Engineering education and professional development are vital for Kenya’s development as it strives to compete in an increasingly globalized world. Kenya’s engineers bring a variety of skills that are fundamental to the success of not only many large and small enterprises, but to the nation. Unfortunately, there is an acute lack of qualified engineers in Kenya possessing the requisite skill sets. This is a systemic problem, encompassing government, the private sector, universities, technical training institutions and professional bodies – all of which share some of the blame.
The bad news is that engineering education in Kenya, to include accreditation of university and degree programmes and therefore access to engineering education, has entered a period of deep crisis. In particular, engineering professional bodies and certain government ministries are at loggerheads, not only with one another but with the country’s many universities and technical training colleges. The magnitude of the engineering crisis is too broad to cover in this article. Rather, this is a neutral exploration of the current engineering accreditation process and key actors. It is also an attempt ascertain what is stake, detail the implications of the current crisis if left unresolved, and explores possible solutions.
Engineering Education in Kenya
For a variety of historical reasons, many engineering programmes were initially structured to suit the registration requirements of the UK’s engineering professional societies. Six years after independence, in 1969, Kenya’s parliament enacted the Engineers Registration Act, which established the Engineers Registration Board (ERB). Given the dearth of universities at the time, the ERB only recognized the engineering qualifications of the University of Nairobi and UK engineering degrees. The ERB also chartered qualifications for the purpose of registration with the board. The ERB remained in force until passage of The Engineers Act, 2011, which repealed the ERB Act. This led to the creation of the Engineers Board of Kenya (EBK) and defined various parameters that must be satisfied in order for engineering degree programmes to be accredited for purposes of registration by the EBK. In recent years the situation has changed, and the EBK is no longer the only actor responsible for accreditation. This has had major implications.
Engineering Accreditation in Kenya: The Stakeholders
Engineers Board of Kenya (EBK): The EBK has the overall mandate of developing and regulating engineering practice in Kenya, as articulated in the Engineers Act, 2011. The EBK is responsible for the regulation of standards in the engineering profession and the building of capacity for individual engineers and engineering firms. The EBK registers Graduate Engineers, Professional Engineers, Consulting Engineers, engineering firms and so forth. Additionally, the EBK is expected to approve and accredit university engineering programmes in Kenya. Yet accreditation is arguably a minor, albeit extremely important function of the EBK. Indeed, its website lists not less than 24 functions and powers with accreditation being number 12. Specifically, the EBK is mandated to “Approve and accredit engineering programs in public and private universities and other tertiary level educational institutions offering education in engineering.” The EBK is also supposed to set standards for engineers in management, marketing, professional ethics, environmental issues, safety, legal matters or any other relevant field; prepare detailed curriculum for registration of engineers and conduct professional examinations for the purposes of registration; and establish a school of engineering and provide facilities and opportunities for learning, professional exposure and skills acquisition, and cause continuing professional development programmes for engineers to be held, for example. In other words, the EBK is a very busy professional body with multiple functions. Yet it has recently fought a protracted and ongoing battle with a government commission, the Commission for University Education (CUE), over the issue of accreditation.
The Commission for University Education (CUE): The CUE was established by an Act of Parliament, Universities Act, No. 42 of 2012 as the successor to the Commission for Higher Education which was established under Universities Act Cap 210B of 1985. Its mandate, according to the CUE website, is “to promote the objectives of university education, by regulating and accrediting universities and programmes, among other functions.” Specifically functions 10-12 state the CUE must accredit universities in Kenya; regulate university education in Kenya; and accredit and inspect university programmes in Kenya. Thus, the CUE has a massive mandate from the Government of Kenya to serve all Kenyans by ensuring the provision of quality education at the university level across the board. Yet, like the EBK, it has recently focused an undue amount of energy and time on the issue of accreditation, particularly engineering education accreditation, leading the CUE to clash publicly with the EBK.
From the above, it is apparent that both the EBK and the CUE have overlapping mandates in terms of accreditation: the CUE is responsible for the accreditation of all university programmes; the EBK for engineering programmes. This is arguably the fault of competing Acts of Parliament passed over the past few years by Kenya’s MPs.
In order to address the accreditation crisis, it is important to note that the dilemma of providing engineering educational opportunities to qualified Kenyans cannot be simplified to the current standoff between the CUE and the EBK and conflictual Acts of Parliament. Rather, it stems from a number of domestic and international structural variables, to include lack of financial resources, rising foreign debt, and a limited distributive capacity. In addition, Kenya has been unable to provide enough engineering degree programmes, facilities, teachers, and resources to keep up with this demand, resulting in compromised quality of education.
The Kenyan government arguably faces the predicament of much-needed educational expansion that corresponds with economic development. It is common knowledge that increasingly rapid changes in technology across the engineering sector (structural, ICT, electrical etc.) require that Kenya effectively address deficiencies in both engineering education and continued professional development in a timely, consistent and holistic fashion. The paucity of Kenyan engineers is not something new and one that led Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (KETRACO) MD Joel Kiilu to state in 2013, “The challenge is that we have are facing shortage of engineers. The market is not providing enough, when we advertise for engineering jobs, we rarely get the number we require.”
At present, out of the twelve universities offering engineering courses in Kenya, only six have been accredited by the EBK to offer degree courses. They are Dedan Kimathi University of Technology, Egerton University (only agricultural engineering courses are approved), JKUAT, Kenyatta University, Moi University and the University of Nairobi. In direct contradiction to the EBK, the CUE, as of November 2015, listed 23 public chartered universities as fully accredited. Which programmes are accredited and which are not remains something of a mystery, but a potential engineering student in Kenya would assume from the CUE’s list that the engineering programmes at the Technical University of Mombasa or Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST) are fully accredited. Yet according to the EBK, they are not. Given this confusing situation, the responsibility of the CUE and the EBK to solve their differences is essential. This is also an arguably an easier step to take than reforming, renewing and rebuilding the entire engineering education sector – something which will never be accomplished effectively, consistently and in a timely fashion unless the CUE and the EBK compromise.
Adding fuel to the fire is understandable confusion on the part of universities vis-à-vis conflicting demands of the CUE and the EBK. For example, the CUE currently demands university lecturers hold a Ph.D. Yet, the EBK demands that the lecturer heading a faculty of engineering must be an EBK-registered engineer. Many universities have argued as to the difficulty in finding registered engineers with the required academic credentials (Ph.D. and EBK-approved registered engineer). This is further exacerbated by the fact that qualified Kenyans may be unwilling to head a faculty of engineering as a dean or head of department largely due to poor terms of service as well as the ongoing political battles being waged over education in the country. In other words, job insecurity rather than job security for Kenya’s university lecturers and administration is the order of the day and attracting talent to teach Kenya’s future engineers becomes that much harder.
Until this crisis is resolved, the shortage of qualified engineers will continue to plague Kenya. This will have unfortunate ripple effects, many of which can already be seen on the horizon. First, the likely decline in interest of students to study engineering will occur given the hurdles accompanying accreditation. Students will ask whether they should bother attending engineering courses at the Technical University of Kenya (TU-K), for example, which has 1,764 engineering undergraduate students. However, TU-K’s courses have yet to be approved by the EBK, but TU-K is accredited by the CUE. Second, fewer universities offering engineering programmes means fewer engineering graduates and therefore fewer Kenyan engineers. This is on account of not only accreditation hurdles, but confusion over the conflicting policies of the EBK and the CUE. Third, the lack of Kenyan engineers will only magnify the current situation whereby major infrastructure projects such as the standard gauge railway (SGR), port expansion in Mombasa and port construction in Lamu, and road building rely not only on foreign capital but also largely on foreign expertise. These legacy projects, in effect, will have no Kenyan legacy because the requisite knowledge and on-the-job training skills will be lost. This will occur – and is occurring – either because Kenyan engineers are unqualified, unavailable or are simply ignored because they do not possess the requisite skills and therefore registration as engineers. This, of course, has one final implication and worst case scenario. Kenya will not only be unable to repair, upgrade and maintain infrastructure from ICT to railways, it will also never possess the local knowledge and expertise to plan and build these projects themselves, thus leading to a system of perpetual reliance on outside assistance.
Huge Mandates; Huge Responsibilities
In essence, the CUE’s responsibilities are arguably too broad. It is responsible for the regulation and accreditation of Kenya’s growing number of universities and of all university education. This massive mandate has put the CUE not only at loggerheads with the EBK, but also the Council of Legal Education (CLE). Given the CUE’s responsibilities, the commission could arguably rely on the expert advice of the EBK when it comes to curricula and engineering education. The CUE should perhaps maintain responsibility for accrediting institutional capacity vis-à-vis facilities: engineering laboratories, workshops and the like. The EBK would then maintain purview over curricula design, standards and the qualifications of lecturers, for example. A compromise could be reached by both bodies in regards to the qualifications of lecturers, deans and head of departments.
However, the EBK’s mandate is also huge. By constructing obstacles, albeit well-meaning and ostensibly in the professional interest of Kenya’s engineers, the EBK has winnowed its own ranks thereby making it difficult to accredit engineering programmes and register engineers in a timely fashion. The EBK is correct that many universities in Kenya are severely lacking in educational capacity, but the EBK arguably also needs to take a holistic and gradual approach in order to address the massive engineering education deficiencies that only continue to metastasize.
The Canadian Answer
Canada may hold a possible answer. As far back as the 1980s, and undergoing a similar accreditation crisis, Engineers Canada, a voluntary professional association, and ABET, a professional accreditation body akin to the EBK, affected a compromise whereby they agreed to recognize the accreditations of the other body. In order to do this, both professional associations came to a number of agreements on everything from the registration of engineers, curricula design, laboratory standards and the credentials of lecturers and university administrative staff. In effect, both bodies now work symbiotically for the greater good of engineering education across Canada rather than fighting over accreditation fiefdoms and using Acts of Parliament as obstacles rather than bridges to compromise.
The Good and Bad News
The good news in Kenya is that the government is cognizant of the ongoing crisis and taking steps to solve it. An eleven-member committee was reportedly constituted in October 2015 to amend and harmonise laws governing universities, professional bodies and government ministries – specifically the CUE and the EBK. The committee is reportedly chaired by the Principal Secretary State Department of Science and Technology, Prof Collette Suda, and co-chaired by the Principal Secretary State Department of Education, Dr Belio Kipsang and will comprise various stakeholders from the ministries of Education, Transport and Infrastructure, selected public and private universities, the legal fraternity and professional bodies.
The bad news is that no compromise has yet been reached and information on the committee is scant. The other piece of bad news is that lines have already been drawn in the sand. According to reports, the CUE Secretary, Professor David Some said the situation between the CUE and the EBK can only be resolved if the National Assembly reviews and amends the various Acts, providing for only one body to be solely responsible for accreditation of university academic programmes in Kenya. The EBK’s stance appears to be the same. As such, suggestions put forward for compromise by the chairman of the Association of Vice Chancellors of Private Universities Professor John Odhiambo that “… the CUE be responsible for the accreditation as stipulated in the Universities Act 2012 but let them involve in a procedural way the professional bodies in this process,” or by the chairman of the Association of Public Universities, Prof Dominic Were Makawiti, that the CUE be responsible for regulating courses while the EBK should be responsible for regulating practice appear to be going nowhere.
The irony is that both the CUE and the EBK are dedicated to improving education in Kenya. Indeed, this is their mandate. Yet, their current standoff is having precisely the opposite effect. Engineering education across the board is suffering as a result. The power of politics and the politics of power are at play. As certain Kenyan academics have cogently and presciently argued, education cannot be separated from politics; it is always an extension thereof. Therefore, the training, recruiting and promotion of both students and teachers are all politically engineered.
An Act of Parliament may very well be needed to legally break the current deadlock. Yet there is nothing stopping the wise men and women at the CUE and the EBK from first depoliticizing the issue of engineering education in Kenya. By first arriving at agreements regarding what is best for Kenya and Kenyans, legislation would easily pass as MPs would have nothing to squabble about. In doing so, both bodies can then attempt to solve some of the major institutional failures existent at Kenya’s universities, thereby raising the level of engineering education, the number of engineering students and graduates, and putting Kenya’s engineers to back to work now and the future.
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