Universities the world over pride themselves as fountains of the knowledge that drives economies to prosperity.
The desire of students enrolled in the public and private universities in Kenya is to benefit from teaching and research that will stimulate their capacity and ability to participate in nation building.
The link between universities and development depends on the quality of the education value chain, from primary through secondary to the highest level.
While the government has implemented reforms in education as President Uhuru Kenyatta stated on Tuesday, a lot still needs to be done to ensure university graduates are equipped with the right skills.
Education sector reforms have mainly focused on the weak links in primary and secondary school education, including facilities and exams.
Strides have been made in improving social equity through education by removing tuition and exam fees for learners at the primary and secondary levels.
It has also introduced digital learning and revived technical and vocational training to increase opportunities for learners terminating at the primary and secondary level to acquire relevant job or entrepreneurial skills.
These reforms ensure a level playing field and have potential life-long transformation of the 10.3 million learners in primary and 2.7 million in secondary schools, irrespective of the status of their parents.
The government must undertake critical reforms in university education to strengthen its relevance to development.
The first critical reform is to link student enrolment with capacity and quality of facilities.
Enrolment increased by 10.5 per cent to 564,507 students last year, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.
This was driven by demand for university education, an expanding middle class and ease of financing education.
The universities continue to admit students, even though their facilities cannot cope with the demand.
The public perception is that the institutions have become money making ventures, churning out graduates, whose knowledge has little relevance to the economy.
The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology must ensure that universities only admit the number of students they can handle.
Secondly, they should focus on quality and relevance of courses.
Manufacturing sector employers say they are unable to get graduates with the right knowledge and skills.
The government needs to enforce a policy to expand investment by universities in facilities for science and technology courses, the foundations for skills required by the industrial sector.
Universities need to strengthen their link with industry, and help upgrade training in technical and vocational institutions, which supply artisan and middle-level skills critical for industrial development.
The third reform relates to the quality and administration of examinations.
Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i needs to whip the universities into line the way he has done with primary and secondary schools.
There’s so much talk about how exams are administered and results moderated in the backroom, that sometimes employers can be excused of not taking graduate certificates at face value.
The exam system must inspire confidence that graduates are ready for the job and entrepreneurial opportunities in the market.
The last reform affects the reputation of universities as symbols of national unity and equity.
The universities have failed to deal with two chronic problems — their use as a playground for political activism and cronyism, which breeds opportunities for particular communities and interest groups to dominate key leadership positions. Universities need to shape up to effectively support Kenya’s transformation agenda.
Mr Warutere is a director of Mashariki Communications Ltd, [email protected]