As per the canon espoused by 2 Timothy 2:15 “Study with diligence and do your utmost to present yourself approved unto the Lord as a distinguished workman that needn’t be ashamed as you have been tested by adversity and proven worthy to accurately and skillfully teach the word of truth to the multitudes.” From the scripture above, it is beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Lord, though keen to imbue his children with wisdom, is also passionate about learning with the endgame of skills acquisition for the full task of bringing the world under their dominion and improve it for all that live therein. Instructive to note is that the Almighty seldom calls only the qualified but takes heed to qualify those he calls. That’s why I cast my gaze back to the Israelite sojourn in the Deserts of Negev between Egypt & the Promised Land. Circling back to the book of Exodus 31:1 – 6. The Lord spoke unto Moses & pointed him to “Bezalel” whose name means protection of Yahweh. This young man was one of sublime intellect, an uncommon virtuoso in handiwork. Bezalel is described in the many genealogical lists of family trees domiciled in the book of Chronicles as the son of Hur of the Tribe of Judah among the Israelites. The Lord was not only impressed by the lad’s work ethic but also his skill and originality in the engraving of precious metals and stones. This multi-gifted artist was also a wood sculptor, so trusted that even at a young age he was already able to attract apprentices who made a beaten path to his workshop to imbibe tutelage on artistic prowess from his capable hands and a keen eye for detail. This is the man who was head-hunted by the Lord of Hosts and called into the cloud together with Moses to receive the distinct instructions on building the Tent of Worship its sacred furniture in tow, mold the Arc of the Covenant, design & prepare the Priestly vestments and assay the right alchemical formulae for the incense that would issue a fragrant offering unto the Lord. He was ably assisted by Oholiab son of Ahisamakh from the tribe of Dan. This is anthemic of the word of scripture that the diligent and skilled shall ultimately stand up and perform before Kings, hence shall never be slaves.
Fast forward to the current epoch of existence, in the locale that is the Kenyan Public University. In halcyon times, these were ostensibly the heart and soul of not just enlightenment but the acme of learning. These institutions of higher intellectual acquiescence were so revered that they were christened, the ‘Ivory Towers of Intellect.’ Then comprehension was sharpened and consciences honed yielding forth well-balanced men and women. Education being the most important investment that a progenitor can make for their child was greatly revered. Impecunious parents many a time are forced to make sacrifices like selling assets and even long-held family souvenirs in the hope that the beneficiaries would ultimately get good jobs to shore them up in days yonder with a glimmer of hope that surplus cash would be used to recoup the lost assets. Adjunct punts are made with regards to prayers and goodwill. I pen this piece not as a love letter to the ‘Mecca of tutelage’ but as a plaintive mourn over the desecration of its sacrosanct tabernacles! What is my grouse? The libidinous love for money by University apparatchiks with actual edification lying disemboweled at the altar of mediocrity & avarice. Universities in Kenya are slowly turning into an anorexic Bastille where meaningful skill acquisition comes to die while ‘Paper Degrees’ flood our job markets with little acumen to be manifested by the owners of erstwhile stated qualifications. Indeed, if the Lord of the days of Bezalel was to visit terra firma today, he would come as a ball of fire and in his ethereal wrath uproot the sepulchres where most of these establishments were forged. Poignant as a casus belli for the aforementioned ire is the existence of so many ‘White Elephant’ college degree courses ill-tailored to the requirements of the Kenyan job market, only existing as a fundraising venture for many institutions. Research & Innovation could as well have fallen into a cesspit with little chance of recovery.
On Wednesday, July 28th 2021, the Kenyan High Court awarded Ksh. 15 million worth of reparations to some 75 graduates who instituted a civil suit against their own very alma mater, Technical University of Kenya (TUK) over the efficacy of their Degree Certificates as a tool for job acquisition. The plaintiffs lamented in little want of melancholy that their Engineering Degrees were not recognized by the Engineers Board of Kenya (EBK) rendering them unemployable in the public sector. The theme of this litigation is becoming embarrassingly recurrent with every passing day among the Kenyan Public Universities with even the author of this piece, not too long ago being caught up in a no-holds-barred civil litigation of this nature. It is appalling that after navigating impossible to manoeuvre course units, sleepless nights and all the vagaries that come with the territory that is the study of Engineering, a graduate still has to jump over hurdles just to attain validation to get into practice. In similar token, members of my fraternity and sorority too were triumphant in our case against the selfsame EBK with a compensation package to be paid out in due course.
However, poignant questions need to be asked in such an ignominious conundrum:
Who is going to compensate the lost time that is expended substantiating the obvious through judicial edicts all the while missing out on career-boosting albeit life-altering opportunities?
As life is a journey bound by finite ambits, how long are these young men and women going to wait to make their transitions from Graduate Engineer status to the Professional and ultimately Consultant Status? Important to remember is that the IEK transitions also await further afield pecuniary ramifications, notwithstanding!
The Principal one I should have started with is which Government Authority gave accreditation for the existence of these courses that the Professional Licensing Bodies; indubitably also State Agencies like EBK, turn around to refuse to recognize?
Context on the matters at play here was provided by one doubtlessly in the loop, Professor. Alfred Omenya. In a blast of meaningful tweets, he shed some light on the intrigues of how tertiary training institutions invent controversial degrees that in the long run are not market-driven and do not guarantee the graduand a job after the convocations. Prof. Omenya, an architect of no mean repute is not a spring chicken on these issues as a former lecturer at both the University of Nairobi (UON) & the beleaguered TUK in addition to being the CEO of ECO-BUILD, an architectural firm. Unbeknownst to many, he rose through the ranks to become the founding Dean, School of Architecture and the Built Environment at the esteemed UON and later TUK when it was founded as a constituent college of UON. The distinguished scholar delved deeply into how the relative pristinely-minted Universities pulled strange Degree Course names out of a hat, exotic to the cognizance of employers. He cited that he was once at dissonance with management at TUK over this. He stuck to his guns which bore similar hallmarks to the globally-recognized norms. Quintessentially, in Architecture there are 3 degrees as a global norm i.e: BSc Architecture – a 6-year course; Bachelor of Architectural Studies – a 4-year course with two more years which furnishes the student with the “M. Arch” – a professional degree and a third permutation that gets you a universally acknowledged degree. He divulged how he vetoed plans to institute the Architectural Programmes in: Bachelor of Infrastructural Planning and also Bachelor of Tropical Architecture and Environmental Design.
He bemoaned an appalling proliferation of Engineering Degree names in Kenya like Bachelor of Technology in Engineering, Bachelor of Engineering Science (Engineering Art?!), Bachelor of Philosophy in Engineering, Bachelor of Engineering in Structure and Construction. These are unheard of in the market! “Hiving off constitutive courses to have them as Degree Programs in their own right is akin to one becoming a Paediatric Cardiologist without getting a substantive Bachelor of Medicine & Surgery Degree, taking the Hippocratic Oath and becoming a General Practitioner first,” pontificated the visibly disgusted don during a meeting with the University Council. Moreover, he fired off that Courses in Environmental, Infrastructural, Regional, Rural & Urban Planning are specializations which one can ideally get into in the Post-graduate years but not in the formative phase. “While innovation is of the essence, new universities should logically build from the known to the unknown. Everting this process may result in the subsequent shunning of your products by employers, putting graduands at a severe disadvantage,” cautioned Prof. Omenya pensively. In valedictory remarks, he reminded all in attendance that this is just how the world operated. He is not alone in this regard as he received backing from his professional peer, our bull-in-the-china-shop, uncompromising Cabinet Secretary for Education, Prof. George Magoha. As one with power over educational policy currently, the no-nonsense Magoha urged students to exercise an abundance of caution against enrolling for nearly a hundred courses at risk of being shelved. Later, in June 2020, the CS ordered for an audit into 10 degree courses he wanted to fold up tangent to attracting a grand total of an ostrich’s egg with regard to placement numbers (0)! Among them is BSc in Entrepreneurship, Theology, BSc in Energy Technology, BSc in Automotive Technology, B. Tech in Building Construction Engineering, B. Tech in Renewable Energy Engineering and B. Tech in Mechanical (Production) Engineering.
All this speaks to a quagmire that could have been avoidable yet the Management cadre of these aforementioned institutions saw fit to walk into the eye of the storm while using Kenyan students as a human shield nay cash cow. A salient inquiry to be made is why a pedagogue who appreciates the essence of a university degree as a bridge to employment would willfully take advantage of the naïve and powerless to curtail their job prospects after him/herself teaching them. Is it not already bad enough that contemporaneously, the job market is caught in a titanic battle that is the Employable skills vs. Academic papers debate? The heft of this quagmire is exacerbated by the fact that Kenya’s glut in Degree holders is not concomitant with market demands as certain rapid growth segments of the economy suffer from a dearth of skilled manpower. The Daily Nation Newspaper of 3rd July 2020 outlined the jarring situation where many Kenyan employers were opting for lower qualifications than the University Degree. The article began with having a Ms. Sarah Otieno, the impresario of a medium-sized IT services outsourcing firm targeting equally small businesses (that can ill-afford to pay IBM or Oracle to manage their Data Centres) for a tête-à-tête. She was withering in her sentiments about how she goes about recruitment for her firm. After excusing herself for a minute, pulling out an iPad and going through emails of at least 10 hopefuls with formidable technology degrees from some of Kenya’s titans of University Education applying for a posting at her modest firm, she discarded all of them with a sleigh of the hand. She was stark in her aversion of “entitled degree-holders” working for her company as she would eternally have to look over their shoulder while trying to stop them from eying greener pastures elsewhere. She was more at home with hiring diploma-holders or even high-school drop-outs as long as they could demonstrate skill and passion. This is not merely a flash in the pan as even blue-chip, fortune-500 companies listed in the bourse are erring towards similar hiring tendencies. Safaricom, the wooly mammoth of them all has been hell-bent on a deliberate policy to expand the recruitment net for entrants into its customer care department that constitutes 40 – 50% of the telecom behemoth’s workforce. This fact was stated in no uncertain terms by the now dearly-deceased former CEO, Bob Collymore. “I don’t have a degree myself yet I’m running a pretty sizable company ably which makes it contradictory to tell diploma-holders that they can’t work in my Call Centre,” uttered Mr. Collymore in a phone interview. Pay packages were being harmonized to bridge the gap between diploma-holders and their ‘ivory-tower’ counterparts at the time of the interview. He nevertheless observed that for technical and engineering positions, the bar was unlikely to be lowered with the highest demonstrable academic qualification always the default setting. If you thought CEOs were brutally frank, with a hint of diabolical causticness, then you have not encountered Human Resource practitioners yet. Their retort was as unabashed and exasperating as a head butt from a Tyrannosaurus rex! “Degree holders in Kenya are expensive, restless, not always qualified to perform the job they seek, rely too heavily on the curricular qualifications with no soft skills to show, have an all-round poor attitude towards work and life.” This is despite the fact that the same HR professional is a Degree Holder, but here is where we digress!
Before the cataclysmic capitulation covered in one of my posts, East Africa’s retail conglomerate, Nakumatt Supermarket had the post-secondary school certificate as the minimum requirement. The firm invested heavily (in excess of 100 million) for an in-house managerial training complex in appreciation of the fact that educational institutions may not always cater to specific needs as stated by Managing Director, Atul Shah. The gist on lower qualification levels for companies is indeed corroborated by Deloitte, a global giant in Professional Service provision by Market Capitalization. “This is a trend even in the developed economies. In South Africa today, large retail chains and cellphone companies are lowering academic requirements. The name of the game in the private sector is profits which entails curtailing costs & keeping wage bills low, nothing personal,” confided Deloitte’s Consulting Director, Robbie Quercia. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), university enrolment grew from 118,239 in 2007 to 198, 260 in 2019. Accordingly, Universities and Degree-offering institutions ballooned from 41 in 2007 to nearly triple the number in 2011. Today there are certainly many more. However, the Economic Survey of 2012 showed that 70% of Kenyans between 15 to 64 years old were unemployed. How is it so with all the graduates churned out annually?
The tragedy of the Kenyan institutions of higher learning is that the bulk of the newly-churned out graduates lack the problem-solving knack, creativity and independence to thrive in today’s era of the post-industrial age, the 4th Industrial revolution (Information era). They are not to blame. These qualities have been progressively conditioned out of ICT-driven economies through curricula. Students are conditioned to study hard in school so that afterwards they would score good grades thereby increasing their bargaining power for a lucrative job. The discipline inculcated in school turns them into conformist robots unable to muster the voice to critically digress from a tried and tested thoroughfare. ‘Kulinda Unga’ (jealously safeguarding your job) becomes de rigueur. After all, mavericks throng the ‘jobless corner’ bemoaning their slim pickings in life. Few today would summon the gumption to pitch for a promotion even if they felt sufficiently proficient for a more senior role. According to Prof. Omenya, the Kenyan education curriculum was historically designed and geared at birthing forth bureaucrats. They would earn a particular University Degree then after going through the paces, acquire posting at the respective public enterprise where actual hands-on skills would be imparted. Today these public sector jobs are the preserve of the well-heeled, ‘connected’ and those whose parents bequeath the position downstream as family heritage on retirement. A burgeoning private sector has to take on the bulk of the many that fall through the cracks, mismatched educational system to job-placement requirements notwithstanding. With a re-tooling required, you can bet your haunches that no self-respecting private enterprise would want to expend exorbitantly infusing competencies that ought to have been whetted when one was going through the school system. With this, the die is already cast against many Kenyan graduates. Such is what keeps the interminable loop of poverty revolving on for many lineages out here.
The phenomenon that is the ‘hustler economy’ is occasioned by a formal sector that does not grow fast enough to absorb the nearly a million youth joining the labour force annually. Consequently, the youth are forced to take on jobs woefully beneath the ambit of their qualifications. I see a smattering of our graduates feigning beaming smiles while being interviewed on TV as those that prevailed against the tide of fate, selling second-hand apparel, shoes and whatnot. The incontrovertible truth is that deep within they are disappointed that after going through the system all they have to show for their scholarly pursuits is this mundane drudgery they would have surmounted anyways even without the newfound academic certificate. However, reminiscent of the short story by illustrious South African wordsmith; Ezekiel Mphahlehle, ‘Man Must Live!’
On the matter of the ‘White Elephant’ degrees, the finger of criminal culpability has to be pointed at the Commission for University Education (CUE) in conjunction with the Kenya University & Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS). Any opprobrium against these institutions or a combination of both would be merited because I would assume that intellectually-sound men and women are hired into these state agencies and corporations. So it boggles the mind, how these learned professionals who are expected to be the soberest albeit diligent people in Kenya would in good continence contrive to allow programs that fall far below the threshold of logicality to accept students into our National Universities and Colleges. I would suppose these are the same fellows who give the green light to not just the teaching curricula used in public universities but also after assiduous in-situ inspection recommend those ready for the award of Charters to function as Universities, Colleges, TVET institutions and Youth Polytechnics. Here is where Leadership failure from the National Executive is poignant whence positions on these Boards and Commissions are dished out not meritoriously but on the fickle basis of favouritism, tribalism, nepotism and mere reciprocation of fealty.
At the time of authoring this piece, the ignominious stench of scandal hung ever so heavy, roiling academia if recent reports on print & electronic media are to be believed. A bloke at the zenith of management of a Public University in Kenya has been arraigned before a court of law on the dreary charges of executing his mandate with sham certification. It must be beyond the domain of conjecture that the aforementioned steward has been going about the crucial executive role over not just the human resource but also the degree programs offered by that institution. Such men give academia a repugnant and utterly reprehensible taint as in due course, aspersions will be cast on the quality of graduates and degrees from the said institutions.
Further afield, there are those that most certainly recall the awkward episode of Mr. Francis Kumba Ndulane, an erstwhile Master’s Degree holder who was at pains to deftly swear-in as an Assistant Minister in Tanzanian President H.E. John Pombe Magufuli’s cabinet. It must have been entirely mortifying knowing what a cynically derisive attitude the Late President reserved for quacks and charlatans. All that were in position bore witness to the kind of inimical dress-down the poor fellow received from his Commander-In-Chief. Unrecognizable degree courses expose the holder to similar derision in the job market.
In paying homage to the sentiments attributable to lionized former war-time British Premier; Sir. Winston Churchill, “To every man, there will come a day when you will be figuratively tapped upon the shoulder and offered the chance to do the thing unique to you. What a tragedy if that moment finds you unprepared or unqualified for what would have been your finest hour!”
All is not lost. An injustice may have been committed but we needn’t wallow in such despondency as to consider figuratively discarding the baby with the bathwater! The truth of the matter is that life as a continuum is a special thing of idiosyncrasy replete with surreal dips and precipitous bluffs. Any presumed fait accompli could be mitigated if we opt to tread the path of optimism.
- Even with a Degree Certificate labeled as a sham, you could realistically land a well-remunerating posting after graduation. There is not a substitute for the inexplicable happenstance that is kismet. So in sentiments quintessential of the rich Igbo culture transmitted to the world by the vivid pen of acclaimed Nigerian littérateur Chinua Achebe, “Let the kite perch and the eagle too. Whoever tries to shoo-off his counterpart, may his wing break!” Attend interviews with confidence and proactive positivity as this may rope in the interview panel even more than the contents of your titular credentials.
- Some of the courses that are ideally mismatched to our climes could be highly-marketable in the developed world. As the world has become a global village, none is stopped from daring abroad to do all that pertains to their University Degree as exhorted by the bona fide University Chancellor on the graduation day.
- For those that read this post while in preparation for the new sojourn that is University Education, exercise due diligence on the type of Degree course you aspire to pursue. Also as a sage and one who has been once bitten and twice shy, join a reputable university that has an unsullied track record as pertains to litigation over the viability of their programs. I feel a visit to the requisite Professional Licensing board for a list of accredited courses would be prudent.
- Short courses would be pivotal in bridging the gaps in one’s qualifications. Even the tailored degree programs will still have lacunae that are eventually papered over by professionally-tailored short courses, symposiums and even conferences. You may pursue a Business or even Engineering Degree, but it doesn’t hurt to add to your qualifications that CPA or CCNA certification to boost your marketability.
- Internships are earnest endeavour pursuant to the acquisition of relevant hands-on and soft skills. Pursue them with verve and in as many organizations as humanly possible if the employer does not confirm you in the next one you attend. As the proof of the pudding is in the eating so is the proof in skill in its utilization and not idle possession.
- Remember, young men and women that your network is your net worth. Keep a congenial network of friends who will be your safety net and support system in the travail that is the job search. Many are the times that you will prosper together as brothers, failure to which you will be picked apart by the perils of life as ignoramuses.
- Imperative to note is that success is neither a destination nor are a few bumps on the road fatal. It is the courage to soldier on that counts. Concomitantly, if the first degree went awry, pursue a postgraduate program elsewhere that may realistically fuse up all the unsightly gaps in one’s credentials.
- The most difficult thing that one can ever aspire to with regards to picking yourself when you fall down is to punish your adversaries with success. Employing yourself as an entrepreneur at inception may be the most arduous venture you will ever undertake. However in due course, if you grab hold of your niche and cater to the needs of your market segment, fewer things are more rewarding in life. When life deals you lemons, it wouldn’t in the slightest hurt to make lemonade.