WHILE Uganda has an inverted pyramid-like higher education system where there are more students in universities than in other tertiary institutions, Kenya has a perfect pyramid
By Prof. Abdul Kasozi
WITH the passing of the Universities Act (No.42 of 2012), Kenya has established the legal framework for perfecting her higher education.
Kenya is likely to ride on its well-set higher education system to further improve the quality of all levels of education and consequently its economy and good governance.
Any country with a bad higher education sub-sector has a bad education system.
Assented to on December 13, 2012, the Kenya Universities Act introduces a number of innovations that are likely to propel that country into a knowledge society and leader of quality education supply throughout East Africa within a decade or so.
First, the separation of governance of universities and other tertiary institutions.
The Act mandates universities to be centres of knowledge creation innovation, public debate and social engagement.
On the other hand, the non-university higher education institutions, which are key to the building and repairing of nations, focus on hands-on training.
Although both are higher education institutions, their roles are different. To administer them together is to blur the roles of each and, therefore, to get less benefits from either of them.
Secondly, Kenya is strengthening its already strong technical sector by separating it from the university sector.
While Uganda has an inverted pyramid-like higher education system where there are more students in universities than in other tertiary institutions, Kenya has a perfect pyramid sitting on a large base of technical enrolments.
There were (in 2012) 350,000 students in Kenyan institutions of higher learning, 100,000 of whom were in universities and 250,000 in other tertiary institutions.
On the other hand, Uganda did not only have about half of the student numbers of Kenya, but also the nature of registration was inverted as pointed out above.
There were 198,066 students in all higher education institutions in Uganda in 2012.
Only 55,000 (38%) were in other tertiary institutions and 143, 005 (about 72%) in universities! It is like producing two doctors to one nurse or 10 engineers to one technician.
Thirdly, the Kenya Universities Act creates a University Funding Board managed by a board of trustees, through which all monies from the state and other donors will be channelled to reach universities.
In my book, Financing Uganda’s Public Universities. An Obstacle to Serving the Public Good, I elaborated the usefulness of funding universities through a model such as Kenya has adopted.
I believe that using an intermediary agency such as a University Grants Committee saves university institutions from direct government micro management, increases their autonomy and saves governments from headaches of attending to regular university problems.
Fourthly, the Kenya Universities Act emphasises research functions of universities. As a country, we need to step up funding for universities, especially in the research area.
The Act also drastically reduces the size of university councils of public institutions.
The policy management of public universities will be devolved to effective small universities councils of only nine persons. The permanent secretary of education and that of finance will represent government interests on councils.
Five members will be selected by the minister through a “competitive process”.
The vice-chancellor will also sit on council as an ex-officio member. Uganda has a lot to learn from Kenya.
The current structure of Uganda’s public university councils is problematic.
Important to note also is that the selection of the top officials of public and private universities is spelt out.
However, while private universities chancellors and vice-chancellors are selected according to the provisions of their charters, the government seems to retain power to select those officials for public universities.
The chancellor is selected by the president and the vice-chancellor “competitively “by the minister.
The other issue is that, all universities, public and private, will be chartered in Kenya, as is already the case in Tanzania.
The process of chartering all universities, private and public, ensures that all institutions abide and are judged by the same standards.
In Uganda, the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) has not been able to charter all universities due to conflicts in the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act.
More so, the Kenya Universities Act creates or transforms the current Kenya Commission For Higher Education into a “Commission For University Education.”
Unlike its predecessor, the new commission will focus on both private and public universities. There are two lessons to be learned by Uganda.
First, the Tanzania and Kenya commissions by focusing on universities can do a thorough job in the area they know well. Mixing their work with other tertiary institutions spreads their hands too thin and they cannot, therefore, do a good job.
Secondly, the new Kenya Universities Act defines the qualifications of the commission secretary, (i.e. the executive director) and, implicitly, the other workers.
This is good because it not only removes contention over the issue of qualifications, but saves the organisation arguments over the issue such as I had at NCHE with colleagues over qualifications of staff of NCHE.
More so, Kenya Universities Act enhances fairness while at the same time maintaining equity of access by establishing the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Services Board to manage admissions to universities.
Although its focus will be on students going into public universities, the process will increase equity.
Lastly, the Act recognises the role of a number of boards that enhance university education, including the High Education Loans Board, the TVET Funding Board, besides the new ones mentioned above.
To catch up with Kenya and Tanzania, universities and other tertiary institutions should be administered separately, the country should hold a national dialogue on higher education, the Government should create a ministry of higher education and also increase funding to research.
The writer is a former executive director, the National Council for Higher Education
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