Other amendments in the proposed act hijack the creative innovations of universities by embedding them in law, and extend the reach of the Commission in processes that should ideally be approved by university councils.
These amendments were published on 24th November 2019 in an announcement about the launch of the approval presided by the Education CS, Prof Magoha, that was held two days later. The event was not covered by any of the mainstream media, and even the Commission itself has limited its reporting on the event to a facebook post. It is clear that the government wants to shield education reforms from public debate, with eyewitness accounts saying that at the meeting, Magoha threatened the "stakeholders" present with standard national exams for all universities if the universities opposed the amendments.
It is important to note that these amendments come in addition to several other gestures from the Ministry of Education to limit education, culture and thinking in Kenya, including the recent replacement of the education system in primary and high schools, the crushing of the teachers' union KNUT by their government employer, the Teachers' Service Commission.
Below is my citizen's response which I sent to the Commission, and I invite Kenyans to send their reflections to the Commission of University Education. Kenyans who may not want to get bogged down by technical details may copy paste and send this post, or if write a simple message asking the Commission to subject the amendments to public debate as required by the constitution. The email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
P.O. Box 54999 – 00200, Nairobi, Kenya
4th December 2019
RE: Response to the Proposed Amendments to the Universities Act (2019)
As a citizen of Kenya, I hereby present my feedback on the proposed amendments to the Universities Act (2019).
1. Public Participation
a. I regret to note that the Commission for University Education has unconstitutionally endorsed amendments to the Universities Act, because it has not sought the participation of the Kenyan public. These amendments should have been announced, at the very least, in all the universities, and the Commission should have met with university students and lecturers to hear their views.
b. In the case of the 2016 amendments that made anti-democratic changes to student political process, I have written elsewhere (Njoya, 2019) that the Commission is subverting the public participation requirement by substituting stakeholders for the public. Moreover, the Commission invites stakeholders with an interest in supporting the law to “endorse” the law, rather than inviting the public to subject laws governing education to the democratic process.
2. Special Universities
a. There is no need for an exceptional status for universities, like the Technical Universities (Part III) and Specialized Degree Awarding Institution (Part IV). These universities should simply follow the regulations that apply to other universities.
b. However, it seems that the real goal of Part III is to justify Part IV, which allows the government to set up universities on the basis of “strategic national importance as declared by the Cabinet,” and on the basis of a cabinet memo, statements which are a euphemism for setting up a university to promote the agenda of a sitting president.
c. This provision is anti-democratic and anti-intellectual, because it ties university education to the political agenda of a sitting regime. Knowledge production is supposed to be free of direct political interference because knowledge is for the public good.
d. The provision also is an affront to academic freedom because it will require academics employed by the university to pledge allegiance to a specific political and research agenda.
e. The provision also allows the President to exercise favoritism to special universities and neglect other public universities.
f. It defies reason that the government wants to establish a separate type of public university when it has been merging departments and putting a moratorium of the establishment of public universities.
g. Cabinet memos and special interests are too temporal basis for establishing universities, because, at least for now, the maximum number of years for each sitting president is 10 years. This is not enough time to build a university and establish degrees and courses, and it is unlikely that those courses will be relevant when there is a new president.
h. This agenda of influencing research can be done through research grants, scholarships and chairs, rather than building an entire university from scratch.
3. Crushing Academic Freedom with governmentality
a. My major criticism of the amendments is that it is crushing academic freedom by babysitting universities in their operations. The most egregious examples are Parts VIII and IX requiring universities to seek permission for university collaborations. These rules are simply administrative overreach and unnecessary for the following reasons that follow.
b. Collaborations are too minor an aspect of university life to require such heavy-handed supervision, to the point of submitting copies of MOU’s and subjecting them to regulation by committee. MOUs should be left to the university senates.
c. The Commission should not be engaging in minute details of university governance. The Commission is basically disempowering Vice-Chancellors and Senates and forming one centralized body to run all universities from Gigiri. If Kenyan academics are so untrustworthy, perhaps CUE should provide a report detailing what is wrong with us academics, so that we fix it, rather than waste the Commission’s time and tax payers’ money on close surveillance, rather than on actual education.
d. The amendments fail to take into account the international environment. Universities in other countries with which Kenyan universities may be seeking collaboration may not have the patience to wait for CUE’s approval and may decide to take their collaboration elsewhere.
e. These amendments do not in any way encourage foreign collaboration in knowledge; rather, they stifle collaboration. They are basically sending a message to Kenyan academics that they cannot collaborate with anyone unless they receive government approval.
f. Again, the framework for collaborations does not need to be embedded in law but to remain as university guidelines.
g. These regulations are an illustration of the Foucauldian concept of governmentality, where the tentacles of rules reach into intimate spaces of the lives of Kenyan academics. The goal of these regulations is not to improve education but to control academics’ lives. That is why they are an affront to academic freedom.
4. Administrative bloat and delays
a. With the kind of delays in receiving other approvals from the Commission, it is likely that additional regulations will further delay the work of universities awaiting regulation, and in turn, increase the likelihood of bribery and underhand deals due to universities being desperate to get on with their work.
b. It is ironical that with the message of the government that graduates should be entrepreneurs and not expect employment, and with complaints about the wage bill, that the Commission is creating more opportunities to either employ or contract more academics to do administrative work.
c. An increased need for academics to regulate means that more professors will be absent from classroom and supervision because they are going around the country doing the Commissions regulatory work. With these regulations, the message of CUE is that the purpose of university education is to become a regulator, not a teacher, mentor and researcher.
5. Institutionalization of Quality Assurance
a. Even with all this proposed handholding by the Commission, the amendments now entrench quality audit in law. As the academics at the Commission know, the roots of quality assurance are not academic but commercial and political, having been began as a university arms race between the United States and Europe to marketize education (Charlier & Croché, 2007; Hartmann, 2010).
b. It is not clear why we need a law to entrench a quality assurance office that organically emerged from universities without being required by the law. This means that universities and Kenyans are capable of coming up with new inventions without being required to do so by the government. The reason that could explain why the quality audit is now proposed to be embedded in law is the governmentality mindset of the Commission, which seeks to not only change what academics do, but also why they do it. As S J Ball put it, legal requirements similar to what the Commission is proposing “change what it means to be educated, what it means to teach and learn, what it means to be a teacher. They do not just change what we do; they also change who we are, how we think about what we do, how we relate to one another” (Ball, 2016, p. 1050).
c. Once again, legal requirement of quality audit offices mean that academic personnel who should involved in teaching, mentoring and research will be busy following and implementing regulation.
1. These amendments do not belong in the law books but in CUE guidelines for universities and in the case of “special interest” universities, should remain in Cabinet memos.
2. The amendments will remain unconstitutional if they are not subjected to public debate. Stakeholder consultation is not public participation, especially when the stakeholders are university leaders who would try to avoid getting on the wrong side of the Commission in order to keep operating.
3. The Commission is increasingly stifling academic freedom by extending its tentacles into every academic process. The Commission is now replacing humanity and the public good with meeting bureaucratic government requirements as the role of university education. The public needs to be aware of this, and that is why public participation is necessary for these amendments.
4. These amendments do not encourage the Commission’s stated mission of improving global competitiveness of Kenyan higher education. They instead reduce Kenyan academics and Senates to sitting ducks, raising questions as to why universities have Vice-Chancellors and Senates if their work is going to be increasingly done by the Commission.
Citizen and academic
Ball, S. J. (2016). Neoliberal education? Confronting the slouching beast. Policy Futures in Education, 14(8) 1046–1059. doi: 10.1177/1478210316664259.
Charlier, J-E. & Croché, S. (2007). The Bologna Process: The Outcome of competition between Europe and the United States and a stimulus to this competition. European Education, 39(4), 10–26.
Hartmann, E. (2010). The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation: Pawn or global player? Globalisation, Societies and Education, 8(2), 307-318. doi: 10.1080/14767721003780645.
Njoya, W. (2019, February 21). Who will speak for us now? Why amendments to the University Act are undemocratic. Retrieved from: https://www.theelephant.info/features/2019/02/21/who-will-speak-for-us-now-why-amendments-to-the-university-act-are-undemocratic/.