A couple of years ago, hundreds of people about to graduate after long-distance courses with a foreign university were suddenly told that their degrees were only good for toilet paper.
There were protests from the graduands. Many had called parties to celebrate their achievement. The Commission for Higher Education dismissed their efforts saying their degrees would not be recognized in Kenya. Inspite of the scandal, thousands of Kenyans continue to lose their hard-earned cash to unscrupulous individuals pretending to offer academic programmes.
Kenyans are among the most ambitious people in Africa. Their quest for prosperity has landed them in all the corners of the world. The desire for self-improvement is pushing many people into acquiring higher academic qualifications as the job market gets very competitive. As a matter of fact, without a minimum of diploma in Kenya’s job market, your chances of material success are greatly diminished unless you make it big in business.
A decade ago, anyone with an undergraduate degree was assured of a job. Today, jobs that were done by first degree holders now demand a Masters. Companies that employed high school leavers in the 1980s now insist on a degree before they even look at you. Computerization has eliminated many of the jobs that low-skilled personnel hope to get.
Education is financially expensive and the desire for academic qualifications has given rise to shady colleges. Unfortunately, by the time its discovered that papers from these colleges are worthless, its usually after heavy financial losses in the form of fees.
The classes offered by these colleges are sub-standard at best. Students have to share computers and there isn’t enough exposure to gain the ICT skills necessary in today’s labour market. Lecturers are employed informally; in some cases, lecturers are students in other colleges!
There are journalism schools that do not have a single camera or a regular publication for students to practice. Library facilities are a joke, if at all they exist.
With these characteristics, its hardly surprising that some Kenyans opt to buy degrees from forgery experts. There really is no difference between buying a fake degree and attending shoddy colleges. The result is a culture of incompetence across Kenya’s public and corporate sector.
In workplaces across the country, will be found employees who don’t care about their jobs. Customer service is nothing to speak about. Bosses with questionable qualifications break every rule in the Human Resource Management book. All these are caused by unqualified people doing jobs they cannot handle and the growth of unregulated colleges is largely to blame.
But where is the government as Kenyans continue pumping billions of shillings into bogus academic papers?
According to the Business Daily, the Commission for Higher Education (CHE) lacks the ability to monitor colleges. This has seen the Commission revert to a wait and see attitude, relying mostly on complaints from students, parents and the general public.
The CHE is a state body with the responsibility of overseeing the establishment and accreditation of private universities and tertiary institutions. CHE has already raised a red flag over a deluge of complaints from parents and students who had paid millions of shillings to shady colleges. CHE secretary Prof Everett Standa says the Commission has finalized a national audit on all institutions.
Kenya’s public universities are stretched to the limit by student numbers, hence there is huge unsatisfied demand for education in alternative facilities. Private universities exist but their fees are so high as to put them out of reach for the majority. A typical bachelors degree in a private university costs about Kshs600,000 (US$8,000) in a country with 60% poverty rate and 40% unemployment.
With inadequate government funding, public universities are adopting many of the tactics of bogus colleges in order to survive. The result is rising enrollment with no regard to academic facilities. Lecturers are overworked as they try to maximize their income by teaching as many classes as possible.
At the University of Nairobi, which has the greatest number of private students, three-hour lectures have been cut down to two hours though the length of each semester remains the same. That means fewer contact hours between teachers and students.
The CHE has been criticized for over-reacting when its too late. Like other organs of the Kenyan government, the CHE only re-surfaces when conducting “crackdowns” that disrupt the innocent more than they punish the guilty. Sustained vigilance is cheaper and more effective in the long-term than occasional, high profile closures of genuine academic institutions.
What then can the average Kenyan do to make sure they acquire academic qualifications at the right place? Its important to deal with institutions directly and not to trust intermediaries unless recommended by that particular education institution.
For instance, if you wish to do a correspondence course with Oxford University, or Harvard or UNISA (University of South Africa), get in touch with them directly. If they recommend use of a third party, then its probably legitimate. Do not fall for media advertisements by people claiming to be accredited to this or that university. Most of the time, such links are extremely shaky. Just because somebody claims to have the support of a prestigious university does not mean its true. And just because somebody attended a famous college does not make them recruiter-in-chief.
Its important to insist on colleges that offer examinations from reputable bodies, such as the Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC) and the Kenya Accountants and Secretaries National Examinations Board (KASNEB). Examinations from KNEC and KASNEB are recognized internationally. Back street colleges do not offer credible examinations and you may find it difficult convincing employers as to your academic achievements.
Do not join shady colleges for the sake of helping a friend who owns the college. It is your future at stake. If you must join such a college, insist on everything following the correct procedure, including the setting of examinations by national bodies like KNEC and KASNEB. Otherwise, your friendship will come to an end when you realize you wasted your money on toilet paper qualifications.
My high school headmaster used to tell us during the chilly morning assemblies that there is no shortcut to education. You read: you pass. You don’t read: you fail.
Its that simple.