Kibabii Vice-Chancellor Isaac Odeo talks to about the challenges the university has been grappling with since being granted a charter more than a decade ago. The biggest problem, Prof Odeo says, is funding from the government. He also opens up on students missing marks, the accommodation conundrum, research findings, rising numbers of learners and the dress code.
Q: It is now almost a decade since Kibabii was awarded a university charter. Looking back, what is Professor Odeo and his team proud of? What are some of the great strides Kibabii University has made in this period?
A: We have released 8,240 graduates into the world of work and graduate studies where their quality of performance has been recognised. Kibabii University has increased enrolment of students from the initial 3,500 to the current 8,500.
In the 2023/24 Academic Year, Kibabii University expects to admit 4,600 first-year students after approval by Commission for University Education. We have grown academic programmes from four in 2015 to 64, including 23 Masters and 12 doctorate programmes.
The University has students from East African Community member states of South Sudan, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo enrolled for Masters programmes at the Centre of Excellence in Master of Science in Information Technology and Master of Business Administration with IT.
Additionally, Kibabii University has grown its fixed asset base to Sh2.4 billion. Staff and faculty levels have grown to 430, including eight full professors, six associate professors and 72 doctorate degree holders.
Are there courses Kibabii University wants to focus on and be identified with? If so, what informed such a decision?
At Kibabii University, we identified IT and Computer Science as our niche. This was based on the fact that information technology is the backbone of all teaching and learning, research, innovation and community service activities. We also have Bachelor of Science in Cooperative and Entrepreneurship Management. This, together with Bachelor of Science in Nursing, are aimed at assisting the government move forward her priority projects and programmes.
In virtually all local universities, the phenomenon of ‘missing marks’ is common. Does it happen here and how is Kibabii University addressing the problem?
That happens and, in most cases, when students are unable to pay fees or deliberately fail to register on the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, meaning their courses are not captured.
Kibabii University, through the Quality Assurance Directorate, conducts audit of marks every year before graduation. By doing this, we are able to identify students with problems and take intervention actions, including looking for the learners wherever they may be.
Lack of accommodation and teaching facilities are some of the challenges students at Kibabii University face. How is this being addressed by the administration?
The university has put up five modern hostels. We have also established a platform that brings together landlords for the purpose of agreeing on required standards and administrative structures of privately-owned hostels in the neighbourhood.
Kibabii University has adequate teaching and learning facilities, including lecture halls, laboratories, studios, workshops, staff offices and boardrooms. We also have an ICT Hub comprising a teleconference centre and Cisco computer laboratory.
For decades, almost all public universities have been grappling with inadequate government funding. How has that affected Kibabii University and how is the institution coping with the challenge?
The university is unable to pay bills when they fall due. These include medical service providers, contractors, part-time lecturers, salaries for regular staff and suppliers. Reduced capitation and delayed Higher Education Loans Board disbursement affect us badly. This can be resolved through release of full amounts, based on the differentiated unit cost and release of money approved and allocated for capital projects.
It can also be done by increasing the number of students admitted to Kibabii University and raising tuition fees.
There is a decline in university student enrolment in Kenya. Some top Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examination candidates have even opted for technical and vocational training instead of pursuing university courses. What is Kibabii University doing to make its courses attractive and marketable? Which areas should universities pay attention to in order to increase enrolment?
Kibabii University is developing curriculum with infused entrepreneurial skills, specific competencies, embracing pedagogical approaches of teaching that are learner-centred and injecting elements of practical perspective in teaching and learning.
The Ministry of Education has encouraged universities to look for other means of generating income instead of relying on government funding. Has Kibabii University embraced this? Which areas is the university focusing on to remain financially sustainable?
We are focusing on developing short courses, consultancy, mentorship programmes of schools at a fee, research proposals, collaboration and linkages. We have also developed an endowment fund for students from poor backgrounds.
Is Kibabii among public universities that have embraced E-learning? Has it already admitted students? If so, how do you intend to make the programme viable?
The university has embraced E-learning and teaching. We are also offering common courses through the full online mode.
The university has established the Directorate of Open, Distance and Electronic Learning (ODeL). It has also created collaboration with Commonwealth of Learning (COL), which is funding training of staff to design online learning courses, online teaching approaches and online examinations.
University academic staff and students are known to come up with research and innovations that are never felt by the intended beneficiaries. A good example is during the pandemic when lecturers and students came up with all manner of innovations to beat the virus. They included incubators, oxygen machines and advanced hospital beds. The gadgets received media publicity but that was all. We’ve never heard about them again. How should this be addressed?
Research projects must have a component where the society is exposed to the output. Kibabii University is running a research project on mentorship of mathematics teachers, which involves training of the tutors and evaluating the performance of students as an output.
Research outcomes can also be incubated to translate into start-ups for the community.
Some universities in Kenya have been reported to enforce particular dress codes for students. Does that happen at Kibabii University? Have there been concerns on how students dress?
We create awareness among new students during orientation, including appropriate dressing as spelt out in the Students Handbook.
Faculties, departments, student advisers and the Office of Career Services continuously take learners through critical issues related to values, and especially the dress code.
Are there any plans to expand Kibabii University? What would Prof Odeo want Kibabii to be known for?
The university has master and strategic plans, which guide our development. We plan to increase our enrolment of students to 15,000, with 5,000 or 30 per cent being graduate students.
We also plan to increase teaching and learning facilities by constructing a School of Nursing and Centre for Research. In terms of programmes, the university is developing a proposal for the establishment of the School of Health Services to complement plans by the County Government of Bungoma to build a teaching and referral hospital.
This growth will require additional land and resources. Kibabii University is following up on documentation of donated parcels of land in Mt Elgon sub-county and Bungoma town.