Inside the Open University of Kenya

College students

University students.

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Plans are at an advanced stage to clear the legal framework for the establishment of the Open University of Kenya (OUK) following the approval of recommendations for the award of charter.

It is now widely expected the university will be awarded the charter by the end of this month and the first batch of students enrolled in September, as anticipated completing a process that has taken about 18 years. 

In a letter to Education cabinet secretary Ezekiel Machogu, the Commission for University Education (CUE) says that the recommendations were approved during a special meeting of its board held June 7 2023. The recommendations were based on institutional inspection conducted on June 2 and 3 2023 at the temporary site of the OUK at the Nacosti Building.

“The commission in its deliberations appreciated the uniqueness of the proposed Open University of Kenya, being the first university [in Kenya] to be established without being mentored by an existing university, hence lack of a governing organ to incur expenses,” the letter signed by the CEO of CUE Prof Mike Kuria reads.

“The purpose of this letter is therefore to convey the resolution of the commission, to your office and request you to convey the same, upon your satisfaction and approval of Parliament, to His Excellency the President for consideration for award of charter to Open University of Kenya,” reads the letter.

The Technical Working Committee of the OUK which is chaired by Prof Ezra Maritim also submitted its progress report to the CS on May 26 2023.

The idea of a national open university was captured in the Sessional Paper No. 1 of 2005 that was titled, A Policy Framework Education, Training and Research; Meeting the Challenges of Education, Training and Research in Kenya in the 21st Century.

Mr Machogu told Nation that the necessary legal documentation is being handled by the Attorney-general Justin Muturi’s office which is expected to present it to Parliament for approval. This is expected to happen this week and it only requires a simple majority to sail through.

It is after the parliamentary nod that the CS will present the approvals to President William Ruto to award the charter which will officially establish the first open university in Kenya. It will be temporarily hosted at the Nacosti Building before moving to its permanent home at the Konza Technopolis.

“Construction works are going on at Konza Technopolis,” Mr Machogu said.

According to officials at the Ministry of Education, the charter will spell out the senior staff requirements. The chancellor of the university will be the President or he can also appoint one if he deems it fit.

Unlike other conventional public universities, the President will appoint the chair of the council. However, the vice chancellor will be appointed by the CS for Education on recommendation of the council. The rest of the structure of the OUK will take the form of conventional universities.

The university was allocated Sh270 million in the 2022-23 national budget where Sh20 million was in the printed estimates and Sh250 million in Supplementary I. The funds were for setting up the OUK including curriculum development, construction at Knoza, development of the cloud servers and accreditation by CUE.

Six undergraduate and two postgraduate programmes have been developed and approved. These are Bachelor of Science in Cyber Security and Digital Forensics, Bachelor of Technology Education, Bachelor of Science in Business and Entrepreneurship, Bachelor of Data Science, Bachelor of Economics and Statistics and Bachelor of Science in Agri-technology and Food Systems.

The two postgraduate programmes are Postgraduate Diploma in Leadership and Accountability and Postgraduate Diploma in Learning Design and Technology.

Students at the university will also undertake the following common courses: climate change and sustainability, global citizenship, ethics and social cohesion, philosophy, psychology and basic research.

According to a legal officer at the ministry Joshua Wabwire, the OUK will also be expected to build the capacities of other universities in open and distance learning.

Students who enroll at the university will be eligible for education loans from the Higher Education Loans Board. Mr Wabwire explained that the tuition fees will vary depending on the modules an individual chooses to study.

To qualify for admission, the technical committee has proposed various academic pathways but it also includes recognition of prior learning, a first for Kenyan universities. The recognition of prior learning may be considered with respect to workplace training of two years, work experience in a relevant field of two years or short courses in the relevant field.

“Any other qualifications that may be determined by Senate recognizing prior learning leading to equivalents of the identified criteria, experience and skills of learners,” reads the report of the technical committee.

According to Mr Machogu, students at OUK will study at their own pace and summative assessments will also be given on demand. The delivery will be through the Learning Management System which has not yet been launched alongside the website awaiting completion of the approval process.

After the broad concept of an open university through Sessional Paper No. 1 of 2005, further development followed through the Report of the Public Universities Inspection Board (2007), the National Strategy for University Education (2008) and the Road Map for Open University (Rumble Report 2008).

In 2011, the Blue Print Report for the Open University contained recommendations from the CUE that highlighted priority academic fields for the envisioned open university.

On January 9 2014, the then cabinet secretary for Education Jacob Kaimenyi appointed a taskforce on the open university. It was chaired by Prof Peter Erastus Kinyanjui. The members were Dr Guantai Mboroki, Dr Joyce Agalo, Dr Speranza Ndege, Dr Henry Rono, Jeckoniah Odumbe, Dr Judith W. Kamau, Julius Otieno and Rispa Odongo.

The Cabinet approved the proposal to establish a national open university in August 2016 but that has remained a dream until now. The Kenya Kwanza manifesto promised to make it a reality if elected to government.

What is open learning?

According to UNESCO, open or self-paced learning is “an educational philosophy where learning can happen anywhere, anytime from any resource, and therefore, can also inform practice in face-to-face institutions”. Open learning allows people to study wherever they are and whenever they need without having to physically attend classes in a lecture room. Distance learning is a form of open learning. The course content can be pre-prepared and presented in modules in print or electronic form. Also, students can follow live lectures virtually using various electronic gadgets.

It has its origins in learning by correspondence when students would be sent course content by post and then also send back assignments through the same medium. The interaction between the students and the lecturers is currently made easier by technology and there is little difference between conventional and open universities.

Open learning has been touted as an affordable way of making education accessible to many people by breaking geographical barriers. It takes into account learners' limitations and preferences in that there is flexibility in the number of units one wishes to study depending on their availability and financial strength.