Members of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) are expressing concern over ‘substandard’ universities which are producing graduates with knowledge that is far short of the required level in the East African Community (EAC). They called for action to address the problem. They made the appeal during the EALA Plenary that adopted the report of this regional parliament' Committee on General Purpose on the oversight activity to assess the progress made by the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA) in the harmonisation of education systems in the EAC. IUCEA is an institution of EAC responsible for coordinating the development of higher education and research in the region. It currently has 133 members, including both public and private higher learning institutions, the Committee report indicated. This number, it said, is expected to increase significantly with the demand of higher education in the region continuing to increase, triggered by the corresponding expansion of basic education in all the EAC Partner States. George Stephen Odongo said that substandard universities are something that the region should deal with to save its education system. “There is an epidemic that has hit the East African Community, it’s an epidemic of higher institutions of learning. There are so many that today you get a qualification from this university and after one month, you can’t trace where it [that institution] is,” he said. “Education goes to the very heart of our social transformation,” he said, indicating that it is critical to development and that the Inter-University Council of East Africa should have all the necessary support it requires for it to be able to dispense its function effectively. “I think it’s time that this Assembly and the Community begin to pay much attention to the accrediting of these institutions that have become an embarrassment to our community,” he said. MP Thoar Gatpan Gideon said that there are some universities and colleges that have just cropped up and are exploiting EAC citizens by offering degrees [as academic papers without useful knowledge] to graduates. “I think it’s high time that the East African Community addresses this kind of institutions so that we can the quality education that we want,” he said, indicating that some of the university graduates are unable to speak [effectively] any of the languages of the EAC, or demonstrate in terms of writing, wondering whether they can contribute to the development of the Community. For MP Susan Nakawuki Nsambu, there is an entrenched national interest in all our Partner States when it comes to issues of harmonisation of academic systems and academic curricula. “We have been decrying the standards of the universities we have in the region,” he said. She suggested that there was a lack of urgent attention within the EAC Council of Ministers to adopt a plan to transform the IUCEA into a regional body that would grant accreditation to universities. “And there is no doubt that the IUCEA has the capacity to do that. But for selfish reasons, the Council of Ministers could not even agree on this very small matter that would take our education system ahead. And that’s why we have lukewarm graduates,” she said. The abovementioned EALA Committee recommended the harmonisation of accreditation practices in the EAC region. This, it said, will increase visibility and recognition of the higher education institutions/programmes and promote student and [academic] staff mobility. According to the Committee, the increased demand for higher education at national, regional and global levels, make IUCEA an important institution to support national and regional coordinated strategies for fostering higher education and research development in the region. University tuition harmonisation in EAC The Committee said it observed the different tuition fees for students, charged by higher education institutions in the EAC Partner States, which poses a challenge in promoting cross-border student mobility in the region. In view of this issue, the Assembly adopted the Committee recommendation to urge the EAC Council of Ministers to request Partner States' member universities [/higher learning institutions] to adopt a common fees structure model for regional students at both public and private higher education institutions in the region. EALA heard that the drive for harmonisation of higher education in the region came into force in July 2010 after the establishment of the EAC Common Market Protocol, which prompted the need to make higher education systems uniform in the Community, among others, ease mobility of learners and labours across the Partner States borders.