Mass action updates – 16 December 2008

Mass action updates as at 17:30hrs Kenyan time.

- Maseno student leader arrested for distributing T-shirts urging MPs to pay tax. President Mwai Kibaki is scheduled to attend the university’s graduation tomorrow.

- Tomorrow’s media demonstration in Nairobi against the Communications Bill 2008 banned by police.

School of Journalism conning students

As the Kenyan government enacts unprecedented media laws aimed at ‘restoring sanity’ to the journalism profession, its media training institutions should be scrutinized for minting millions of shillings while churning out half-baked graduates.

Wambui Kiai, School of Journalism Director. Picture by University of Nairobi.

Wambui Kiai, School of Journalism Director. Picture by University of Nairobi.

The School of Journalism at the publicly-funded University of Nairobi has admitted over 500 students since 2006 without investing in vital training equipment.

Its amazing that the once-respected media institution lacks video and still cameras. There are neither digital recorders nor studios. The School of Journalism lacks a training newspaper for aspiring print journalists. Its library is a pale shadow of what it is supposed to be.

School of Journalism has only 16 computers to cater for hundreds of students who need to finish assignments on time. The computers are allegedly of poor quality and students – who are already paying through the nose for the facilities – have little choice but to visit commercial cybercafes to complete their papers on time.

There are fears that School of Journalism graduates will not gain the requisite skills to cope with global reporting standards. The prospects of graduating without handling a video camera is raising concern among students. Three years of empty promises has forced them to blow the whistle on a complacent administration.

Students writing to the Nairobi Chronicle say that the School of Journalism charges among the highest fees at the University of Nairobi without providing value for money.

“We are paying Kshs11,500 (US$147) for every unit while other courses are charging less than that. In order to graduate, you should have done 50 units. The total cost including examination fees, library, computer use and medical insurance adds up to more than Shs500,000 ($6410) for the degree.”

“We don’t have broadcast equipment, classrooms are in a pathetic state and the administration of the institution has been a disappointment. The management does not communicate with students and many times we are ambushed with decisions that affect us,” the students lament.

The students further add that the institution sometimes hires rooms at the nearby Young Men Christian Association (YMCA) but the structures are reportedly worse than the main campus.

Students complain about lecturers missing classes with impunity and leaving early when they show up. “Classes that are supposed to end at 8:30pm end at 7:00 and there are no make ups.”

The affected students say that pleas to the School’s Director, Wambui Kiai, continue to yield empty promises. In any case, the soft-spoken Director is unaccessible.

Following student threats to petition Vice Chancellor George Magoha, the Director issued a circular stating that grievances should be submitted through class representatives. The move did not go down well with the aspiring scribes, majority of whom are clamoring for major reforms at the media training facility.

Students are wondering what the institution is doing with millions of shillings collected since 2006 and yet a modern digital studio could easily have been acquired with the money. Students stated that activity fees have not been utilized. Not a single trip has been organized by the institution in recent memory.

Students reveal that the school has not cultivated linkages with Kenya’s media industry. Media personalities have never been invited to provide mentorship or talks as would normally be expected. The rival Department of Literature is doing much better because it regularly hosts editors, diplomats and other personalities to share useful career experiences.

The Anvil newspaper, supposed to train journalists, has suffered a quiet death. Only one issue has been published in the past five years and that was because a visiting American professor donated her own money. It is rumored that a senior lecturer at the institution has refused to let go of the Anvil’s management.

Students are urging the Ministry of Education to intervene and stop further enrollments at the School of Journalism until the necessary facilities are in place. Otherwise, more Kenyans will be short-changed.

The other public journalism school, the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication, is not faring much better.

Fake colleges and painful losses for students

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.

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