MWANGI: Want a degree without breaking a sweat? It’s easy, come to Kenya
Nothing could have been more shattering to the credibility of university education in Kenya. The news that most universities in the country had serious shortcomings that called into question the credibility of degrees conferred hit at the core of the education sector, not only in Kenya but throughout East Africa.
An audit of university education is said to have found numerous cases of fake degrees. There were cases where people who did not meet the minimum conditions for admission into a university were accepted into various courses and allowed to graduate. In other instances, students failed to attend class for the minimum sessions allowed, yet still received their degrees.
The rush by politicians to get degrees as a prerequisite for running for office was said to have compromised standards, as these degrees were irregularly acquired without the rigours that a university education should entail. Cash-strapped and forced to begin income-generating parallel degree courses, many tertiary institutions were said to be giving little concern to quality.
One university was said to be allowing students to plagiarise so long as this did not constitute more than 30 per cent of an academic text. It is also an open secret that students sometimes seek external help in doing their assignments, with bureaus advertising their academic writing services right on campus grounds.
There have also been cases where masters and doctoral degrees have been conferred without meeting the established thresholds of academic learning and research. This has meant that even some of the academic staff who have graduated in recent times are not competent enough to handle teaching at university level.
Indeed, the rapid expansion of universities has in recent years seen campuses opening up in all sorts of neighbourhoods and towns. The unplanned expansion has resulted in unhealthy competition as universities relax their standards to attract more students. It has also meant that teaching staff and facilities such as libraries have not kept pace with the growing numbers.
But even more worrying is the fact that all this shows institutional rot and failure at higher regulatory levels. Kenya’s Commission for University Education has been particularly silent in the face of these revelations. The Inter-University Council for East Africa, which co-ordinates matters of harmonization and equivalence of academic qualifications across the region, also never comments on institutional rot in member countries.
Yet, this attitude of seeing no evil will certainly come to haunt all East Africans. While such a disposition may be grounded in feelings of good neighbourliness and not wanting to antagonize any member states, it leads to dilution of standards for the sake of brotherliness.
This calls for strengthening of institutions, especially at the regional level. While informed nationals of any particular country may have some knowledge of the credibility of lack of it associated with specific universities, for instance, this may not be common knowledge in neighbouring countries. This means that people with a substandard education may easily cross borders and practise as “dignified” professionals in other partner states.
Do regional bodies have the power to sanction institutions within member states? This is a question that needs to be revisited. Right from the Secretariat of the East African Community, all Organs and Institutions must be accorded the teeth to stop errant institutions in their tracks. This is particularly so as we move toward creation of a Monetary Union, where the rogue actions of institutions within national states will have a far-reaching impact across the whole region.
But whatever the level of integration, qualified manpower is a key plank in the success of regional efforts to pull our populations from the mirk of poverty. As such, any uncertainty on the competence of professionals being spewed by our tertiary institutions will cause mistrust and eventually have a negative impact on regional institutions.
Hopefully, therefore, the problem in Kenya’s educational sector – and other East African countries as well – can be tackled through a regional approach rather than half-hearted fire-fighting measures in order to minimise the damage in the eyes of the public.
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