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Kenya cracks down in sweeping review of higher education quality

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • The Government of Kenya is continuing this year with reforms designed to address persistent quality issues in the country’s higher education system
  • Most recently, it conducted a quality audit of all public and private universities, which found widespread problems with admissions and graduation controls throughout Kenyan institutions
  • In the wake of the audit, a number of programmes have already been suspended, there are expectations that as-yet-unknown number of degrees will be recalled, and a government commission has reportedly recommended the closure of three institutions

A sweeping audit of Kenyan universities has found widespread issues with respect to student admissions, progression, and the awarding of degrees and certificates. Carried out by the Kenyan Commission for University Education (CUE) last month, and ordered by Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, the audit has cast doubt on more than 100,000 degrees issued by the country’s universities since 2012.

The final audit report, released by CUE on 16 February 2017, has immediately kicked off further reforms designed to address long-standing quality issues in Kenya’s rapidly expanding higher education sector. The immediate steps taken by government officials include:

  • A suspension of so-called “school-based programmes,” a stream of degree study targeted to primary and secondary school teachers through which such students are found to have been engaged in university studies for as little as six-to-nine weeks per year. Universities have been directed to close such programmes, or to convert them to part-time degree options.
  • A suspension of executive degree programmes, particularly Executive Master of Business Administration degrees, with the prospect that previous graduates of such programmes may have their qualifications recalled.
  • CUE has also tightened university admissions requirements so that students with weaker secondary school records, or those applying on the strength of university bridging programmes or with foreign credentials, may no longer be admitted.

The report details a host of questionable practices among Kenyan institutions, including the delivery of unaccredited programmes, poor admissions procedures that open the door to the admission of unqualified students and/or the use of fraudulent credentials, poor attendance and performance tracking, and the graduation of students who had not met degree requirements.

Cabinet Secretary Matiang’i cautioned afterward that Kenyans should not expect a mass recall of university degrees. However, the nation’s universities have been given a six-month window to comply with government quality requirements, and, more immediately, CUE has sent a separate audit report to each audited institution with a demand for a rapid response. “Each university must submit corrections of factual errors they may find in their individual audit report within seven days. In addition, each university is required to submit its corrective actions to the commission within 30 days,” CUE Chairperson Chacha Nyaigotti-Chacha said to The Star.

Even so, the audit may lead to some immediate closures of some universities, with reports that CUE has recommended the ministry take steps to wind up three institutions immediately. This follows the CUE-recommended closure or sanction of a number of other Kenyan universities in recent years, including Inoorero University, Barack Obama University, and Kenco University.

Money troubles

Meanwhile, a separate auditor-general’s report has determined that eleven Kenyan universities are essentially insolvent and unable to meet their financial obligations. They include the country’s flagship University of Nairobi along with Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, University of Eldoret, Technical University of Kenya, Pwani University, Murang’a University College, Multimedia University of Kenya, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Machakos University, Laikipia University, and Embu University College.

The auditor-general finds that operating deficits have now eroded or exceeded the cash reserves of each institution but also points to constrained public funding as the main financial challenge facing the country’s higher education sector. In particular, the report highlights, “Inadequate government funding to cater for increased costs in academic programmes, refurbishment of teaching facilities and increase of personal emoluments based on improved terms and conditions of service”. Other reports suggest that as many as 21 of 33 public universities in Kenya will operate at a deficit this year.

The cost of growth

All of these findings point to a system under considerable strain to keep pace with the demand for higher education in Kenya. CUE reports that there were 539,749 students enrolled in the nation’s universities in 2016, a nearly 23% increase over the year before and on pace with the dramatic growth in overall enrolment observed since 2012.

Much of that growth in student numbers has been absorbed by Kenya’s burgeoning private universities but, as the recent CUE and auditor-general reports attest, institutions of all stripes are struggling.

The quality of higher education in Kenya has been the subject of considerable commentary from the World Bank and other international observers and is also the focus of a growing public debate within the country.

What this means for recruitment

Kenya’s outbound student numbers have tailed off in recent years, in part owing to a softening economy and a weakening exchange rate for the Kenyan shilling against major world currencies. However, the outlook is for more robust economic growth in 2017 and a correspondingly better footing for the shilling.

At the same time, Kenya is projected to have one of the fastest-growing college-aged populations in the world over the next decade. The British Council projects that Kenya will have a population of 5.7 million college-aged students by 2024, up from 4.2 million in 2011 – a rate of growth expected to be exceeded only by Nigeria, India, Ethiopia, and Indonesia.

That combination of a growing student pool, improving economic conditions, and persistent quality concerns at home, could well lead to a greater number of outbound students in the year ahead. Kenyan students have shown a tendency toward study closer to home – that is, in neighbouring East African countries – in the past, but the overarching demand factors here continue to keep Kenya on many recruiters’ list of emerging markets to watch.

For additional background on the Kenyan market, please see:

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