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How parallel programmes destroyed University education in Kenya

How parallel programmes destroyed University education in Kenya
Mount Kenya University is among those that cropped up after the business of education became booming. Another private university, KEMU has been having trouble attracting learners, thereby becoming cash-trapped.

A Kenyan lecturer by the name Dr Wandia Njoya has dissected how the parallel degree programmes led to the capture and eventual destruction of university education in Kenya.

Ten years ago I was saying that lecturers should not accept the commercialization of universities. But they were bribed into silence with payments from parallel programs. So the collapse of universities was inevitable. You want to understand how?

In the Kibaki years, universities accepted that they could make money instead of relying on the exchequer. That small acceptance is like the story of the camel that asked the tent owner to cover his head, then cover the neck, then eventually the camel took over the tent.

The problem commercializing universities is that 1) lecturers suck at business 2) the university starts spending on administrative fluff. This principle was explained by Graeber: the more you adopt market forces, the more admin and bullshit jobs increase.

Accepting the neoliberal pact meant that VCs started to behave as CEOs. They needed a crowd of PAs, secretaries, body guards and limosines. Unis paid the cons called business consultants to tell them how to streamline university operations. Money was spent on ISO certification.

The desperation for more paying students led to the arms race where universities would capture TVET colleges to avoid the work of building campuses from scratch. They took huge loans for infrastructure and their administrative staff increased to more than the teaching one.

Univerities then had to spend money on marketing departments to attract students. In the first half of the previous decade, universities as a cohort were the second largest advertising revenue for Kenyan media houses. That’s why you never saw media report saying what I’m telling you.

Let me use marketing as an example of extra expense. Universities are supposed to make their names known by 1) their graduates 2) their professors. So theyre supposed to hire professors based on the research and public profile best demonstrates the rigor and output of the universities.

Dr Wandia Njoya

In other words, the university markets itself through its own work. Think: did people like Okoth Okombo, Bethwell Ogot or Maria Nzomo need to advertise? You just read them, saw them and felt their impact. With marketing, the promotion went to people employed to do nothing else.

That means that a university has to employ an extra department with its own budget (many times larger than that of academic departments) for tshirts & promotional materials, paid advertisements etc. Faculty had to spend less time on teaching and research and more on marketing.

Lecturers found themselves with more paperwork to sign for the many admins implementing performance management and marketing strategies. The work was overwhelming and alot of it useless, but guess how the lecturers were bribed into silence.

Parallel Programmes

Parallel programmes were about, again, increasing number of paying students (universities know nothing else). To teach more students, the universities paid the lecturers as extra income on top of their salaries. That’s where everything headed south.

Some of you may say: why not start an income generating project on the side? That proposal has the same problem I’m talking about. First, you are now forcing people who should be teaching and doing research to do side hustles for the uni like bottling water and raising chicken.

Second, and this, many Kenyans forget. Side hustles cost money. If, for example, we decide that chicken farming can make money, it means that the money for textbooks and field trips is going to buying chicken feed and other essentials, at least until the farm turns a profit.

And even if the chicken farms turns a profit, that money has to be ploughed back into the chicken farm if we want to expand it. So really, the side hustle will spend more than give university money for research and learning.

The third effect is the famous one we all know. Corruption. Professors spending so much time doing ka-ching ka-ching, cutting deals with businesses, stray away from the core function of the university and forget what the money was supposed to be for.

Remember that lecturers have been bribed into silence by parallel programme payments. So they were not going to say anything as the universities deteriorated. They didn’t research to see all the warning signs that are in the research from US, Australia and other Anglo scholars.

This model of running unis never going to be unsustainable. Universities have to be a public good. If lecturers serve the public through education and intellectual engagement, no govt would defund unis without suffering political backlash. But lecturers preferred fast cash.

Lecturers need a soul searching. Get new Universities Academic Staff Union (UASU) – Kenya leaders. Relearn public good. The economics departments should ask Ndii or Kwame Owino how to read GoK economic data, and then tell us how money for presidential globe-trotting and other silliness can pay for public education.

Any attempt to make lecturers both teachers and side hustlers ends up being more expensive than generating money, and then actual education suffers. As Kenyans, we also need to stop glorifying the hustle. We hustle because the economy is bad. Not because we’re entrepreneurs.

Also, THE MEDIA IS NOT OUR FRIEND. This whole mess was also possible because the media kept spreading propaganda about unis and we never stood up to it. It was media that celebrated the new campuses and frivolous new degrees because they were earning money from the advertising.

So universities are collapsing today because they were corrupted from within, and slowly the rot spread. Media benefitted. VC’s and administrative staff benefitted. Business consultancies, lecturers benefitted. People just treated universities as a never ending money resource.

Nobody cared that university cultures were deteriorating and students were not getting the robust, intellectual engagement they deserved, to become creative and innovative. The media kept pounding with the useless story of graduates, to deflect attention from the real culprit.

The collapse of the universities is a collapse of the soul.