Award of charters is becoming a political bait in the run-up to every election after President Uhuru Kenyatta created eight new universities in the last two weeks of the expiry of his term, repeating the same pattern witnessed in 2017.
During his three-day tour of Western and Nyanza Kenya last week, Mr Kenyatta awarded charters to the universities in Vihiga, Busia, Homa Bay, Tharaka Nithi, Kiambu, Makueni, Kajiado and Nairobi counties.
While the law mandates the President to issue charters to universities, it is the timing of the recent awards that is raising eyebrows.
“Awarding charters to universities in the western region is aimed at making the residents there happy so they can listen to his advice of voting for Azimio,” said political analyst Munene Macharia.
The public universities recently awarded charters include Kaimosi Friends University (Vihiga), Alupe University (Busia), Tom Mboya University (Homa Bay), and Tharaka University (Tharaka Nithi).
Private universities that received Charters are Lukenya University (Makueni), Zetech University (Kiambu), Kiriri Women’s University of Science & Technology (Nairobi) and East African University (Kajiado).
“You cannot rule politics out of the whole process,” says educationist and researcher, Dr Andrew Riechi.
A similar script played out in October 2016, when Mr Kenyatta awarded a similar number of charters to universities ahead of the country going to the polls in August 2017.
The eight include KAG EAST University (Kakamega), Rongo University (Migori), Co-operative University (Nairobi), Taita-Taveta University (Taita Taveta), Murang’a University of Technology, University of Embu, Machakos University and Kirinyaga University. Mr Kenyatta was at the time seeking a second term in office and was looking to woo voters.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga who was Mr Kenyatta’s rival in the 2017 polls has now been endorsed by the Head of State as his preferred successor. “The president seems to be in a rush to get issues cleared and dispense off matters before the end of his tenure,” says Prof Macharia.
Dr Riechi notes that while the Constitution allows establishment of universities in every county, the focus should be on specialised programmes rather than on their numbers.
“What we need most are highly specialised institutions of say applied agriculture, applied sports or applied technology, rather than numerous universities offering the same academic programmes,” he says.
The Universities Act 2012 outlines the rigorous process of setting up and accreditation of universities from application for consideration to the award of Charter by the President.
A person or entity wishing to establish a university makes an application to the Commission for University Education (CUE), which is accompanied by the draft charter of the proposed institution.
The CUE then recommends to the Cabinet secretary of Education the issuance of a letter of interim authority after assessing and inspecting the resources of the applicant.
This letter is valid for four years and is subject to an extension of a further four years. Six months before the expiry of the letter of interim, the CUE is required to prepare an accreditation report indicating whether the application for the establishment of a university has met all conditions under the act.