Kenya thrives as the beacon of education for our entire region. We boast enviable primary and secondary education completion rates, phenomenally high literacy levels, high tertiary institution attendance, and numerous linkages with universities all over the world. Our industries rely on qualified prepared graduates to feed their labour demands.
Perpetual discussions involve sectors pleading with higher education providers to keep innovating and modernising curriculum for the twenty-first century.
However, developing divergent educational solutions faces several obstacles. Sadly, we champion bureaucracy rather than useful preparation of students for industries or helpful research.
Further, nearly all research published in Kenyan higher learning institutions stands as highly derivative with only a tiny handful of Kenya-produced research qualifying as world-leading or cutting-edge that shape industries.
Our onward march towards progress in keeping up with global competitors is about to be prospectively stymied. The extraordinarily regressive new higher education bill currently before parliament intends to alter the Universities Act of 2012 and give the Cabinet Secretary of Education the final authority to employ and dismiss university council members or ignore any decision they make.
Essentially, it removes the local bottom-up governance enjoyed at the vast majority of universities all over the world. Even though counties are not in charge of post-secondary education facilities, the bill still flies in the face of the spirit and principles of devolution whereby local communities can make the best decisions for themselves.
The bill also limits the number of deputy vice chancellors to three. The tertiary education space in our beloved land is already overregulated with forcing rules about university governance structures.
TVETs already are forced to utilise standard curriculum instead of relying on the experts they hire to tailor unique solutions to their specific local demographic or react to new frameworks and research.
In what other industry must leaders have their hands tied behind their backs with no authority? Are telecoms limited in how many accountants they can hire? Are software developers limited to how many programmers they onboard?
No. Each organisation must make the best decision for itself instead of forced hierarchy. The insurance sector already suffers from over-regulation and now our higher education institutions will too.
Next will the Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture dictate that only the vegetables that he likes the most are the ones we are allowed to feed our children? Will the Cabinet Secretary for Energy then force us all to only purchase enough electricity to light our homes only during the limited number of hours per day that she herself is at home?
What if the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs limits our overseas travel only to her favourite destinations? These are all ludicrous examples. But where is the line? Where will it stop? Millions of Kenyans wish that our parliamentarians could also legislate common sense.
We must utilise outcomes to judge our institutions, not bureaucratic straightjackets. As examples, are our students prepared for the workforce? Are our institutions providing cutting-edge research that propels Kenya to compete and lead on a global scale?
Standardisation kills innovation, obliterates creativity, and destroys the ability to compete on a global scale. Even education institutional audits focus on how many meetings are held, for example, rather than the outcome of those meetings.
Reasons an organisation might force centralisation of decisions include organisational crises, management’s desire for total control, increase consistency, and reduce costs by eliminating duplication of efforts.
However, reasons for decentralisation of decisions include the complexity of the entity in terms of large size or diversity of operations or stakeholders. If the leadership desires empowerment and autonomy to meet localised needs, then they also utilise decentralised decision making.
Centralised decisions in massive entities or ministries leads to a mismatch of forced standardisation that actually will be less likely to meet customer (student) needs and slow in responding to market dynamics of shifting industry demands.
In summary, let us avoid the Trumpian temptation to overcontrol everything. Top-down does not work. Full stop. Period. Bureaucracy makes things worse, not better. Hopefully human-centered design will stand as the technique for how new laws and policies are made in the future.
Dr. Scott may be reached on [email protected] or on Twitter: @ScottProfessor