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We will re-align university courses to Kenya’s needs

Last week, Education Cabinet secretary Fred Matiang’i launched the first baseline survey of engineering departments at a Nairobi hotel and instead of reading the prepared speech, the CS instead decided to have a heart-to-heart conversation with Vice Chancellors, deans of schools, members of professional bodies, Commission of University Education (CUE) representatives and other education stakeholders who attended the function. Here are the excerpts of the minister’s talking points.

Lack of reliable and accurate date in the education sector

The education sector from Early Childhood Development (ECD) to higher education suffers data chaos. We have several data sets strewn all over the place. When I joined the ministry, the first question I asked the CEO of Commission of University Education (CUE) Prof David Some is, how many students do we have in our universities?

He told me, “I don’t know.” But now the commission is in the process of compiling the data so that we can have reliable and accurate data to use when planning programmes for the higher education sector. It is difficult to plan when you do not have data. Accurate data mirrors where you need to go and what you need to do. The information will also assist us, especially in systematic resource allocation because, currently, the procedure used is not scientific.

Lack of reliable data is hurting the government a lot, especially in resource allocation for Free Primary Education (FPE) programme. In the past one month we have carried out studies to establish how schools are using FPE money and we have discovered huge wastage and misappropriation of the billions allocated for textbooks and other material.

University graduands celebrate at a past graduation ceremony. Matiang’i has urged universities to build a correlation between undergraduate and graduate studies. Photo/FILE
University graduands celebrate at a past graduation ceremony. Matiang’i has urged universities to build a correlation between undergraduate and graduate studies. Photo/FILE

Some schools ratio of pupils to textbooks is 1:7 yet it should be 1:1 given that the government has pumped over Sh9 billion for the purchase of books. We are also developing the Education Information Management System (EIMS).

My dream is that in the next one year, we will have accurate data of all Kenyan learners from those in ECD to those pursuing doctorate degrees, complete with ‘know your student data’.

We are engaging the ICT Authority to see how we can assign students a unique number in nursery school, which will be identified with up to post-secondary studies. The number, Unique Personal Identifier (UPI), will assist us in planning and resource management in the education sector.

How do universities design new programmes?

Sometimes I ask myself, on what basis are universities designing new academic programmes when they have no data about the market? Time has come for CUE to ask universities seeking for accreditation of new courses to explain the grounds for designing the courses. Our universities need to offer courses relevant and responsive to the country’s development needs, and which can take us to a particular direction.

If we want to achieve Vision 2030, we must focus and put more resources in Sciences, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). In South East Asia, for example, more than 70 per cent of the students are pursuing STEM programmes while in Africa, Ethiopia is on track, too.

Ironically in Kenya, 78 per cent of the students are pursuing arts and social sciences programmes and only 22 per cent in STEM. It is important for us to start re-orientation of our universities programmes and have a deliberate bent to STEM courses.

The government has a number of interventions to support secondary schools students to improve their performance in STEM related courses, especially maths, physics and chemistry. We have also put a lot of resources in TIVET institutions to support capacity building of our people in the technology and innovation sectors.

Why the huge gaps in graduate and post-graduate studies?

Our universities must start building a correlation between undergraduate and graduate studies. We cannot be an undergraduate country. Looking at the engineering survey we have launched today, there are only 35 students pursing PhDs in the three engineering programmes offered in the 12 public universities.

Some of the universities have not graduated a single PhD student for three years in a row! We need to channel more resources to graduate programmes and research. One way the government intends to support research in universities is through the Local Content Bill.

I hope the Cabinet will approve the bill so that it can proceed to Parliament. The bill seeks to have the government allocate resources to support research in universities through involving them in major projects. Already, this is happening with the Digital Content Programme where Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology together with Moi University are involved in the laptop project.

We would like to see other universities involved in the construction of Standard Gauge Railway and other projects. The Local Content Bill will give universities the first opportunity to work with the government. This way we will use our resources to develop our institutions.

Suspension of the opening of new satellite universities

A time has come for universities to think creatively and ensure they are offering quality education. And, equally, a time has come for the government to make difficult decisions otherwise the education sector will collapse. I am asking universities to go back to their core founding programmes.

If you were established as a technology based university do that, because there are other universities to offer other courses such as law. Universities have mixed up themselves and currently everyone is offering every other programme.

How can we have 26 campuses in Nakuru and half of them are offering an MBA of one kind while the rest are also offering similar other programmes? It is chaotic. We must be serious and Prof Some should start talking to these universities so that we move away from these bad habits because they are making the institutions run into debts, offer poor quality and hurting our image as a country.

For the time being I have suspended approval for any borrowing unless its extremely justified. We have also agreed with CUE that no new satellite campus will be approved unless its extremely justified. This madness must stop.

Providing broadband in universities

Since we want to create a modern learning environment in our universities, we must start looking for a threshold of broadband available per a student in our universities. We will consult the ICT Authority and CUE on how to go about it.

We will start by carrying out a survey and give the universities the information and ask them to achieve a certain threshold. In the campuses springing up everywhere, students do not even have access to internet so they cannot not be considered as learning environment.

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