In Summary
  • The narrative on higher education in Kenya is that our universities are: not producing employable graduates; issuing questionable degrees; using outdated teaching methodologies; not doing research and teaching wrong courses.
  • All these are being said without scientific evidence that these problems are systemic in all institutions of higher learning.
  • The problems with public universities are many that we need to investigate properly and build the case for reforms. We also need an inclusive process that will lead to sustainable solutions.
  • It is, however, not the policy maker’s role to determine the optimal number of universities in the country. Let that be the role of market dynamics and an effective regulatory regime.

Last week on the NTV’s Sidebar program, I participated in a panel discussion about the ongoing debate on the state of Universities in Kenya.

With me were Prof Karuti Kanyinga of the University of Nairobi and David Aduda, Nation Media Group's head of business development. The program was anchored by Debarl Inea.

Long after the debate, my mind was still searching for solutions to the problem. It was becoming clear that these reforms are wider than what the policy makers are attempting to do.

As they say, where there's smoke, there's fire. This metaphor implies that rumours or things that we say without sufficient evidence have some foundation that they could be true. This is precisely what we are going through with respect to education reforms and we are not alone.

The narrative on higher education in Kenya is that our universities are: not producing employable graduates; issuing questionable degrees; using outdated teaching methodologies; not doing research and teaching wrong courses.

All these are being said without scientific evidence that these problems are systemic in all institutions of higher learning.

This narrative grows stronger by the day to the extent that, it is possible that some universities have flouted regulations and compromised their standards. In which case we need to strengthen regulations in order to protect consumers.

But regulation alone may not be sufficient to rectify the mess in our higher education, because education of the future is going to be radically different from what we know of it today.
The problem is that no one really understands exactly what we need to meet the future demands of education. Instead, we simply say we need to reform our education. Like my friend Prof Kanyinga says, we need to define our problem clearly before we embark on any form of reforms in educations.

I agree with him. Although there is clearly a need for reforms, virtually everyone has some hidden agenda that may not be acceptable to everybody else.

In recent times we have started to vilify arts education in favour of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Yet there are thousands of young people with STEM-based college education that are still unemployed.

CHANGE TACT

Others are advocating for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) but despite the push for STEAM, there are suspicion that the curriculum is wanting and that we need to change tact.

Even if we were to agree on curriculum, and aside from the internal management issues in universities, differences of opinion exist along approach, structure, people’s aspirations and financing.

It is argued that current teaching approaches are more geared towards academics instead of focusing on creative thinking, problem-based learning, design thinking, expanded problem solving capabilities, and other innovative approaches.

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