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.

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