By Dr. Peter K. Ndiba, Senior Lecturer, Department of Civil & Construction Engineering, University of Nairobi.
Regulation of engineering education in Kenya has evolved with the wider education sector. Growth of universities from one to over 70 led to establishment of the Commission for University Education (CUE) with the mandate to accredit university programmes. Concurrently, the Engineering Act of 2011 mandated the Engineering Board of Kenya (EBK) to approve and accredit engineering programmes. The duality in accreditation led to uncoordinated and sometimes contradicting directives. To address the duality, the University (Amendment) Act No. 48 of 2016 has vested accreditation mandate on CUE superseding any other law. This paper identifies regulatory gaps created by the act and suggests mitigation measures through administration of a graduate engineers’ registration examination.
Transforming Kenya into a middle-income country as envisioned by Vision 2030 requires the practice of effectively regulated professions. The practice of engineering profession is critical in developing and safeguarding the nation’s infrastructural systems that includes buildings, transportation, telecommunication, power, water supply, sanitation and industries. Regulation of engineering profession is through accreditation of engineering programmes in universities, registration of professional engineers and setting of standards for engineers. The regulation of engineering education has evolved with the wider education sector that has grown from one public university in the 1980s to over 70 public and private universities currently. Regulation of university education has been through separate legal provisions of the Commission for University Education (CUE) and of the Engineering Board of Kenya (EBK). The different provisions created a duality in regulation resulting in uncoordinated and sometimes contradicting directives. In an attempt to resolve the duality, the University (Amendment) Act No. 48 2016 has vested the mandate for accreditation of programmes on CUE superseding any other contrary law. Subsequent to enactment of the Act, some professional bodies have obtained prohibitive orders on implementation of the Act pending court determination. This paper details the development of regulation of university education and engineering professions leading to enactment of the Amendment Act. The paper identifies regulatory gaps created by the Act, examines practices in other professions and jurisdictions and suggests mitigation measures.
- Development of Regulation of University Education in Kenya
The first seven public universities in Kenya were establishment under individual Acts of Parliament. The arrangement allowed for self-regulation through university organs headed by the senates and for external regulation by the responsible Government Ministry. However, emergence of private universities necessitated institutional reforms leading to establishment of the Commission for Higher Education (CHE) under Universities Act Cap 210B of 1985. The need to grow the number of public universities and the cumbersome process of enacting Acts of Parliament for individual universities led to enactment of the University Act No. 42 of 2012 covering all universities. To regulate both public and private universities, the Act established the Commission for University Education (CUE), replacing CHE, as the Government agency mandated to regulate university education.
The Commission for University (CUE) has a wide mandate that includes promoting, setting standards and assuring relevance in quality of university education, monitoring and evaluating the state of university education systems in relation to the national development goals and developing policy for criteria and requirements for admission to universities. Other functions include undertaking regular inspections, monitoring and evaluation of universities for compliance with set standards and guidelines; accrediting universities; regulating university education; and accrediting and inspecting university programmes. CUE regulates the university education using three legal tools; namely:
- The Universities Act, No. 42 of 2012, revised 2013;
- The Universities Regulations of 2014; and
- The Universities Standards and Guidelines of 2014.
The purpose of the Universities Standards and Guideline is to guide the development, implementation, quality assurance and review of academic programmes. The programmes range from a minimum of three for new universities to over 300 for older universities, covering the entire spectrum of university education. To manage the large number of programmes, CUE has classified them into six groups; namely, Arts and Humanities, Social Sciences, Pure and Natural Sciences, Medical and Allied Sciences, and Applied Sciences under which engineering falls. Additionally, CUE has developed procedures for accreditation of programmes that involve the use resource persons from both universities and industry to evaluate curriculums and inspection teaching facilities.
Because of the unique nature and roles of professions such as medicine, law and engineering, their education requires the safeguards of close monitoring by peers. Accordingly, Acts of Parliament setting up the professional bodies mandated them to regulate the training of their respective professionals. Furthermore, based on their mandate to regulate training, professional bodies enter into international agreements for comparability, compatibility, coherence and harmonization of education systems. These agreements facilitate mutual recognition for cross border mobility of professionals. The University Act of 2012, while establishing CUE to regulate university education, was silent on the prior mandates of professional bodies to regulate education of professionals. Attempts by both CUE and professional bodies to carry out their mandates separately have resulted in contradicting requirements on the teaching institutions. For example, on several occasions professional bodies have halted the teaching of CUE accredited programmes. Thus, the different regulatory mandates required addressing.
- Regulation of Engineering Practice in Kenya
The Engineers Board of Kenya (EBK), established under Section 3(1) of the Engineers Act of 2011, has the overall mandate of developing and regulating engineering practice in Kenya. EBK took on an expanded role of its predecessor, the Engineers Registration Board (ERB) established by the Engineers Registration Act of 1969 and revised in 2009. The Engineers Act 43 of 2011 mandated EBK to among other things accredit engineering programmes in universities, register and license professional engineers and set standards for engineers in management, marketing, professional ethics, environmental issues, safety, legal matters or any other relevant field. Accordingly, the vision of EBK is “safe, efficient and effective engineering infrastructure, systems and processes for Kenya.” Moreover, its mission is “to ensure production of competent engineers and quality engineering services through regulation, capacity building and enforcing compliance with set engineering standards for improved socio-economic development.”
EBK registers engineers in a two-stage process; namely, graduate and professional engineers registrations. Registration of Graduate Engineers relies on possession of Bachelor’s Degrees from accredited programmes while that for Professional Engineers on demonstration of acceptable practical experience, and professional interviews. EBK licenses engineers through issuance of annual practicing licenses.
Engineering education is fundamental to the practice of engineering. Accordingly, regulation of engineering education is a critical element of regulation of engineering profession. Engineers Registration Act Cap 530 of 1969 was not explicit on accreditation of programmes. However, Section 11 (1) (b) (ii) required registration “of a degree, diploma or license of a university or school of engineering, which may be recognized for the time being by the Board as furnishing sufficient evidence of an adequate academic training in engineering.” Implicitly, therefore, the Board needed to evaluate and approve the institutions offering engineering education. Engineers Act 43 of 2011 was explicit on the role of EBK in regulation of engineering education. Section 7 (l) of the Act requires the EBK to approve and accredit engineering programs in public and private universities and other tertiary level educational institutions offering education in engineering. The Act, therefore, gives EBK explicit mandate to regulate engineering education.
- Regulatory Gaps Created by University (Amendment) Act No. 48 of 2016
The failure of University Act of 2012 to reconcile regulatory mandates of professional bodies with that of CUE created a duality in programme accreditation that pit professional bodies against CUE. The enactment of University (Amendment) Act No. 48 of 2016 sought to resolve the duality in the accreditation of programmes. Section 5(2) of the Act vests the mandate for approval or accreditation of any academic programme in Universities on CUE despite the provision of any other law. Section 5(3) gives CUE discretion to consult any relevant body established by written law to regulate related academic programme while Section 5(4) allows it to engage professional bodies and associations to carry out inspections on its behalf. However, Section 5(5) makes it an offence for any person without the authority of CUE to accredit, recognize, audit or inspect a university, and imposes penalties for its contravention. By subjecting the regulatory role of EBK and other professional bodies to the discretion CUE, these sections deny them the right to exercise their mandates. The denial of authority for professional bodies to accredit programmes creates gaps in regulation of professions. The gaps created are as follows.
- Lack of Guarantee of Adequate Academic Training
Without a direct and enforceable role in engineering education, EBK has no assuarance that graduates seeking registration have had requisite academic training. Therefore, it is unable to fulfil its mandate of regulating the engineering profession for the development and safeguard of the nation’s infrastructural systems.
- Lack of Specialized Standards
Effective regulation of the education of a profession requires specialization in the area of study. CUE is responsible for a broad-spectrum of over 300 academic programmes in universities. To manage their accreditation, CUE has divided them into six groups for which it has set common standards. Engineering falls under Applied Sciences, a broad classification of disciplines that includes agronomy, architecture, computing technology and environmental science. The common standards set for the broad classification may not necessarily meet the specific requirements for engineering. For example, the 2240 hours set as minimum instructional hours for Applied Sciences are insufficient for engineering disciplines. Accordingly, while CUE may regulate the broader aspects of programmes, it may not fully appreciate the specialized requirements of engineering disciplines.
- Lack of authority to Incorporate Institutional Objectives
CUE regulates programs to meet its objectives as the regulator of university education. Although resource persons provide technical input in the accreditation process, they work within the objectives and standards of CUE. With enactment of the Amendment Act, EBK and other professional bodies lack the authority to incorporate their objectives in accreditation of programmes.
- Inability to meet Mutual Recognition Agreements
Following enactment of the Amendment Act that deny EBK as well as other professional bodies the authority to enforce standards in academic programmes, EBK will not be able to meet international obligations for mutual recognition of qualifications that are essential for mobility of engineers to other jurisdictions.
- Mitigation Measures
Engineers Act of 2011 charges EBK with the registration of engineers after gaining requisite education and experience. While EBK has full control of the registration process for professional engineers based on their practical experience and professional interviews, the Amendment Act denies it the authority to intervene in education of engineers. Given the importance of professional education in safeguarding the practice of professions, EBK and other professional bodies should push for review of the Amendment Act to accommodate their mandate. Ideally, the Act should provide for collaborative regulation whereby EBK regulates aspects specific to their mandate leaving CUE to regulate the rest. Pending any review of the Act, EBK nevertheless should endeavor to play an active rather than passive role in regulation of engineering education including by collaborating with CUE.
Besides the restrictions imposed by the Amendment Act, EBK faces other challenges in regulation of engineering education. They include multiplicity of institutions offering engineering education that may be difficult to monitor and control; competition for paying students that may compromise admission criteria; and failure by institutions to engage qualified instructors. Others challenges include commercial interests leading to large enrollments and inadequate teaching resources. Therefore, the Amendment Act notwithstanding, there may be doubts as to whether graduates have received requisite education.
In legal education, graduate lawyers undergo vocational training at School of Law before admission to the bar, the legal equivalent of professional registration. However, only those who have successfully completed an internship programme or pupillage can practices as advocates (Kramer, 2017). Out of concern of the quality of graduates seeking admission for vocational training, the School of Law administers a pre-bar or entrance examination but exempts some categories of applicants (Kenya School of Law, 2017). In the US, engineering graduates are required to sit for Fundamentals of Engineers’ Examination administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), before joining engineering profession as Trainee Engineers (Texas Board of Professional Engineers, 2017).
Faced with the challenges of regulating engineering education on one hand and the need to safeguard the practice of engineering on the other, EBK needs to develop a tool for vetting graduate engineers seeking to join the engineering profession. A suitable vetting tool could be a graduate engineers’ registration examination. The benefit of the examination would be threefold; namely,
- Safeguard the practice of engineering professions from unqualified graduates.
- Cause students to take their studies seriously in view of the examination
- Motivate universities to improve the quality of programmes to support performance of their graduates.
Because the suggested examination is postgraduate, it should not replicate examinations in the learning process. Rather, it should assess the attainment of the expected learning outcomes of engineering education; namely, knowledge, skills and attitudes. Engineering graduates with the required learning outcomes possess certain attributes and characteristics. The suggested graduate engineers’ registration examination could assess possession of attributes of engineers identified by Pollard et al. (2010) and Hundley and Brown (2013) as:
- Basic knowledge of engineering science, mathematics, socio-economics and information technology
- Engineering competencies in conceptualization, design, construction, manufacture, operation and maintenance of structure, processes and systems
- Communicate effectively technically through design reports, drawings and specifications, and digitally literate in design, drawings production, report writing, and presentation
- Understand execution of engineering projects and production/fabrication procedures
- Flexibility to innovate by developing sustainable solutions in changing circumstances through critical thinking and creativity
- Conscious of the impacts of engineering decisions on economic, environment, health and safety, and social and cultural aspects of society
- Bound to ethical conduct and professionalism
The suggested examination is a threshold examination aimed at assessing attainment of the minimum qualifications for a career in engineering. Accordingly, the threshold needs clear definition to lock out objectively and non-punitively only those who fail to meet the minimum requirements. Additionally, there should be assistance in preparation and allowance for retakes.
The EBK has a critical role in development and safeguarding of the nations’ infrastructural systems and industry through regulation of engineering practice. This paper on the implications of University (Amendment) Act No. 48 of 2016 arrived at the following conclusions.
- University (Amendment) Act No. 48 of 2016 requires review to address gaps created in the regulation of professions.
- Given the importance of engineering education in the practice of engineering and despite restrictions imposed by the University (Amendment) Act No. 48, EBK should endeavor to play an active rather than passive role in regulation of engineering education, including by collaborating with CUE.
- The existing challenges of regulating engineering education including the restrictions imposed by University (Amendment) Act No. 48 makes it necessary for EBK to administer a graduate engineers’ registration examination to vet graduates.
- The suggested graduate engineers’ registration examination as a post-graduation examination should not replicate examinations in the learning process but assess attainment of the expected learning outcomes of knowledge, skills and attitude.
Adam Kramer (2007). Bewigged and Bewildered: Pupillage and a Career at the Bar. Hart Publishing. ISBN 1-84113-651-4.
Hundley S and Brown L.G (2013). The Attributes of a Global Engineer Project: Updates, Inputs, Faculty Development Considerations. American Society of Engineering Education. ASEE International Forum, Paper ID # 8302
Kenya School of Law (2017). Application for Pre-Bar Examination 2016/2017 Academic Year http://www.ksl.ac.ke/index.php/2013-10-28-09-05-30/20-news-events/news-highlights/178-application-for-pre-bar-examinations-2016-2017-academic-year (Downloaded April 19 2017)
Pollard, D, Best R, Bonner D, Chinn R. (2010). Subject benchmark statement: Engineering. The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education ISBN 978 1 84979 224 0
Texas Board of Professional Engineers (2017). https://engineers.texas.gov/lic_exams.htm. (Downloaded April 19 2017)
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