Today, higher education in Kenya is under scrutiny following an expose’ by a leading media house on how unscrupulous staffers at the institution award academic transcripts and certificates to people who have not even sat for a minute in class thereby putting into question the reputation of the institution’s certificates.
Even though the investigative piece only highlighted what could be happening in one of Kenya’s private tertiary institutions, the practice is not isolated to that institution alone. With corruption even our public Universities and Colleges are not free from these vices.
While corruption is very ripe in Kenya today and the practice highlighted in the said story cannot be verified as a normal occurrence at the institution that happens with the administration’s blessings we should therefore shift our focus to how we got here in the first place.
The government has indeed failed to provide thousands of it’s young population with quality education both at the secondary and tertiary level.
Every year thousands of pupils graduate from Primary schools but only half of them proceed to secondary schools because of the few places available. The situation is the same for those who are transiting from secondary to tertiary institutions where admission into public universities is based on bed capacity.
Because of that education in public universities has remained a preserve of those who are either too bright or those who are rich enough to afford self sponsored programs.
The government tertiary institutions or mid level colleges have also become money mints for their administrators and Ministry of Education officials. Getting into Kenya Institute of Mass Communication, Kenya Medical Training College, Kenya School of Monetary Studies and any such college run by the government will cost you a lot in bribes.
This scenario has in turn created an opportunity for investors to fill the gap left by the government through investing in private universities and colleges.
The rise of “third floor colleges”
While private universities cater for a rather different class, the colleges that dot the third floors of every building in town fill the gap that has been created by the government due to their failure to invest in expansion of existing institutions and creation of new ones.
As much as every student who scores C+ and above in KCSE should be admitted to university, this is never the case, in many cases the cut is at B+ instead.
The poor who cannot afford private universities or give a bribe to join government run mid level institutions end up at these “third floor colleges”
Maximizing profits at all costs
These colleges as much as they are filling an important gap by ensuring that this marginalized group can acquire relevant skills that are necessary in the job market are also in the profit making business. They want to maximize their profits will go for the cheapest labor they can get in the market, in most cases that is synonymous with low quality.
That is however the least of the problems, because they significantly charge low tuition fees (in most cases under Ksh. 50,000 per year) the only way they would make profits is through high turnovers. These colleges are always admitting new students, every month there is a new intake for the same course.
When the tutors are overworked and underpaid, we cannot then expect so much from them and that is the beginning of saturation of the labor market with half-baked graduates.
That is not to say all the students who graduate from these institutions are half – baked, some go the extra mile and pat their backsides in the libraries and managed to get some good skills. I know of many in my profession who went through these colleges and are stars at what they do.
Public universities joining queue
It would be rather simplistic of me to assume that this is only a problem of the private collages. Public universities have not been left behind with the commercialization craze.
Today the third floors also house satellite campuses of public universities. For a long time our universities have also been churning out half-baked Diploma and Degree graduates.
These campuses neither have adequate staff nor required infrastructure for learning. The trend has seen universities hire lecturers with undergraduate degrees, something that was unheard of before.
The move by the Commission for University Education to have the minimum qualification of lecturers to a PhD will go along way to ensure that our students are instructed by qualified professionals, that though is not the only thing.
Bringing back the value on certificates
To be able to ensure that the degrees and diplomas actually mean something, we must aggregate how teaching is done in institutions of higher learning.
The Commission of University Education should be actively involved in accreditation of universities and tertiary institutions to ensure that colleges and universities actually have the right resources to adequately train students.
To curtail on commercialization, we must ensure that institutions admit students based on their capacity. This will ensure that we don’t have very few lecturers teaching thousands of students.
Professional bodies should also take an active role in ensuring the curriculum taught at these institutions is relevant to the requirements in the market.
The Media Council of Kenya has set an example in this role by ensuring that it accredits institutions that teach Journalism and Media Studies and further accredits media practitioners annually. The Media Council has also developed a curriculum to ensure that grandaunts from the different institutions have similar training.
If that is actively embraced by other professions and corruption is eliminated in the process we will indeed restore the confidence people once had in certificates. Today though the pieces of paper might well indeed be “certificates of doom.”