The trouble with our varsities and how to sort them

Among Kenya’s development challenges, none are more pressing than its social and economic travails.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reports Kenya’s human development index value as 0.493, showing Kenyans as having low human development (this is assessed according to longevity, access to knowledge and standard of living).

According to UNDP poverty indicators, 60 per cent of the population suffers from multiple deprivations associated with poverty (in education and health) and 20 per cent of Kenyans live on less than $1.25 (Sh130) a day.

Despite these development challenges, Kenya has a growing higher education sector. The number of students in universities has risen exponentially, up 31 per cent in 2015 compared to 2014.

Today, there are 10 more universities in the country than there were four years ago (68 compared to 58).

The number of public universities tripled in 2013 (from seven to 22) after the government upgraded 15 university colleges into full-fledged institutions but the requisite infrastructure and human resource has never been provided, resulting in undue pressure on the existing facilities and personnel.

The latest government data shows that public and private universities in the country combined enrolled 506,083 students in 2015. This compares to 2014’s 443,783 students and is more than double the enrolment in 2013.

Recent university rankings generally show that Kenyan universities – save for the two oldest – are performing poorly.

Other than research, ranking takes into account the teacher-student ratio, proportion of international faculty members in relation to local staff, and the number of international students.

Other criteria used include universities’ research outputs and general contribution to new knowledge; levels of training and application of science and technology; presence on the internet and use of Information and Communication Technologies; volume of published material on the web; visibility and impact of the universities’ web pages as measured by the citations (site visits) or links they receive (inlinks); perceived quality; institutional statistics; websites and surveys of students, scholars or employers to make comparisons between institutions; the number of Nobel and Fields Medal winners; articles published in Nature and Science; articles in citation indexes; and academic performance with respect to the size of an institution.

The above issues present a worrisome situation for us all at the university considering that we have an avoidable leverage on the economic well-being of the country.

The UN Development Index ranks Kenya as the second most ‘unequal’ country in East Africa, after Rwanda. Ostensibly, there are fears that this inequality will encourage the increasing numbers of the country’s half-baked graduates, dissatisfied and often-unemployed, to radicalisation, and even violence.

There are a number of important challenges facing universities in Kenya. These include the demand for access and social equity, funding and the cost to students, governance and internal management, the changing roles of academics, demographic changes among academics, inefficiency, and ethnicity.

The growth in enrolment has resulted in a situation where in many universities in the country, physical facilities cannot cope with the number of students.


Libraries are overcrowded, books are outdated, journal holdings lag years behind, laboratories and equipment are outdated and inadequate, rooms in hostels are overcrowded, and academic staff are not compensated appropriately.

In addition, massification; overcrowding; ever-growing demand; erosion of technical colleges due to acquisitions and takeovers by public universities in search of space; insufficient/declining public funding; curricula that are not responsive to modern-day needs of the labour market; declining quality; crumbling infrastructure; poor governance; rigid management structures pose major challenges to the provision of quality education in our universities.

This perhaps explains why universities offering professional courses are under siege from professional bodies’ standard criteria that at times assume more than utopian circumstances in our struggling institutions.

Universities in Kenya are facing threatening financial constraints. The main causes for this include: (1) pressures of massification that require expansion to cater for the large increase in student numbers (as evident from the demand, it can be expected that this situation will deteriorate further); (2) economic problems faced by our country arising out of insecurity and the subsequent decline of some sectors in the economy; (3) a changed fiscal climate induced by the policies of multilateral lending agencies; (4) inability of students to afford the tuition required for financial stability (5) misallocation and poor use of available financial resources by some of the universities.


In addition, the number of academic staff in Kenyan universities has not kept pace with the increasing student population; the situation has deteriorated to a point where the balance between productivity gains and the quality of teaching is under threat.

The student-to-lecturer ratio in the universities has deteriorated from 25:1 in 1986 to 52:1 in 2013. This, of course, has strong implications for quality of lecturer interaction with students as well as concerns about overall teaching–learning process.

The issue of brain-drain has also played a part in the current crisis. In Kenya alone, the World Bank reports that nearly 40 per cent of the country’s highly skilled professionals emigrate to rich countries.

The migration of the highly skilled cadre of academic professionals and students has led to an acute shortage of academics in Kenya’s universities, especially in key fields such as science and engineering.

The number of non-academic (support) staff is excessive in many Kenyan universities, an aspect that is attributed to skewed human resource policies.

In universities, where resources are already scarce, this is viewed as unaffordable in light of other academic needs. Some of our universities suffer in general from poor, inefficient, and highly bureaucratic management systems.

Challenges attributed to scholarly research in most Kenyan universities include the descriptive nature of research and the lack of empirical rigour (in part due to a lack of resources); paucity of cross-disciplinary research endeavours; limited collaborations between practitioners and academics; limited linkage between research and the national development agenda; decreasing state subsidies; shortage of research expertise and experienced supervisors; high subscription costs of scholarly journals; limited publishing infrastructure; lack of incentives for researchers; inadequate mentoring frameworks; and weak or non-existent partnerships.


Moreover, research done in Kenyan universities tends to focus on local or national development issues by putting an emphasis on applied research at the expense of basic research.

The focus on national or regional issues may mean that research outcomes are generally not widely applicable to international issues.

Inadequately equipped libraries exacerbate this, with limited access to modern journals and the internet. Neither doctoral students nor their local faculty supervisors are likely to have access to current theoretical and comparative literature that might provide new and valuable insights in their research projects.

In most libraries, books are ancient, unavailable or the pages largely mutilated. University presses are under-funded or non-existent, and university journals are either few or unavailable.

Due to inadequate experience and the lack of contacts, young faculty find it difficult to publish in international journals. Consequently, dissertations end up being stacked in libraries, leading to inbreeding.

Indeed, a recent World Bank report makes this point strongly by admitting: “Sub-Saharan Africa is at the bottom of almost every knowledge economy indicator.

For instance, it contributes 0.07 per cent of global patents applications, an indication of the continent’s technological leadership. The region has the lowest researcher-to-population ratio in the world with less than 100 researchers per million inhabitants compared to about 700 in North Africa, for example”

It thus signals a long way to go to create the foundation for high-quality research, graduate education, and knowledge creation in our universities in Kenya.

As a measure towards survival and sustainability, universities in Kenya have shifted from the public-good paradigm, primarily concerned with national development pervasive in the literature on higher education, to a market model that engages the neoliberal ideal of development, one in which the economic survival of the institution becomes paramount.

Module II programmes have been a boon for universities in Kenya by increasing funding for and broadened access to university goods and services to consumers.

Additionally, the Module II service has opened up access to students previously unable to obtain post-secondary education at public institutions. Indeed it is noted that Module II revenue has engendered enhancements for the institutions, expanding their ability to provide services.

Moreover, this marketisation has enabled the institutions to retain and attract qualified staff by providing opportunities for ancillary income as an incentive.

The flip side to the Module II initiative is when prudent and frugal management and utilisation of the resources in a given institution is wanting.

The massification phenomenon then becomes a burden due to limited facilities and requisite human resource. The quality of the instruction is hampered and the desired outcomes of the learning processes as well the impact of the graduates in society becomes insignificant in measure.


It is encouraging to note that most universities in Kenya like the rest in the world are now thinking strategically by developing strategic plans and mission statements that aspire to produce highly skilled and globally competitive graduates functional in the knowledge economy; relate curriculum to labour demand; reconstruct the curriculum to meet Kenyan needs; support critical, basic research, theory building, experimentation and teaching; deal with emerging issues; lead in social transformation rather than act as conservative or elitist institutions; forge links with industry and government to become more innovative and relevant to society; and participate in or form part of government policy making organs.

The creation of the Commission for University Education has made a remarkable difference in terms of the quality of teaching, programmes and facilities particularly in the public universities.

For Kenya to accelerate its development and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, the government will have to increase its investment in science and technology at the universities and in turn demand prudent management of resources.

Expenditure on research and development will have to be increased to at least 1 per cent of GDP by 2020. The challenges that face Kenyan universities are serious, but there are certainly opportunities, and with appropriate research and creative effort, a long and bright future could be waiting for the Kenyan higher education.

Sources Daily Nation -Laban Peter Ayiro -1 | Saturday, October 3, 2015

Suspension of courses puts varsity regulator on the spot

The Commission for University Education (CUE) is on the spot over the recent suspension of degree courses by professional bodies.

Law, engineering, medicine and pharmacy courses offered by a number of universities have been affected due to concerns about the quality of their graduates.

Moi, Egerton, Maseno and Masinde Muliro universities have been affected. So has been the Technical University of Kenya, Catholic University and the University of Nairobi, Kenya’s oldest institution of higher learning.

The courses are supposed have been approved by the Commission for University Education before being rolled out.

There are 19 professional bodies in Kenya whose courses are offered at the university level.

However, universities seem to have ignored quality regulations as they focus on revenue generated by self-sponsored students.

According to the Universities Standards and Guidelines 2014, CUE is required to only approve professional courses when it has confirmed that the physical facilities, equipment and lecturers are adequate and that the legislated relevant professional body had okayed the programme.

During this year’s university admissions, Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement (KUCCPS) admitted as low as 18 government-sponsored students for one course in one university due to lack of space.

However, the same university admitted more than 100 students in the same course under the self-sponsored programme.

Lack of qualified lecturers is another big problem. Documents filed in court by Engineers Board of Kenya (EBK) in response to a suit by engineering graduates it has refused to grant practicing certificates, revealed that Masinde Muliro University hired a home science graduate to teach public health engineering — one of the degree courses that EBK has refused to recognize.

The board also claims the institution hired seven ‘‘quacks’’ masquerading as engineers to teach in the faculty while a geologist was engaged to teach geotechnical engineering.

The EBK also claims it found agricultural engineers teaching other engineering disciplines at Egerton University.

Despite having about 1,500 students taking law, Moi University does not have enough infrastructure; a library, moot court, seminar rooms and lecturers. The lecturer-to-student ratio is 1:60 against the requirement of 1:15.

At Maseno University, Pharmaceutical Science and Medicine degree courses have admitted students despite failing to get the approval of relevant professional bodies.

At the Technical University of Kenya, about 3,000 engineering students are at home following the suspension of the course after failing to get accreditation.

Currently, government-sponsored students pay Sh26,000 per year while those in parallel programmes pay about Sh160,000 per year in arts courses and more than Sh200,000 in science courses.

According to the regulations and standards, for a university to be set up it must have, among others, academic resources such as land, physical facilities, finances, staff, library services and equipment appropriate and adequate for the proposed academic programmes.

The regulations also require universities to submit to the commission all academic programmes for accreditation.

CUE is supposed to evaluate the proposed programmes to ensure they meet the various requirements and academic standards prior to the courses being launched.

The regulations also require each university to institute its own internal quality assurance policy, system and mechanisms in line with the commission’s prescribed guidelines.

Kenya School of Law director Patrick Lumumba admits that the quality of education at the university level is below the required standards.

“We have lowered the standards provided you can pay,” Prof Lumumba observed, who blames the crisis on reduction of funding by the government.


Universities, he says, have been compelled to mount programmes for revenue collection lowering standards.

“The bulk of students who are admitted to the legal profession are not the very best and we must admit that there are a lot of students going into this profession because of peer pressure. We must deal with the question of numbers vis-a-vis the number of facilities going forward,” Prof Lumumba observed.

Prof Lumumba defended the suspension of the courses saying the Council for Legal Education had been interacting with these institutions and making demands to them to ensure that the standards are met.
On Monday, the council stopped University of Nairobi’s Mombasa and Kisumu campuses from admitting new law students for the current academic year.

It also rejected Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University’s application for accreditation while Catholic University of Eastern Africa is facing closure by November 23.

Council secretary Wanyama Kulundu-Bitonye said Moi University had ignored its advice for more than two years.

“The university was given two years to address our concern since the number of students had gone up and the library had totally collapsed. The school had Library space for 80 students with a population of 1,600 and there were no books,” Prof Bitonye said.

There are two professors, five senior lecturers, 11 lectures and 12 assistant lecturers for 1,600 students.

“The shortage of lectures is the biggest elephant in the room. There has been growth of law schools but there is no evidence of development of capacity in terms of human resource,” he said.

KUCCPS, which is a statutory body tasked with placement of students in universities and colleges, absolves itself from blame.

“We normally get available capacities from individual universities and our work is to fill them. We expect the universities to ensure that they meet the requirements of the regulator in courses they offer,” John Muraguri, KUCCPS Chief Executive officer, said.

Experts observe that any student who graduates without getting the greenlight of a professional body wastes their time and money as they will not be accredited by the same bodies.

Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi wants CUE to live up to its expectations. “CUE should ensure that there is quality as demanded by professional bodies … they should be consulted and involved while developing any related programmes,” Prof Kaimenyi sad.

CUE chairman Prof Henry Thairu blames poor working relations between the commission and professional bodies which, he says, has created instability in the higher education sector.
Source Daily Nation


“I’m not saying that everything is survivable. Just that everything except the last thing is.” ― John Green


Most of us don’t realize how strong we are. It seems as if we start off as being invincible. Or at least feeling as if we are. And life kind of happens, and we fail, time and time again, and suddenly we grow afraid of failure, oftentimes afraid of success just as much.

The trick is not to hide your pain behind a smile.

But others do seem to ask this of us, right? That we pretend everything is okay, that we act as if there’s nothing to be afraid of in this world. It’s all fun and games.

And some do this. And they pretend they’re brave, but they don’t understand bravery. They pretend that strength is something you carve on your face. That the absence of tears is synonymous with the absence of suffering.

Is it so?

A friend of mine told me a few days ago that I’m brave, even though I don’t appear to be so. And I told her that I’m afraid of dogs, afraid of any insect that is bigger than an ant, afraid of heights, and on and on.

She smiled and said, “But so many of us feel insignificant. So many of us are afraid of the future. So many of us dream of the life we want, but never actually try to create it. So many of us feel that we’re only half of something, that we’re incomplete without someone by our side. And we’re so hungry for something that we don’t even know what it is.”

It’s been twelve years since I first put pen to paper. Since I started writing my first story, which, as any self-respecting procrastinator, I failed to finish. It was the first of many that I failed to finish, or even start, depending on the case.

It might not seem as much, but it’s been a really long road. I honestly can’t remember why I first started writing. Maybe because I thought it would be easy and fun. It’s neither, actually. Okay, maybe sometimes it is, and that’s when you feel like a god among men.

But the rest of the road? Well… there were times when I was afraid, when I’d feel as if I’d never become the writer I had always dreamed of being. There were times when all I wanted was to give up. I felt as if, no matter how hard I tried, the entire universe was conspiring to defeat me.

I’ve spent most of these years on my knees, crawling… barely keeping it all together.

But I learned one valuable lesson. That you must never allow the universe to defeat you. That you must always fight back. That you must never lose hope. That you must always try to turn pain into strength.

And that, ultimately, strength is something you carry within you, something that no one else actually gets to see. And, yes, at times being strong means crawling when others would just give up. Being strong means to keep going even when all you want is to quit.

That’s what courage is all about, that’s what courage has always been about. Perseverance. The ability to feel like a failure, to be so afraid, and yet to do it anyways, because… just because.

Don’t let fear overwhelm you. Don’t let pain take away your hope. Don’t let your dreams drown in tears.

Why do all this?

Because when the end will come you will be proud to say that you have not survived everything. You did much, much better. You have vanquished everything. Life tried to destroy you, but failed. Life tried to defeat you, but you fought back. Each and every time.

Life is Pain

“Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” — William Goldman

I’m not a big fan of “positive thinking.” Yes, it’s important that we love ourselves, that we try to see all that is good and worthy of gratitude in us and others. I believe in seeing the light in others and offering them the support they need to better themselves.

But I also know that it is extremely important that we be realistic about what is what and who is who.

Because some people will hurt you. And, yes, it is also important to realize that people are never evil because they want to be so. They act in that certain way because they are hurting. They’ve been hurt and they’re trying to prevent further damage…it is your decision if you want to try to help them or walk away.

It is also important to know that there’s nothing you can do to help you from getting hurt every once in a while.

If you isolate yourself from the world, solitude will slowly eat away your soul. If you act as if you don’t care about anyone or anything, you’ll end up feeling empty on the inside.
Simply put, there’s no way to avoid life.

And life is pain.

But that’s not such a bad thing.

Because every heartbreak, every emotional trauma, every single setback, all of these things can make you stronger and better.

Suffering can teach you a great deal about what it means to be a human being. It can teach you not to take things or people for granted. It can teach you about being strong…

Think about it this way…being strong is not about never falling down, but about getting back up…again and again and again.

I was born weak. A sickly boy, I suffered from social anxiety until my teenage years. Then I did become a bit more excentric then other people, until I got my heart broken; until someone made me hate myself more than I’ve ever done before.

I felt alone in this world. Or perhaps the better word is misunderstood. Yes, I felt that there was a part of me no one could ever understand. I also felt things very deeply… Life was all in the small details…

Things that others would’t care about could either make my day or send me on a self-destructive path.

I felt suicidal a few times. Perhaps the better words are hopeless beyond redemption.

I struggled. A lot. I still do. I still feel inapropriate some times. I still have a part of me that is an emotional wreck. But I also see beauty in the world around me. Enough of it that is worth doing my best to save it. To save myself.
I was lied to, betrayed, abandoned, hated…

And yet…

All this pain, all this suffering…even though it almost broke me, almost turned me into the worst version I could be capable of being, in the end, all it did was make me want to save the world, made me want to spend the rest of my days improving myself and helping others too.

That’s why I try to make sense of my suffering, and hopefully help others understand their own struggles.

Looking back, yes…it kind of makes sense. It kind of…

I suppose, in the end, we have to appreciate the good but also the bad. To struggle through the night if we wish to see the sun rise…

Simply put, living is an art, not a science. It’s brush strokes and music and words flowing endlessly from one row to another to form paragraphs. And art has to mean something. It has to make you feel.

In the end, it’s your choice.

Your life can be a bunch of what ifs or a lot of whys. It can be a great collection of why nots.

The real struggle is in the choice. The real pain. In walking on the street without wishing for someone to hold your hand, in spending time by yourself without feeling bored as hell, in working your ass off every day, trying to better yourself. The pain of choosing to love yourself even though you hate what you see in the mirror. To help the broken even though some of them will try to break you as well.

The pain is in the choice. Your choice. Not anyone else’s. The world around you is simply a reflection of who you are, of your hopes, dreams, expectations, and fears.

You are who you choose to become, even though the world won’t make it easy for you. Not even for a moment.

“You desire to know the art of living, my friend? It is contained in one phrase: make use of suffering.” — Henri-Frédéric Amiel

For Real Education #Kenya101

101 Place the emphasis on positive, happy development of pupils at school, not testing or other practices which create anxiety.

Education should, at heart, be about improving our quality of life. This can mean many things. It can mean exposing us to ideas and thoughts which expand how we see ourselves and our lives. It can mean learning coping skills to help us respond positively to the things that happen to us throughout our lives. It can mean giving us the skills to do the things we enjoy. It certainly means making us feel good about ourselves as valuable members of society. It certainly shouldn’t mean creating a system driven by the need to pass exams as the means of avoiding a bad life. The cycle of pressure and anxiety that an educational regime driven by testing exerts has been shown to change the brain chemistry of children and can effect them throughout their lives. You cannot test a child into being a happy, constructive, and productive citizen.

Education should be an empowering time when children don’t just learn but learn how to learn for themselves. Of course there are certain core skills (literacy and numeracy), and of course education should prepare for work—both those who will go straight from school into work, and those who prepare for further learning. But there are virtually no areas of work remaining which rely on a child’s ability to memorise answers and no further learning which expects it. So it is a pointless cruelty to create a system which drives a child’s development in these directions.

If there are to be formal tests applied in schools they should be held until the very end of school—or better still, should become entrance exams in the trades or learning institutions they go on to after school. Assessment is necessary to be able to support development, but it should be continuous assessment based on a holistic approach to development.

Otherwise, we should be creating a school system not structured along the fairly arbitrary lines of this subject or that subject. Pupils should learn in mixed groups through project work which cuts across many subjects. In this process, pupils should learn how to draw learning out of their experience. The attributes we should hope for are curiosity, creativity, empathy, and understanding. Being exposed to big ideas, to the sweep of history, to art and literature, to how technologies or plants or our bodies work, how food is grown and cooked, how our society functions—these forms of knowledge will produce children who can be happy and interested in their own lives and the world around them. From there, they can do anything they want.


Self-belief even spans further into your life, into your professional and personal endeavours.

For things to change for you, you have to change. For things to get better for you, you have to get better. Do not wish for it to be easier… wish you were better! Don’t wish for fewer problems, wish for more skills – and that is precisely what I want to talk about in this blog.

Reconnect to that self-belief to increase your skills within our craft.
Many people ask the great teachers of our time, what is success? And they sit and wait for a huge, complex answer. The great Jim Rohn said, ‘success is the steady progress in reaching your personal goals, designing your life like you want it and making that steady progress in getting there’.

We all have the core beliefs of what it takes to master our studies and to be successful in our exams. They are simple and clear. They are easy to follow, easy to do, but what’s easy to do is also easy not to do and that’s the habit we need to get out of.

Our personal circumstances do not get better by chance, they get better by change. Without a sense of urgency, desire loses value.

Another eternal question: what’s the secret to happiness? The answer I have heard many of the greats articulate is progress! Yesterday’s learning won’t keep me where I am today… I need to go and do today’s learning.

It isn’t about what that course costs… it’s what it will cost if you don’t invest in it. The books you don’t read won’t help.

If you think education is expensive – try ignorance!


Inspiration is an ephemeral ghost shimmering over shadows, cloaking deep and empty crevices of my mind. She appears from dark recesses and cobwebbed chambers in a momentary flash only to hide once again. I have tried to seek her out, but I do not know the rules of this game for she keeps changing them.

Sometimes she floats into common conversation forcing me to shift my view to see the world in a different slant of light.

Other times she appears in Technicolor dreams where she becomes my muse and skips through fantastic worlds under roiling clouds in my restless imagination.

It is frustrating when she cheats and I am only given the flicker of an idea before she vanishes. The scent of gunpowder and cinnamon are left lingering in the air.

When thoughts spark and burst into flame becoming a bonfire of new ideas, she basks in its glow wearing a mischievous grin. She takes all the credit, of course, for she is not modest. Quite the opposite. She is my benefactor, my patron, and my fairy god-parent, and she knows it.

She often competes for attention, but I am too caught up in my own thoughts to notice her. Pouting, she stomps her foot and crosses her arms for she abhors being ignored. She yawns and stretches then hangs her head and retreats to dusty corners where she languishes on inactive rot in the fallow alcove.

I am left on my own to muddle through for there is work to be done until once again she appears.

Then the game is on.