Commentary on the Engineering baseline survey

 

KENET launched the 2015 Baseline Survey of Engineering Departments Report on 8th March 2016 at the Intercontinental Hotel, Nairobi. The launch was officiated by Dr. Fred Matiang’i, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Education Science, and Technology.

This first baseline survey of engineering departments was conducted over a period of 14 months from November 2014 to January 2016 and collected data from the 12 public universities and 44 engineering departments that were offering engineering degree programs as of November 2014. There were 54 different undergraduate engineering degree programs offered in Kenya in the 44 departments. The degree programs were classified into three main categories for analysis namely, civil and structural engineering (10); electrical and electronics engineering (13); and mechanical and mechatronic engineering (21). 

The data collected covered a period of four Academic Years (AYs) from AY 2011/2012 to AY 2014/2015, contains aggregated data on engineering student enrolment, engineering graduates at both undergraduate and post-graduate levels, and the full-time and part-time engineering faculty, and associated faculty-to-student ratios. 

The launch was attended by Vice Chancellors of the participating universities that offer engineering programs, deans of schools of engineering, members of the Special Interest Group on Engineering Education, the Commission for University Education, Institutions for Engineers of Kenya, Linking Industry with Academia (LIWA) and other industry stakeholders.

Giving the keynote speech, Education Cabinet Secretary Dr. Fred Matiang’i observed that the initiative by KENET was timely and would provide vital data, which will be used for policy formulation. He appreciated the fact that because of the KENET initiative there now exists data to base funding decisions on. He also acted against the incessant drive by the Universities for expansion by ordering the Commission for University Education to suspend issuing permits to Universities who wish to expand their reach through satellite campuses. Matiang’i said the government has stepped in to rein in what he sees as out-of-control extension of campuses in different cities and towns in Kenya and neighbouring countries. “We cannot allow this madness to continue in the education sector. We must put a stop to it,” he said. This first baseline survey of engineering departments contained new and previously unavailable aggregated data that will be of great use to the development of engineering education in Kenya.

According to Prof Meoli Kashorda the Executive Director of KENET and the Chairman of the Editorial Board of Kenya Engineer who presented the report, this baseline survey of engineering departments of Kenyan universities was part of the e-readiness survey of universities research series (http://ereadiness.kenet.or.ke). The e-readiness of an educational community (e.g., a university or a school of engineering) is a diagnostic assessment of the overall potential of the community to use Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) to transform and enhance teaching, learning, research and innovation. The assessment is based on an e-readiness assessment framework that was developed by the researchers specifically for higher education institutions and universities in developing countries like Kenya. It is based on a set of 17 indicators that are staged on a scale of 1 (unprepared) to 4 (ready). The 17 indicators are in turn derived from over 90 sub-indicators.  

The study showed that most undergraduate engineering students don’t pursue line courses at postgraduate level. Moreover, there were only 288 Masters and 35 PhD students enrolled in the AY 2014/2015, most of them in the three universities that had been offering engineering degree programs for at least 20 years (i.e., Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Moi University and the University of Nairobi).

The data collected by the researchers included student enrolment, full-time faculty members and their qualifications, institutional financial health data in addition to ICT access and affordability data. This is the kind of data that would be required by management of a university or by external accreditation bodies like the Engineers Board of Kenya (EBK) or the Commission for University Education (CUE). For example, one of the 17 indicators is titled ICT Research and Innovation and aims to measure the ICT research and innovation output of a university

In order to simplify the analysis all of the engineering departments and/or degree programs were grouped into three main categories:

a. Civil and Structural Engineering (CSE) departments or degree programs

b. Electrical and Electronics Engineering (EEE) departments or degree programs

c. Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering (MME) departments or degree programs (it includes agricultural engineering or bio-systems engineering)

According to the report published by KENET, the research established that there were 10,343 undergraduate engineering students enrolled in the AY 2014/2015, representing only 3.6 % of the of 289,336 total undergraduate student enrolment in the 12 universities. About 63% of the faculty members with PhDs were employees of three universities, namely, JKUAT, Moi University, and University of Nairobi. These were the only universities with critical mass of engineering faculty and had the potential to focus on engineering research and doctoral programs. Overall, only about 33% of the full-time faculty had a PhD and about 57% of the total faculty members, including assistant lecturers, were registered with EBK.

JKUAT had the highest number of full-time faculty at 118; this almost doubles the number of full time faculty in the following institution. JKUAT is followed by University of Nairobi with 63 and Moi University with 56 full-time faculty members. JKUAT also had the highest number of engineering faculty members with PhDs at 46 followed by UoN with 44 and Moi University with 31. This data was surprising considering that UoN had the oldest engineering departments started in 1971, followed by MU (1984) and then JKUAT (1986). Starting a decade and a half, later JKUAT has developed a critical mass in engineering faculty members larger than that of the University of Nairobi.

In aggregate terms, the 503 engineering faculty members were adequate for teaching the 10,343 undergraduate engineering students giving a faculty ratio of one lecturer per 21 students. However, the faculty members were spread over the 44 different departments in the 12 universities, and most of them were concentrated in three universities: JKUAT, MU and UoN. The interpretation of this assertion by the report is that most of the other nine universities offering engineering degree programs have neither adequate teaching nor research capacity.

The 193 doctoral level engineering faculty members have the potential to support a large number of undergraduate and postgraduate students at both master’s and PhD levels if concentrated in a few universities and fewer critical departments. The data also implies that the faculty to student ratio is acceptable at an aggregate level, meaning that there is adequate faculty in the country for all the enrolled engineering students. This observation goes against the common notion that we have limited tutors for engineering students in Kenya; it has two key policy implications:

1. If the engineering programs were concentrated in a few universities and departments, universities could offer better quality engineering education.

2. The three universities with a critical mass of faculty should serve as centres of faculty development and also focus on postgraduate studies in order to increase the number of PhD level faculty in Kenyan universities.

The results also shows that four universities, namely, EU, JKUAT, MU and UoN had awarded 36 PhD degrees from 2011 to 2014, most of them in the area of agricultural engineering. In fact, the EEE category departments awarded just two PhD degrees one by JKUAT and another by UoN, while CSE departments awarded only one PhD degree in this period. This represents a very low productivity, in terms of PhD student supervision and graduation. In addition, the researchers found that almost 50% of the PhD training takes place outside the country.

They further found that the number of master’s graduates were 4.6% of the graduates at undergraduate levels over a period of three years, 195 master’s graduates compared to 4,258 graduates at undergraduate. This suggests that the transition rate to master’s degree programs was very low. Engineering students seem to lack interest in continuing with their line courses in the country. They could be going outside the country to pursue engineering courses or transferring to other departments to do their masters say business departments. The other questions raised by this data include, do engineers care for masters degrees, and if they do what courses do they prefer at the postgraduate level.  It would also be interesting to discover what percentage of the graduates actually go into practising engineering and progress to become registered as professional Engineers.

The above findings could inspire a research on where engineering graduates go after graduating. Since they do not go back to their undergraduate institutions for further education yet the industry claims there is a shortage of engineers, it could be interesting to know where they end up in.

The researchers give the following recommendations from their report

1. Reduce the number of degree programs and departments to ensure critical mass of faculty in each degree program is achieved.

2. Implement an incentive mechanism for Engineering Faculty e.g. Payment of non-practicing allowance OR implement differential pay for critical disciplines to achieve to attract young engineers into universities and retain them in academia.

3. Improve faculty motivation, working environments, remuneration, research grants, travel grants  and scholarships for Masters and PhD students by Universities and the government 

4. Conduct detailed demand-side study for engineering graduates demand and their employment skills. This could be done in conjunction with the Institution of the Engineers of Kenya and the industry

While the report explores many vital issues in engineering departments it would also be important to consider the data on the other stakeholders that are vital to engineering education like technologists, workshop assistants and lab assistants. 

Other areas of research would answer question like, why do PHDs and other faculty prefer certain institutions to others. Do different discipline thematic leaders prefer different institutions? Is there succession planning within the faculties? What is the age distribution among members of faculty?

How responsive are the departments with aligning their priorities with the national goals like the Vision 2030, the discovery of oil and the development of railways. Do the departments have ways and mechanisms of engaging the industry? It would also be interesting to discover what drives the expansion of universities and the setting up of numerous engineering departments even when faculty requirements are not attainable.

 

Leave a Reply