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Court ruling on Commission for University Education undermines professionals

By Gathu Kaara
Tuesday, June 30th, 2020
Justice. Photo/Courtesy

A court has ruled that the Commission for University Education (CUE) has the sole prerogative of regulating the courses that are administered by universities, eliminating any role by professional bodies in regulating and certifying how universities deploy degree courses.

The ruling came after a three-year struggle by professional bodies to have the powers to regulate and certify university courses reinstated. These powers were taken away and handed to CUE after Parliament amended the law.

Regulatory bodies like Engineers Board of Kenya, the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board, Law Society of Kenya among a host of others will now be confined to regulating professionals practicing in their fields.

This means that CUE will now be in sole charge of determining the quality of professionals that are trained by Kenyan universities.

While the court might have given its interpretation as it sees the law as amended by Parliament, it is a recipe for chaos in university  education and quality of professionals Kenya will be receiving in the coming years.

Professional bodies have for years been the bulwark against complete degradation of professional studies in universities in Kenya.

Ever since the self-sponsored students became an integral part of our university system, the universities have become obsessed with offering as many courses as they possibly could. 

This liberalisation coincided with an explosion of universities in Kenya, and the attendant practice of opening campuses even on top of bars in towns.

Universities begun a “student race” to reap maximum financial benefit, that became a race to the bottom. 

Universities targeted the courses which were most popular by students. Degree courses such as engineering, law, even medicine sprung up across universities with the barest of capacity to deploy.

The result has been disastrous. All these happenings took place under the “watchful” eye of the CUE. 

Even now, universities continue with their bad practices. The Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), graduated 118 suspect doctorate degrees in 2019.

A CUE probe found that the 296 doctorate degrees issued by JKUAT from 2014 had major quality challenges, and belatedly suspended them. 

Where was CUE as the university ran courses that did not meet basic requirements?

A clear abdication! It is evident that CUE has no capacity to regulate the quality of degree programmes.

In contrast, professional bodies have proved that they have the capacity, resources, will and resolve to police how universities are ensuring quality is built into their academic programmes. 

Now that professional bodies have been shoved out of university lecture rooms, universities are free to do as they please- mount courses they want, within the framework they deem fits their faculty and premises, and confer degrees like confetti.

The unthinkable result is inevitable- and that day is inexorably coming- doctors, engineers, lawyers, surveyors, architects, etc who have zero capacity to do their job, will be unleashed on an unsuspecting public. 

However, rather than continue this battle of attrition, there is an urgent need for CUE and professional bodies to come together in the best interest of the students, who are the ones who’ll be worst affected.

They need to look for ways of working together. If CUE does not give professional bodies the confidence they need about the quality of students graduating from Kenyan universities, then this problem will just have been kicked down the road. 

The response by professional bodies is likely to be instituting even more stringent requirements for admittance and certification into professions, locking out many graduates.

Worse, industry, without any means of quality assurance, will stick to the tried and tested universities in given professions.

Whole universities will have their graduates locked out of professions, a practice already happening silently.

CUE must reach out to professional bodies and agree on a working formula that achieves three things-:

First, the constitution of courses offered in terms of study hours, lecturer engagement, cluster of courses, and academic qualifications of faculty. [email protected]