Technical University of Mombasa students leave after the institution was closed down on September 30 following feud between engineering students and the administration over accreditation of courses. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Kenya suspends Engineering courses in public universities over quality

Three public universities have been forced to recruit lecturers from foreign countries to meet fresh quality demands by the Engineers Board of Kenya.

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The board is dissatisfied with the quality of graduates and this has seen it suspend nearly all engineering programmes in 22 public universities and their colleges until certain specifications are met.

The move has thrown in jeopardy the careers of thousands of students pursuing the courses.

Kenyatta University (KU), Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKuat) and Technical University of Mombasa are some of the institutions currently hiring engineering lecturers from the United Kingdom, Netherlands, India, Korea and China, university administrators told the Nation.

There are 8,700 trained engineers in Kenya at the moment, according to the EBK. Out of this, only 2, 000 have been licensed to practise.

The ministry of Education said it was in talks with the board to determine the fate of thousands of students pursuing engineering courses that have not been approved.

For an engineer to practice in Kenya, they must be graduates of a university approved by the board and worked under a ‘competent’ engineering firm for at least three years. They are then registered and given a certificate to practise.

REPEAT

But Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi has given an indication that students who have already completed their courses and are due to graduate will not be forced to repeat their degree programmes.

“We will meet with EBK to deliberate on the way forward and allow the students to graduate. We expect to reach an agreement this week,” said Prof Kaimenyi.

The recent spate of student unrest that has seen some universities closed has been attributed to anxiety over the uncertainty surrounding suspension of the engineering programmes.

EBK registrar Nicholas Mulinge said the universities had not hired qualified personnel to teach engineering.

“We asked them to hire what we call ‘thematic leaders’, who are professionals with depth of both experience and qualification in specific areas to head their programmes, but they have failed,” Mr Mulinge lamented.

Vice-chancellors and EBK will meet this week to determine the next move for the KU, JKUAT, Egerton, Technical University of Mombasa, Maseno universities and all university colleges offering engineering courses.

Only one engineering course — Environment and Bio Systems — at the University of Nairobi is yet to be cleared by the EBK, out of six courses that the institution offers.

“The problem started when university senates approved courses without regard to professional regulators because the universities were autonomous entities,” said Mr Mulinge.

However, universities lost the autonomy with the coming into force of the Universities Act (2012), which gave the Commission for University Education and professional groups such as the EBK, powers to approve and accredit programmes.

Before, the senates approved all degree courses the institutions offered after their faculties developed programmes. This is how most public universities started engineering courses even without enough lecturers and qualified ones.

“The matter has been worsened by the rapid expansion of universities with their constituent colleges fast becoming full universities even without the necessary staff and equipment. This is what has forced EBK to weigh in in a bid to ensure professionalism,” said Mr Mulinge.

PRIVATE UNIVERSITIES

The Engineers Act (2011) mandates the board to approve and accredit engineering programmes in public and private universities and other tertiary level educational institutions.

Only four public universities — Nairobi, Moi, Jomo Kenyatta and Egerton, have been cleared to offer courses in engineering, even though some courses are yet to be approved.

At the UoN, only five courses, including Civil, Agriculture, Mechanical, Electrical and Electronics and Electrical engineering, will be offered.

Moi will offer 13 number of engineering courses, including Electrical and Communication, Civil and Structural, Textile, Chemical and Process, and Production Engineering.

At Jomo Kenyatta, Mechanical, Agricultural, Civil, Electrical and Electronics, Mechatronic, Agricultural and Bio-systems Engineering are approved.

Agricultural Engineering is the only course that has been approved at Egerton University.

University of Nairobi Vice-Chancellor George Magoha supported the regulation on institutions by the board and said there was a need to streamline the engineering sector to meet international standards.

He said his university was working closely with the board to ensure that the Environmental and Bio-Systems Engineering course —which is yet to be approved — meets the specifics of the board.

“It is good for all universities to comply with the professional bodies demands if the graduates are to be employable within the country and outside our borders,” he said.

Principal at the College of Architecture and Engineering in the university, Prof Bernard Njoroge, said universities should actually stay ahead of the demands of the board to ensure that their training was beyond reproach.

Prof Njoroge said Engineering courses had a huge implication on the safety of citizens and needed to be treated with such seriousness.

“There’s need for regulation. Respectable institutions must be accredited,” Prof Njoroge said, adding that Engineering discipline was akin to medicine and needed a regulator – “this is the practice the world over.”

Prof Njoroge said the university aims at having one lecturer teach 14 students and also to continuously purchase new equipment as demanded by the board.

In KU, deputy vice chancellor (Academic) Prof John Okumu said the university was forced to seek lecturers outside the country to meet the teaching gap.

“We have put advertisement for teaching position in the Engineering department in other countries as India who have really good trained Engineers,” said Prof Okumu, adding that the university was also procuring new equipment and built a new laboratory for the students.

CRISIS

KU is offering five engineering courses including Civil, Electrical and Electronics, Energy, Mechanical and Manufacturing, and Computing and Information Technology.

Prof Okumu noted that there were very few lecturers in the country to teach Engineering, and this was a part of the reason leading to the crisis.

He noted that the university had approached the Indian High Commission to place advertisement for senior lecturers in the sector to support the department. India, Prof Okumu argued, had a good pool of professionals trained in the area and their labour is affordable.

At JKUAT Marine Engineering and Mining and Mineral Processing Engineering are yet to be accredited although the principal of the College of Engineering and Technology, Prof Bernard Ikua, said they had hired senior lectures from Netherlands, Korea and China to meet the teaching gaps.

The University is currently offering Civil, Mechanical, Electrical and Electronics, Mechatronics, Agriculture and Bio Systems Engineering.

“We are placing tenders for equipment that the board has demanded although most of our programmes have been given a clean bill of health,” said Prof Ikua.

Regarding the issue Education Cabinet Secretary, Prof Jacob Kaimenyi said “we will meet with the EBK members to deliberate on the way forward and allow the students to graduate. We expect to reach an agreement in the next two weeks.”

Such issues as keeping quality of university education in check was one of the reasons Prof Kaimenyi was opposed to having university education in the country devolved and questioned the ability of the county governments to maintain standards in the institutions.

“It is much more than just a matter of having land and buildings – which the counties actually have. There is the case of human resources,” Prof Kaimenyi said in reference to the Universities Act Amendment Bill (2014) that has been introduced in the Senate for debate.

The envisaged law seeks to create a university in each of the counties to foster equity and access to higher education.

“Let the counties leave universities to the national government and the commission for university education for now,” Prof Kaimenyi said, and asked them to concentrate on ensuring that polytechnics and other middle level institutions were functional in the first place.

“Universities must be set up under scrutiny of CUE and professional bodies. Let us not rush for now.


Credit: Daily Nation 

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