Are Kenyan Universities’ the bastion of mediocrity?

Written by on July 2, 2019

This issue has been irking me for quite a while but the final straw came from the recent celebration by a university on the completion of a security entrance, yet the mandate of the university was to provide food security and reduce post-harvest loses by training agriculturalists in all areas from seed production to mechanisation.

“The security complex consists of a central piece, entrance and exit. The central piece comprises of a guardroom, control room and a watch tower” – Standard Media

The grand entrance is used by the askaris to frisk all those trying to bring new ideas into the institution, it is interesting how no one is checked as they exit the campus, which is typical of all other universities in the country, both private and public. This warped activity, to me, suggests that there is nothing of value that can be taken out from the institutions, not even knowledge.

In addition to this, we recently promulgated, all that this means is broadcast, a new constitution that set a university degree as the minimum educational requirement to become a member of parliament yet the level of debate and interrogation that takes place in the assembly is pedestrian, at the best. For those who doubt my assertions please watch the recording of Governors Sonko and Waititu being grilled about their county budgets.

Note, the two governors have questionable degrees, yet they held their own against the graduates on the other side.

Over the years we have had two professors as vice presidents, one of whom was also a former vice chancellor, we also had a chief secretary who was a former vice chancellor and most recently yet another former vice chancellor has been appointed but this time to the lower office of cabinet secretary.

All of the above, except the most recent appointee, who is still fresh, performed below par one even confused his position to that of a high school prefect requiring members of parliament to kneel when talking to him.

As you might have noted from the chronology of appointments over the years the level at which we have been engaging former professors and vice chancellors keeps getting lowered, at this rate we might soon make a PhD the minimum requirement for MCA. So, if the person who was at the helm of an institution of higher learning is unable to perform outside the protective environment of academia what of their graduates?

After reading about the celebration of the opening of a gate as a major university senate achievement the floodgates opened and this drove me to sit down and pen this rant.

At another university they have branded a new building as a Vision 2030 achievement which makes me wonder how a concrete slab will get us to industrialisation especially since nothing except the cement was locally produced.

In addition, the building was designed by an outsider yet they have a school of architecture, built by a foreign contractor and then condoned off from all by building a metal barrier around it even though the university already has a fence.

With a school of architecture, one would have expected an iconic building but instead all we got was a slab of concrete. It doesn’t even incorporate any new technology such as composite low carbon emission materials or even renewal energy areas of which the same institution has been issuing doctorates. I believe we could have done better but instead it become another typical construction project.

That is not even the worst of it, when you visit the lecture halls of the same university you find toilets which do not flush and one has to carry water in a jug to wash down their faeces, did I mention that they offer a degree in facilities management?

Don’t even get me started on the state of accommodation, for our brightest and sharpest, they are definitely being prepared to go and live in the slums around the cities as the university knows clearly that all they will leave with is a superiority complex but no knowledge that the market requires.

This problem is not unique to public universities, on the other end are private universities which purport to be the best business schools in the country yet the facilities are fully run by brigades of security guards. Like with the public universities here too entry requires one to strip down to their undies as they inspect you for knowledge or any other such contraband, yet, on exit no one cares what you carry with you as they definitely know there is nothing of value to carry away.

As purported entrepreneurial universities, one would expect that at least a few students and faculty would operate businesses within campus but sadly in most not a single student runs a visible business on campus. I said visible because the usual hawking takes place just like on the streets of our cities. We then wonder why the best that our business graduates can do is setup 3 x 5 foot stall selling phone covers, the same applies to many of those graduating with MBAs and even PhDs some of whom we gave an airline that they ran into the ground.

What is more concerning is the fact that even the businesses that have been opened within the campuses by business people keep failing, with so many business experts trotting along the corridors one would expect that any business operating within this environment would be part of an ecosystem of knowledge sharing but that is definitely not the case.

So, if a business within a school of business fails the same way as one in the wild outside world, also run by a graduate of the same school of business, then, what value is really being imparted to those who pass through its askari protected gates?

Fortunately, in the private universities the toilets do flush and they even have tissue paper, but apart from that the rest is identical with our public universities.

Now to the new institutions on the block, the polytechnics that have recently been converted into universities, with titles such as technical universities yet many have reduced the number of technical courses they offer and replaced them with easier to teach and higher return humanities yet we keep yapping about the need for more STEM graduates, hope someone is working on a little blue pill to meet that objective.

I had the misfortune of visiting one of this technical universities and the place is appalling compared to when I visited the same institution years ago when it was a polytechnic. The facilities are so bad that it makes a village community school feel like an ivy league college.

As with all public facilities the eating is done no more intelligently as all you see is a myriad of construction activities such as replacing PVC floor tiles with cold and uncomfortable ceramic tiles in classrooms and offices, converting workshops into general use classrooms and bigger and better sentry gates with canopies and metal detectors. The same is being done in the toilets where ceramic tiles are being laid on the walls and floor while the cisterns remain broken with water provided in a huge drum at the entrance.

This in an institution that prided itself in producing artisans to higher national diploma level, today they are producing graduates in social studies, procurement and conflict resolution, expect the shit to hit the fan soon as the plumbing in the ceiling gives.

Now, look around you, isn’t the society out there mimicking what is happening within our institutions of higher learning and if what you see is mediocrity then doesn’t that indicate that the source of this must be those same institutions?

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