University dons dominate Ruto team to review education system

Good Shephard School

Grade Four pupils engage in a game at Nyeri Good Shepherd School on March 8, 2021. 

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

University managers and lecturers dominate the Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms appointed by President William Ruto last week, placing the tertiary education sector at the centre of curriculum reforms.

The team of 42 and seven secretaries is chaired by former Moi University vice-chancellor Prof Raphael Munavu. Serving VCs appointed to the team include Dr Halima Saado Abdilahi (Umma), Prof Stephen Gitahi Kiama (University of Nairobi), Prof Laila Abubakar (Technical University of Mombasa), Mutheu Kasanga (Lukenya University) and Paul Wainaina of Kenyatta University.

A former CEO of the Commission for University Education, Prof David Some, is also in the team as is Prof James Kanya, who was Dr Ruto’s PhD supervisor. A number of university lecturers also made it to the team that is charged with the onerous task of giving clear direction to the implementation of the competency-based curriculum (CBC) that has faced headwinds since its rollout in 2019.

Notable in this is Dr Ciriaka Gitonga of the University of Embu who’s the dean of the school of education. She chairs the Deans of Education Forum, which comprises all deans of schools of education from public and private universities. It is scheduled to hold its third consultative forum from tomorrow and Wednesday in Embu.

The appointments follow a plea by universities to be included in the review team, arguing that they had previously been overlooked. They made the call during a conference in Mombasa two weeks ago. It brought together vice-chancellors from 36 chartered public universities and six colleges across the country and also chairpersons of councils of public universities.

They also called for the formation of a special task force to streamline teacher training. The dons complained that there has been an attempt by the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) to dictate how teacher education courses will be taught. They criticised the diverse curricula in education as proposed by the TSC, saying it will muzzle robust teacher training.

 Raphael Munavu.

Prof Chacha Nyaigoti (left), University of Nairobi Vice-Chancellor Prof Stephen Gitahi Kiama and former Moi University vice-chancellor Prof Raphael Munavu.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

“The current teacher training requirements should be sustained. TSC should not interfere in teacher training in universities. The curricula for teacher training should be harmonised,” said the VCs in a joint statement.

They urged the state to allow universities to be involved in the review of the CBC and continue engagement with the TSC on the curricula for teacher education.

“The state should establish the role of stakeholders in transformational public university education, develop aspirations and shared visions in the areas of governance, legislation and other regulations that can support public university education to ensure efficiency in governance and optimal operations and functions,” reads a joint statement read by the VC of Dedan Kimathi University of Technology (DeKUT), Prof Ndirangu Kioni.

The Commission for University Education chairperson Prof Chacha Nyaigoti said the institutions of higher learning are preparing for CBC, saying it will benefit learners and students.

“We are not changing the content of what people cover. We are looking at how people learn. CBC, as conceived, has wonderful advantages in terms of the methodologies that will be applied by the people that will be guiding students and learners. Let us not overblow a problem where there’s none,” said Prof Nyaigoti.

He observed that Kenya has adequate training and capacity to look at any curriculum, adding that the country has highly trained curriculum developers to review CBC. 

“We want to move forward with a lot of confidence that whatever will evolve will be of the highest quality.”

Prof Nyaigoti said educationists will continue conversing on CBC, adding that they will give their views to the task force proposed by the president.

“I want to assure Kenyans that our university system remains very qualitative and we are continuing to assure that we have regulations set in place to ensure our institutions offering various degree programmes are those of quality. We want to find out how we can continue being attractive and maintain our leadership in the region,” Prof Nyaigoti.

The dons said universities face a hostile political environment, hampering the management of their institutions where councils have limited powers including in the appointment of management staff.  “Universities lack autonomy. Universities face a lot of political interference. This lack of autonomy limits the admission of students and operations of universities amongst other functions,” read one of their recommendations to the government.

The dons also said they will present their recommendation to President William Ruto for the creation of a Ministry of University Education and Research Action. However, this was before the president announced his cabinet and university education is placed in a department within the Ministry of Education.

“The University Act, 2012 has been in operation for the last 10 years, together with the amendments of 2014, 2016 and 2018. However, to ensure that the university does not have further piece-meal amendments, a task force should be set up to ensure a thorough review,” said the professors.

 They pointed out that Sections 35 and 39 contradict each other after the 2018 amendment while Sections 19 and 25 did not fully envisage the rubrics of the establishment of a technical university.

The professors said they will establish strategies to reduce debt and guarantee sustainability in their institutions. 

“Ministry of ICT to connect all universities to National Fiber Optic Backbone (NFOBI) and universities to develop strategies of addressing the technical challenges. To consider taking advantage of the declared Sh500 billion intimated by the new administration for the clearance of pending bills,” they noted.

On the thorny issue of collective bargaining agreements (CBA), the managers proposed that CBAs should be negotiated in the first year and be time-bound with those negotiated outside the timelines being considered null and avoided legally.

“We should address sustainable universities debts and financing, benchmark with the best practices across the globe on human resource and revenue generation that supports academic programmes for improved efficiency,” added Prof Kioni.

With the envisaged 100 per cent transition across all levels, the managers observed that infrastructure at public universities will be a challenge as it has remained unchanged over the years.

“Universities are expected to have centres of excellence. However, institutions of higher learning continue to lose expected revenue through the placement of government-sponsored students in private universities due to 100 per cent transition policy,” read their report.

The conference blamed the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) guidelines in the implementation of Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs), for causing instability in the sector.

The principal secretary for university education Simon Nabukwesi challenged the managers to outsource private firms to embark on debt collection and other sources of revenue.

“Because the accumulation is high and universities are supposed to do their core function which is academic and empowering students. When they spend a lot of time overstretching themselves, to get out of the institutions to collect debts and going to court to deal with litigations related to pending bills, then we lose the core function of a university,” said the PS.

However, Mr Nabukwesi noted that low funding has affected the morale of university staff and at times leading to disruption of calendars and programmes due to industrial action.

“We wish to empower those with the capacity and interest in research by recognising and supporting them with funding so that they get into innovations and support us in finding solutions to challenges confronting us. However, we don’t do so much of that due to limited staffing in our institutions constrained by low funding and motivation,” said the PS. 

“Ensure that outstanding university fees are collected before students sit for their examinations and universities to employ revenue collection staff. Encourage the teaching and research staff to pursue consultancy and research projects,” said Mr Nabukwesi.