Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mushrooming campuses alarming


Daily Nation Tuesday, November 25 2008 Page 11

EXPANDING UNIVERSITY EDUCATION and taking higher education closer to the people in need of it is an important prerequisite for any country aspiring for industrial development.

It seems clear that our local universities have taken on this role with gusto, and are engaged in voracious expansion and creation of satellite campuses, colleges and collaborations with private institutions.

Over the past decade, there has been apparent competition between the universities on which one will have the largest number of satellite campuses in the most far-flung corners of our republic.

However, this has been done with the same degree of preparation as goes into an improvised kindergartners’ dance. University bigwigs just declare that we shall have a campus in such and such an area and voila! The deed is done.

In many cases, no thought is given to the staffing and infrastructure necessary to make the campus an ideal learning environment, and often students are called to these campuses before the teaching staff are identified.

Indeed, in many cases, the only consideration is that the location should be near the home of one of the senior university administrators.

This is leading to a situation where our universities are beginning to appear like glorified secondary schools, competing with all sorts of middle-level colleges for students.

Highly educated professors are being dispatched to head up these colleges and campuses and end up being under-employed and playing the same role as headmasters and principals of high schools!

It is time our universities sat back and rethought this whole expansion strategy.

Failure to involve all those affected in siting satellite campuses will result in a situation where it will become increasingly difficult for teaching staff to divide their attention between the main campuses and these satellite campuses.

INDEED, A CRISIS IS LOOMING IN some of the universities as teaching staff are beginning to raise complaints about inadequate remuneration and provision of facilities to make it easier for them to reach these far-flung campuses.

The Privately Sponsored Students’ Programme (PSSP) was initiated as an income-generating activity to enable our public universities to improve their infrastructure and to better remunerate lecturers without compromising the quality of education.

As it is currently, the income-generation objective seems to be the only one being met, and going by the complaints from many dons, it would appear that little is being done to meet the other goals.

Education standards are being compromised in the name of taking higher education to the masses.

Most of these universities have very little to show in terms of infrastructure improvements since the programme was started, and even the little money lecturers have been getting through the program is at risk.

The question must therefore be asked: Where have the funds accruing from this PSSP been going? Can any of our public universities fully account for these funds?

Satisfactory answers to these questions will be the exception rather than the rule. Indeed many university administrators will be hard pressed to show that there has not been any corruption in the use of these funds.

Dr Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine, Eldoret.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Mathari: What is in a name

Daily Nation, Thursday November 13 2008 Page 11

A few weeks ago, the World Mental Health Day was marked. The event is commemorated on October 10, but in Kenya, this was changed to the last Friday of October due to the Moi Day holiday.

Every year, there are calls for the reduction of stigma against mental illness by changing the name of the premier mental health institution in this region, Mathari Hospital.

A former minister of health once suggested a change from Mathari Hospital to ‘‘New Muthaiga Hospital’’ or some other more glamorous name. Ironically, despite having the power to effect the change of name, the minister never went beyond the suggestion.

This year, the matter was rehashed at the ceremony marking the day at Mathari Hospital on October 31. It is likely that nothing will be done about this since the ceremony was given a wide berth by senior officials at the Health ministries.

There is stigma directed towards the mental health community, not only in Kenya, but all over the world. Those with mental illnesses are often shunned or hidden away from public view.

Many languages contain derogatory references to the mentally ill, all suggesting that the illness fundamentally changes one into something less than fully human.

The stigma is not limited to those with mental illness. Their families are often targets of snide remarks, and people are afraid to associate with them.

Stigma is often a product of ignorance and prejudice. It is then manifested in discriminatory behaviour. Tackling ignorance, prejudice and discrimination would, therefore, be a more comprehensive method of dealing with stigma than seeking to whitewash it with a mere change of name.

A strategy incorporating an increase in the general population’s knowledge on mental illness and mental health would be the beginning of an anti-stigma campaign.

Huge amounts of money have been channelled towards increasing knowledge on HIV and Aids over the last two decades, and today it is estimated that over 95 per cent of the adult population knows all there is to know about it.

If only a fraction of this money were used in a mental health awareness campaign, a huge dent in the stigma directed at the mentally ill would be made.

Prejudice may be tackled by demonstrating the ubiquitous nature of mental problems in our society, and highlighting helpful attitudes towards them. Investment in the facilities for treatment of mental illness would go a long way in improving the quality of life for the mentally ill, and for the general population at large.

Discrimination must be tackled from the very top. The Mental Health Act of 1989 takes the first step by outlawing discrimination in health insurance coverage for mental illnesses. This must be taken further to deal with discrimination at the workplace, in social places, hospitals and other public services.

Failure to fundamentally address the problem of stigma towards mental illness is responsible for many social ills in society.

The violent crises in our politics and in the education sector are an indictment on the mental health of our nation, and unless steps are taken to improve the situation, we can predict with utter certainty the recurrence of worse eruptions in future.

Dr Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University School of Medicine, Eldoret. (