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Tensions Rise as Universities Resist Government Proposal to Eliminate Diploma Programs

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Tensions Rise as Universities Resist Government Proposal to Eliminate Diploma Programs

The government is on the verge of a significant clash with universities regarding a new initiative to eliminate diploma courses and discontinue certain degree programs to encourage specialization.

Education CS Ezekiel Machogu’s proposal to merge and shut down financially unsustainable learning institutions was rejected by university managers on Friday. Additionally, the Vice Chancellors opposed the idea of consolidating the University Funding Board, Higher Education Loans Board, and the placement body into a single institution.

They emphasized the need to keep student placement separate from the funding agency.

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Machogu took a firm stance, expressing that universities should cease offering what he referred to as ‘anything and everything,’ particularly diploma and certificate courses. “There was a time universities went into doing anything and everything, and we are saying now that a university does not really need to go that route,” Machogu asserted.

The CS affirmed that the government is prepared to provide financial support to universities for phasing out diploma courses. He also advocated for mergers, drawing on the earlier push led by former Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha.

This proposal revives past debates, previously rejected by Vice Chancellors, on merging universities to address recurring financial challenges. The 2018 proposal faced strong opposition and eventually died out due to a lack of guidelines and laws for implementation.

During a stakeholders’ forum at the Kenya Institute of Special Education (KISE) to discuss proposals forming the University Bill, 2024, fresh disagreements between Machogu and universities emerged on Friday.

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The suggested removal of diploma programs will inevitably result in job cuts, reduced revenue, and a reorganization of university programs. Machogu emphasized the need to phase out diploma courses systematically and progressively, transferring them to Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions and mid-level colleges.

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Under the proposals, technical and mid-level colleges will exclusively offer diploma and certificate programs, while universities will concentrate on providing degree and post-graduate qualifications.

The move is expected to intensify the challenges faced by universities already grappling with declining revenues from privately-sponsored students. The proposed amendment targets diploma courses, which traditionally contribute significantly to universities’ revenue streams. Under the current Universities Act Section 20 (1) (e), universities are allowed to offer degrees, diplomas, and certificates.

The suggested amendment seeks to eliminate Section 20 (1) (e) (ii) and (iii), effectively prohibiting universities from offering diplomas, postgraduate diplomas, and certificates. This bold recommendation originates from the Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms (PWPER), which argues that diplomas and certificates foster unhealthy competition between universities and colleges, thereby weakening the latter’s ability to attract students.

Education stakeholders, including university officials, express mixed reactions to the proposed changes. Machogu, a key figure in the discussion, remains hopeful about finding common ground and emphasizes that Members of Parliament will ultimately decide the fate of the amendments.

Beyond the diploma issue, the proposed amendments grant significant powers to the Education CS. If approved, the CS would be authorized to recommend mergers, conversions, or closures of both public and private universities. This move could potentially lead to job losses, especially among non-teaching staff, as universities would need to streamline operations for financial sustainability.

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However, not everyone supports the idea of mergers. Prof Daniel Mugendi, Chairperson of the Vice Chancellor’s Committee, strongly opposes the planned mergers, arguing that they won’t address the fundamental challenges facing universities. He attributes these challenges to insufficient funding rather than institutional structure.

Mugendi also questions the logic of merging universities when newer institutions, established in 2013/2014, are already grappling with large student populations. He emphasizes that mergers would lead to even larger student bodies, making it difficult for institutions to manage effectively.

Additionally, Machogu advocates for universities to specialize, citing Strathmore University as an example. He suggests that institutions should focus on specific fields to stand out, noting that other educational institutions like TVET institutions and middle-level colleges are better equipped to offer a broader range of courses.

Tensions Rise as Universities Resist Government Proposal to Eliminate Diploma Programs
Tensions Rise as Universities Resist Government Proposal to Eliminate Diploma Programs

As part of the proposed changes, universities would need to undergo re-accreditation of their programs every six years. A mandatory review, assessing relevance and institutional capacity, is to be conducted prior to the expiration of the accreditation period. This initiative aims to ensure that the programs offered by universities remain current, pertinent, and well-supported.

According to the draft bill, a review of each program should be conducted at least six months before the expiry of its validity period. This review process is designed to determine the ongoing relevance of the program and assess the university’s capacity to continue offering it.

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One significant shift proposed in the reforms involves the appointment of Vice-Chancellors for public universities. The responsibility would revert to university councils, a practice in place before 2016. Currently, the Public Service Commission carries out this process. Additionally, the Ministry suggests reducing the term limit for university VCs to three years, contrary to the VCs’ preference of maintaining it at five years.

The proposed criteria for individuals aspiring to become Vice-Chancellors include attaining the rank of a professor and holding a doctorate degree from a recognized university.

Another noteworthy proposal is the categorization of universities based on specialization. The ministry envisions six categories for public universities, including Research Universities, Science and Technology Universities, Comprehensive Universities, Technical Universities, Specialized Institutions (such as the Kenya Defence Forces University), and Graduate Universities.

To ensure universities align with their designated categories, the bill suggests prohibiting institutions from offering courses outside their designated purview without proper accreditation. These comprehensive reforms seek to elevate academic standards, enhance accountability, and align universities with their specialized roles.

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Tensions Rise as Universities Resist Government Proposal to Eliminate Diploma Programs

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