ODOTE: Streamline oversight of university education

While the teachers’ strike preoccupied the nation last month, there were other pressing developments in the education sector.

The Council of Legal Education (CLE) – the body charged with regulating legal education and training – ordered several law schools to either close or suspend their programmes.

The action by the CLE mirrors steps taken by the Engineers Registration Board. So why are these professional bodies seeking to regulate training standards in universities?

A key focus of reforms in the education sector has sought to improve the quality of learning. But despite various measures that have been instituted, students are still not acquiring required competencies.

These problems permeate all levels of our education system and require a holistic approach.

The quality of university education has dipped due to rapid expansion of the institutions as well as courses offered. Critics of this expansion drive who call for its halt, unfortunately, fail to discuss the real problem.

One of the country’s goals is to improve access to education for all at every levels. As a matter of fact, the Constitution identities education as a fundamental right.

However, there is a flip side that lends credence to the critics’ argument that expansion should not be undertaken at the expense of quality of education.

Nearly a decade ago, Prof Mahmood Mamdani wrote about similar challenges in Uganda. In a book titled Scholars in the Marketplace: The Dilemmas of Neo-Liberal Reform at Makerere University, 1989-2005, Mamdani highlights the dangers of commercialisation of university education. The lesson here is the link between quality of education and the approach to funding.

Following the adoption of Module Two, or parallel education, there is a lot of pressure and focus on revenue generation that drives the expansionist frenzy.

To address this, therefore, we have to also address resourcing. Are we allocating sufficient resources for the education sector? Are universities using the resources they generate prudently?

The regulatory bodies are confronted by real and huge problems. The decline in quality of education has profound implications not just on the respective professions but also on the country’s future.

Imagine the public exposed to incompetent doctors, lawyers and engineers! The regulatory bodies are doing the right thing trying to mitigate this scenario. But are they going about it in the right way? Will their actions solve the problem?

While accreditation is useful, it does not fully address the magnitude of the problem. One needs to conduct an audit of the quality of pupils that move from primary to secondary schools, as well as the quality of secondary education.

By the time students step into university, are they adequately prepared to undertake tertiary education? If they are not, accreditation will not solve the problem.

Secondly, these regulatory bodies must delve deeper into the delivery of training and not just focus on what is written in the curriculum.

The regulators have to invest in developing their capacity so that they are well equipped to discharge their mandate. Otherwise criticisms about first removing the log in one’s eye will arise.

Prof PLO Lumumba once remarked that we should not kill a mosquito with a hammer. I think that the lesson from this quote is the question of appropriateness.

Currently, we have three bodies addressing aspects of the quality of university education. There is the Commission for University Education, the University Senates, and the various professional regulatory bodies.

Each of this is established by statute and a legitimate case can be made about the overlap of their mandates. We also have to honestly ask whether the processes that have been introduced through legislation to be overseen by these bodies help to fully address the problem of quality. This should be answered through a scientific process.

The country has to realise that as part of the Sustainable Development Goals, the word is committed to ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education, and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Our actions must deliver on this goal. Unfortunately, current practices do not fully appreciate the solutions needed to improve the quality of our university education.

Dr Odote teaches at the University of Nairobi.