On Friday June 21, 2019, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology Chancellor, Prof. Joseph Mathu Ndungu conferred degrees and awarded diplomas to 3545 grandaunts during the institution’s 33rd graduation ceremony, where 118 were awarded doctorate degrees.
The number 118 aroused public outcry with some people, including renowned professors in the legal profession, concluding that the degrees must be fake therefore effectively making a conclusion by literary, “judging a book by its cover”
In reaction to the said outcry the Commission for University Education (CUE) constituted a team to investigate the degrees. The team took two days to do the investigation covering three graduations spanning over five years.
The findings were made public and aired in virtually every media locally and some abroad before they were discussed by the investigator and the “investigatee”, if there is such a word. There are some people who would have thought that given the impact the findings can have on all the stakeholders of the institute including grandaunts, parents, employers, and indeed the CUE itself as the regulator, the CUE should have invoked the appraisal approach where the report is either discussed with the “investigatee” first or subjected to an expert stakeholder interrogation before going public but that is now neither here nor there.
The author of this critique has looked at the report and interviewed a limited number of experts and acknowledges the findings which could go a long way to improve the PhD education process at Kenya’s universities. The author has a feeling that such important undertakings if done professionally and objectively can greatly help add value to the education system in the country.
In the spirit of value addition, the author went ahead to critique (NOT CRITICISE) the report with a hope that this would improve future similar undertakings.
- COVER PAGE OF THE REPORT
The cover page tells the reader that the investigations that led to the 22-page report covering three graduations spanning 5 and more years (a PhD programme takes about 6 years to complete) was undertaken in 2 days on 25th and 26th June 2019. This casts doubts about the “depth and width” of the investigations given the short period undertaken for the same.
- INTRODUCTION OF THE REPORT
One of the functions of the CUE listed in the introduction is to undertake or cause to be undertaken, regular inspections, monitoring and evaluation of universities to ensure compliance with the provisions of “The Act or any other regulations made under section 70.”
This function implies proactivity on the part of the CUE to regularly guide universities. The investigation undertaken was reactionary and not proactive. CUE was reacting to opinions raised by the public which seemed to equate quantity with quality to conclude that since numbers were too large, quality was poor. Words like “fake” degrees were also used.
One unfortunate message given is that the CUE does not perform its function of regular inspections but waits to put out “bush fires”
An excerpt of the report closing section 1.1 states that, “This report is on an Audit of the Quality of PhDs awarded during the 31st, 32nd and 33rd Graduation Ceremonies of JKUCAT.”. This confuses the reader as to whether the report is about JKUAT or JKUCAT. One could be tempted to conclude that this is a cut and paste report which was about JKUCAT and not JKUAT. There is a whole world of difference between the two. Is the CUE as a regulator aware of this!!!
An unfortunate lesson to learn from this is that the CUE lacks seriousness in matters of cross-checking and stating facts. One would be forgiven to quote the bible’s Mathew chapter 7 verse 3 on “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” an equivalent from the Quran would be 61:2, “O you who believe, why do you say what you do not do?
The CUE rightly investigated the JKUAT 31st, 32nd and 33rd graduation ceremonies because the regulations under investigations came into force in 2014. It would have added value to this report if the rationale of those regulations was explained. What was happening before 2014 that necessitated the regulations and what is the output, outcome and impact of the regulations 5 years down the line. Thorough monitoring and evaluation (and not a mere reactionary response) based on project management evaluation guidelines of relevance, efficiency, effectiveness, impact and sustainability would have laid out lessons learnt. These do not seem to be in the vocabulary of the CUE or are simply ignored.
- QUANTITY/QUALITY NEXUS
An excerpt from section 1.2 of the report says, “The inordinately high number of PhD awards, particularly in the College of Human Resource Development (COHRED) became a matter of public interest.” The impression given is that the CUE agrees with the public who consider quality to be indirectly proportional to quantity or is it “the less the numbers the better quality?”
It is unfortunate that as the number 118 is criticized no guide is given as to what is considered the right number. The report is silent on this one. Interestingly 2 months earlier than JKUAT the Lagos university in Nigeria had graduated 150 PhDs repeating the numbers it had graduated the previous year and just a month after JKUAT in July the Wits University in South Africa (second in rank of continental universities in 2019) had graduated 117 PhDs. The highest-ranked university in Africa, the University of Cape Town graduated 112 at their 2019 winter graduation. Apparently the criticisms leveled at JKUAT did not find a way to the said universities on the continent but that is outside this critique.