Recently, the Kenyan parliament launched investigations into operations of two Kenyan public universities holding campuses in Rwanda and Tanzania. The two are Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology (JKUAT) and Kenyatta University. Although Kenyatta University holds a campus in Tanzania, they are yet to start operations in Rwanda. On the other hand, JKUAT has been operating in Rwanda since 2013 enrolling several students from around the East African region.
The Education Times’ Solomon Asaba caught up with Dr Wilson Cheruiyot, the JKUAT Kigali campus director, for an insight into the recent developments and the university’s operations Rwanda.
Below are the excerpts;
The East African borders are open, and an institution from Kenyan can move to Rwanda, Uganda or Tanzania and open up a campus. What is your take on the developments that Kenyan public universities holding campuses in other countries are operating illegally?
My view on these new developments is that they are ill-informed by people who do not really understand the terms under the East African protocol. The protocol allows us to extend and offer education anywhere in the region. This is certainly because the education system has been made uniform around the region. Therefore, the lack of knowledge on these arrangements makes people assume that JKUAT operations are illegal outside Kenya. For instance, the Commission for Higher Education (CHE) in Kenya that handled the operations of accreditation before the current Commission for University Education (CUE) approved the opening of the Kigali campus. Meetings were held and at all times had the representation of the permanent secretary from the Ministry of Education and CHE as well, which means that the government was represented. Therefore, operating outside the Kenyan border is not illegal because our institutions were accredited. Even when we came to Rwanda, we sought approval from the Higher Education Council before starting operations.
What I can add is that in every business, there are competitors. Even in this business, some players who find other universities a threat generate most of these negative ideas. Like I said, CHE was the regulatory body at the time when we opened this campus and it was always represented in the main meetings that were taking place.
Therefore, everything that is coming up now is based on limited information.
It is common for institutions that start as purely science-oriented to later introduce arts courses. Even in this case, you started as a university of science and technology; why do such considerations later emerge?
While our strength was in agriculture and technology when we started this college, as time went by, we realised that people in technology need exposure to some arts and business courses. It was for that reason that we decided to introduce these courses so that people in technology engineering also got all round information. The idea with university education now is that courses are market-driven and it is imperative that institutions always reach out to the market to ask our customers what they really want. Courses should be tailored towards market needs and that’s how the idea of business and arts school came in. However, we have never lost focus, we are still in engineering and technology.
When you move around higher institutions of learning, there is one common vice that every university is at least trying to fight; that is plagiarism. How do you think this should be addressed?
I believe institutions should rather be guided by the urge to deliver quality through training, research and innovation for development. One of the things we have been strengthening to meet this vision is quality, right from the teaching cells. The teaching should be checked to meet these global standards, as well as the testing and the setting of examinations. If you teach well, issues of plagiarism do not arise. So it is important to ensure that students get maximum time to enjoy the learning process and when things like examinations come up, they find no need for engaging in plagiarism.
On a related issue; employers have often complained that higher institutions of learning are now churning out incompetent students. What should universities do to produce competitive graduates?
To be sincere, when you go to the market, especially in Kenya, employers will take up graduates who have the skills. As teachers, the training we give our students, should be practical, a kind of experience whereby they do hands on projects but if it is technology, we should ensure that it is very current to the market. If it is business, we need to enrich them with knowledge that is relevant to the market needs. In this case what we normally have to do is to interact with the market. Allowing students to go for training in the market is very important because when they do so, they get to understand the needs and adapt quickly. Lately, the job market needs people who are very relevant to its demands. We also ask market people what they want us to improve and we implement it.
Last year, the higher education council halted some courses in different institutions. It later emerged that the institutions were allowed to proceed with these courses. Are those courses at JKUAT now running normally?
I think they were halted last year because the Higher Education Council of Rwanda wanted confirmation of approval from our home country and when we brought it they were allowed to run.
The courses that we run are approved by senate in all of the campuses. There is no course we run in any of the campuses without this approval. Of course, after approval by the senate, we send them to Commission for University Education. All the courses we run in Rwanda have been approved.
Did this in anyway affect the number of students enrolling for those courses?
It didn’t really affect us because we told our students to wait. We are happy that they trusted our quality to be patient enough. Well and it did not come by surprise that later we were cleared. Like I said, education should be relevant to the market needs. People can also demand for courses they want and it is the role of higher institutions to sit and design these courses. Times have gone when institutions dictated on the relevance; courses now have to be market-oriented.
University education is rather expensive; how do you think students who have limited resources can access better education?
It is important to benchmark fees structures with what the government of Rwanda recommends. Students should be allowed to pay in installments because some cannot pay the whole amount in one lot. As long as they can commit themselves that they can pay this much per month and to clear by the time they sit examinations, this challenge can be managed. But there are other facilitations within the universities for students doing research.
They can apply for research funding from the research production extension department of the university and when they write a good proposal, they can be funded. The funding is available for all students from any campus.
There also some scholarships for students within the university such as the vice chancellors award for excellent students.
How many students are enrolled at the Kigali campus?
Currently, there are 1,822 students who are in session, and we graduated 60 students in November last year in various disciplines. Most of our students are mainly in post-graduate studies, but there are a number of undergraduate students. We have over 300 new applicants, and as you are aware, the closing date for new applicants is May. Before we reach that date, we project to have over 400 students coming to join us.
It’s three years since the establishment of this campus; what are the future plans for the institution?
To quote the vice chancellor, Kigali is a very good place and our courses are popular here, especially the technology and business courses. Therefore, we are here in Kigali to stay. Plans to build our own campus are underway, we have bought land in Kicukiro so we want to expand our facilities to accommodate over 5,000 students in future.
Lastly, how should institutions considering expanding their operation go about it?
Because of the quality issue, Institutions should not just expand and pick students anyhow. It is important to ensure that things are done in the right way. It is also necessary to put into consideration the facilities which people have and thereafter expansion can proceed.
Steps for accrediting institutions in Rwanda
According to the Higher Education Council, any individual or legal representative, wishing to establish a private higher learning institution to confer academic awards, and change the level of education system, applies to the minister in charge of Higher Education for consideration
The application is accompanied by the denomination of the higher learning institution, its headquarters, its category and the teaching disciplines; the mission and objectives of the institution.
Secondly, detailed documents on the financial status, staff size, mode of admission, and the nature of teaching programmes are also submitted.
However, the minister bases his decision on the report made by the National Council for Higher Education and thereafter the applicant is notified within six months from the date the application was received.
If the application is accepted, the minister signs a provisional operating agreement with the applicant which is valid for at least three years and renewable only once.
The Ministry in charge of Higher Education publishes the provisional operating agreement for a private higher learning institution in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Rwanda
After the private higher learning institution that has obtained a provisional operating permit, submits a detailed annual activity report to the National Council for Higher Education.
The institution further submits a written application for an indefinite approval to the Ministry in charge of Higher Education and provisions such as number of students, staff among others or any other document that may be required.
A Ministerial Order of the Minister in charge of Higher Education grants the definitive operating agreement of a private higher learning institution on the basis of the report made by the National Council for Higher Education, within three months from the date of the receipt of the application.
On approval of the application by the Minister in charge of Higher Education, he or she signs a definitive operating agreement with the institution.
The agreement indicates the category of the institution, its educational levels, its faculties, its research centres and its schools as well as academic awards it is allowed to provide.
When, upon review of the report by National Council for Higher Education, it is proved that the private higher learning institution does not meet the required conditions, it is not granted the definitive operating approval.
In this case, the Minister in charge of Higher Education notifies the applicant within thirty days from the date the decision is made. The private institution concerned, which has not been granted a definitive operating permit, may, upon meeting all the required conditions, reapply within the time limits specified by law.
Under this law, the degrees, diplomas or certificates awarded by a private higher learning institution whose definitive operating approval is not granted shall not be accredited.
Any higher learning institution that shall have been granted a provisional or definitive operating approval and which wishes to upgrade its educational levels, to establish new faculties, new research centers or schools, signs an additional agreement with the Minister in charge of Higher Education.