Move to abolish parallel degrees


Published on 30/03/2009

By Sam Otieno

Parallel degree programmes that have opened higher education opportunities for thousands of Kenyans at public universities might be abolished.

The Government has accepted a recommendation of the Public Universities Inspection Board that was set up about five years ago to study public university education.

It was chaired by Prof Kabiru Kinyanjui and the board’s findings were presented to President Kibaki on April 25 2007.

It proposed that universities merge the parallel course with the regular one through which 16,000 students join the seven public universities annually under the Joint Admissions Board.

In some universities, the number of regular and parallel students is even.

But the proposal has been rejected by vice-chancellors, who have termed it unworkable.

In a letter to the Commission for Higher Education (CHE) and Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) chief executives and vice-chancellors of public universities, Education PS Karega Mutahi said key recommendations of the report had been identified for implementation.

Some of the proposals include de-linking admission from bed spaces at university hostels and modalities for integrating all students.

This, it is argued, will remove the distinction between regular and parallel students.

“In an effort to urgently improve access to public universities, the ministry has isolated key recommendations of the report for immediate implementation,” said Prof Mutahi in a May 14 2007 letter.

Mutahi requested universities to implement the recommendations with immediate effect.

“In the meantime, the Ministry of Education is putting in place modalities to address long-term recommendations and those that have huge financial implications for the Government,” said Mutahi.

Another proposal recommends that Kenya and Mombasa polytechnics offer degree programmes of the University of Nairobi and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. However, they must continue offering diploma and certificate courses.

This recommendation has been implemented following the appointment of university councils for the two polytechnics last year.

The board also recommended that CHE be restructured to make it an effective quality assurance agency for university education.

It also recommends that Helb be strengthened so that it can give loans to all needy students — private, public or parallel.

But on the parallel courses’ proposal, Vice-Chancellors Committee Chairman George Magoha said the Government should provide more money if the integration of the parallel and regular degree programmes were to succeed.

“Some things can be discussed on paper, but cannot be implemented practically,” Prof Magoha, who is also the VC of the University of Nairobi, told The Standard.

He disclosed that Vice-Chancellors had proposed a formula through which the Government would fund students depending on the cost of the courses they were in.

But the move would have been very expensive and this is why the Module II programmes (parallel degree courses) were introduced in 2000.

In the programme, students pay the full cost of the course unlike their regular counterparts who are subsidised by the Government.

Parallel students studying for a degree in medicine pay Sh450,000 a year. And this is the cost of tuition alone. They fend for themselves and pay for their accommodation.

Science parallel students pay Sh150,000 and those in humanities Sh120,000. But their regular programme counterparts pay Sh28,500 a year. They apply for loans and bursaries from Helb of a minimum Sh35,000 and maximum Sh60,000.

The Government pays universities Sh200,000 for every regular student annually irrespective of the course. Universities have long lamented the low funding.

Magoha, for example, said the Government gives Sh260 million a month to the University of Nairobi although it uses Sh350 million to pay staff salaries.

“If we rely on Government funding to run universities, we will not run the institutions effectively,” he said.

Speaking to The Standard yesterday, Higher Education Assistant minister Kilemi Mwiria said the merger of the two programmes was aimed at standardising education so that none of the two groups feels they get inferior instruction.

He concedes that the practicality of the merger was in doubt, and pointed out that the Government would not compel Vice-Chancellors to implement the proposal.

On fees, Dr Mwiria ruled out the possibility of parallel degree students paying less. “Universities have to raise funds,” he said, “and this is one of the ways.”

CHE Chief Executive Everett Standa says public universities are likely to ask for more money from the Government to supplement revenues from private students if the recommendation is implemented.

He said when universities solely relied on Government funding, they were heavily in debt, facilities were poor and infrastructure dilapidated.

“With the introduction of parallel degree programmes, universities look better,” concedes Prof Standa.

He goes on: “The general feeling is that regular and Module II students be integrated so that the word ‘parallel’ disappears and there is one students’ body who have attained a minimum university admission mark of C+.”

Standa, however, says the recommendation will meet resistance, especially from lecturers who earn more from teaching parallel degree students.

“The issue is still open to discussion and universities can discuss how best to handle the issue,” said Standa.

Helb has set aside Sh500 million to finance students in the parallel degree programme this academic year.

Helb Chief Executive Benjamin Cheboi is on record saying more than 10,000 self-sponsored students have expressed interest in loans.

The money will only be given to needy students because it is not enough to meet the demand.

Priority will be given to students who may have lost their jobs in the course of study or source of financing.

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