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Universities on the spot over bogus engineering degrees

Technical University of Mombasa students leave for home following unrest over accreditation of engineering courses in September last year. PHOTO | FILE
Technical University of Mombasa students leave for home following unrest over accreditation of engineering courses in September last year. PHOTO | FILE 

Public universities were on Tuesday asked to stop admitting students for engineering courses that have not been approved by the industry regulator and immediately suspend teaching of continuing students in the discredited programmes until they are licensed.

The Engineering Board of Kenya (EBK) made the announcement even as it warned that university administrators who fail to comply face a five-year jail term and a fine of Sh5 million each if found guilty.

“We have warned them before that should not admit students to any unapproved programme,” the EBK’s registrar Nicholas Musuni said in an interview. “There’s no two ways about this because ours is a country governed by the rule of law.”

The EBK reckons that engineering courses offered are only accredited upon meeting five mandatory requirements including programme design, curriculum, adequate faculty staff and training facilities as well as infrastructure, and duration of training.

Mr Musuni said it was the responsibility of the training institutions to show that their programmes are intellectually credible, have sufficient number of qualified full-time faculty, have adequate laboratories and workshops, and run courses for five academic years.

The EBK’s latest revelations have put the top public universities on the spot for offering questionable engineering degrees whose graduates cannot practice the trade.

The EBK’s rejection of the degrees has been a bitter pill to swallow for parents and guardians who have spent thousands of shillings to take their children through five years of training only to find that theirs were investments with no returns.

The board – established by the Engineers Act (2011) – has powers to accredit engineering programmes at tertiary institutions besides licencing engineers to practice in Kenya.

It is an offence to admit learners, offer training, and award certificates in engineering programmes without the approval of EBK, according to the Act of Parliament.

The regulator’s latest quest to instill order in the profession has come as a blow to tens of thousands of continuing students who are undertaking engineering degree programmes that are not recognised by the board.

The EBK’s decree also comes as a nightmare for about 1,500 freshmen – who have been selected by the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS) – to study engineering in colleges whose courses are not accredited.

The list of institutions with questionable engineering courses include the University of Nairobi, Kenyatta University, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Technical University of Kenya, and Technical University of Mombasa.

Egerton, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, and University of Eldoret are also in the list. Mr Musuni said two constituent colleges namely Taita Taveta University College and Machakos University College are also offering engineering programmes that not accredited by EBK.

On Tuesday, the EBK said Moi University and Dedan Kimathi University of Technology are the only colleges offering engineering courses that have a clean bill of health even as KU vice chancellor Olive Mugenda maintained that the regulator had cleared the institution’s engineering programmes.

“I’ve confirmed with the board that our courses were accredited today,” Prof Mugenda said.

The EBK could not confirm the same, saying it was “at an advanced stage” of evaluating and accrediting engineering programmes at the university.

KU has this year admitted about 200 government-sponsored freshers to study for degrees in civil, electrical and electronics, petroleum, aerospace, mechanical and manufacturing, biosystems and agricultural, and biomedical engineering.

Efforts to reach MMUST and TUM were unsuccessful as they did not respond to our email enquiries.

TUK, previously Kenya Polytechnic, has suspended teaching of engineering courses pending an audit by the professional body in charge of accrediting the programmes.

Mr Musuni termed TUK’s decision as “proactive” saying it forestalls a situation where students go through a course, graduate and eventually fail to secure registration from the board rendering them unable to practice.

The EBK said it has not accredited the University of Nairobi’s geo-spatial engineering course as well as environmental and biosystems programmes. KUCCPS picked 65 students to take these courses.

The list of JKUAT’s engineering programmes that are not recognised by the professional body include marine, telecommunications and information engineering, mining and mineral processing engineering, electronic and computer engineering, geomantic engineering and geospatial information systems.

The Juja-based university in August admitted about 110 freshmen for the programmes.

Egerton is also under the spotlight for taking in about 95 new students to study degrees in water and environmental engineering, manufacturing engineering and technology as well as instrumentation and control engineering without approval of the board.

The 29 approved engineering courses are offered at UoN, Moi, JKUAT, Egerton and Dedan Kimathi universities.

“We accredit specific programmes, not a university as a whole,” Mr Musuni said.

The board has so far refused to recognise about 9,000 engineering graduates who undertook courses it has not approved. They have since moved to court seeking orders to compel the EBK to licence them.

High Court judge David Majanja had in an earlier ruling given the EBK two weeks to register the candidates and ordered the board to compensate each to the tune of Sh200,000 for general damages.

The EBK’s tough stance has been emboldened by a June 12, 2015 Court of Appeal ruling which set aside Justice Majanja’s decision and affirmed the board’s role in accrediting all engineering courses in Kenya.

“The appellants (EBK) did what the law required them to do: to recognise the process of professional accreditation,” said the three-judge bench of David Maraga, Roselyn Nambuye and George Kariuki.

The terms “engineer” and “engineers” are protected under the Engineers Act and can only be used by registered members.

Those who practice engineering without the EBK’s licence face a fine of Sh2 million and a jail term of five years.

“Persons who are not validly licensed are not allowed to practice engineering in Kenya since by doing so they will commit an offence. The penalties for such offences are very punitive,” the EBK said in a notice.

Kenya has a total of 7,221 licenced graduate engineers, according to the EBK’s database.

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