Foreign universities offering degrees in Kenya without accreditation will be fined at least Sh10 million and their promoters sent to jail for three years under a new law meant to safeguard education standards.
President Mwai Kibaki Thursday assented to the Universities Bill 2012, which provides for regulation of universities and centralised admission of students to tertiary institutions. It also establishes the Commission on University Education (CUE) to replace the Commission of Higher Education in overseeing university standards.
The new law also establishes the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service to replace the Joint Admissions Board, which has been recruiting students for regular courses in public universities.
The mandate of the placement service will now be extended to include entry to parallel programmes and private universities.
Foreign universities are required to submit proof of accreditation from their countries of origin before they are allowed to offer degrees in Kenya. On the other hand, local universities will be required to state what their core courses are, in addition to supporting infrastructure, before a charter is granted.
They will need to furnish details of the infrastructure at the constituent colleges they wish to set up and comply with standards set by the regulatory CUE.
The law requires that vice chancellors for public universities be recruited via a competitive process unlike previously when they were hired by the university senate.
The enactment of the law follows widespread concerns over the mushrooming of colleges purporting to offer degrees and diplomas from overseas universities, some of dubious recognition.
It also follows concerns that students from rich families, who failed to meet the entry criteria for courses under the regular university programme, were ending up doing the same courses under the parallel scheme or in private universities, exposing regular programme graduates to competition in the job market from people who had not qualified for the courses in the first place.
Employers have for years complained of an existing disparity between what students are taught and what is relevant upon employment that forces them to retrain new recruits, usually at a huge expense.
CUE will now be required to liaise with the public and private sector to develop a national manpower strategy. It will also involve professional and industry players in the running of universities in order to align the quality of graduates with the needs of the job market.
It will have the powers to oversee the establishment, governance, management and quality assurance in Kenyan institutions of higher learning.
The commission will be required to vet and approve any new institution upgraded to university status and allowed to offer degree programmes.