says roll out of academic programmes that began with the enactment of the Universities Act must be controlled. We agree. Even though university senates now have greater academic freedoms, which even the CUE cannot micro-manage, they must exercise this authority with greater caution.

And while it may by desirous to raise enrollment levels, this must be balanced against the available teaching resources. Currently, the total number of enrolled students is way too high for the teaching staff who work on a full time or part time basis.

Universities must therefore be more circumspect before they open up satellite campuses when resources and the capacity to absorb this high number of students is lacking. That is why we welcome the suspension on opening satellite campuses because if the roll out is disproportionate with the resources available, it is the quality of education that suffers.

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