Professional bodies in the country will be stripped of the power to accredit degree programmes in universities if proposals by the Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms are adopted.
Under the proposed reforms, the laws granting professional bodies power to accredit university courses along their profession will be revoked and that mandate given to the Commission for University Education (CUE).
The CUE, and not any professional institution could approve, sanction or withdraw accreditation granted academic programmes in the nation’s universities. “Amend the Universities Act to provide that no professional body shall charge any university fee for accreditation of academic programmes,” the proposal reads in part.
There are 27 professional bodies and associations that operate in the country and regulate the training and conduct of their members.
In effect, the professional bodies, including the Engineers Board of Kenya (EBK) and the Council of Legal Education (CLE), will have no role in what is taught in universities.
If adopted, the change will settle an age-old battle between the CUE and professional associations over the authority to accredit various university courses.
The proposed changes are in line with a High Court ruling made in 2020 that handed accreditation responsibility to the CUE. “There is an urgent need to amend the respective professional bodies’ Acts to align them with the court ruling and avoid multiple payments by regulations of universities,” the proposal reads.
The ruling was part of three cases; Kenya Medical Laboratory Technicians and Technologists Board and Others vs the Attorney General, Council for Legal Education vs the Attorney General and the Engineers Board of Kenya vs the Attorney General all in 2017.
The professional bodies challenged the Act at the High Court arguing that it had far-reaching implications on their job to supervise academic programmes in universities. The cases were consolidated into one and a judgement was issued on June 11 2020. Court of Appeal Judges Mohammed Warsame, Daniel Musinga and Fatuma Sichale ruled that CUE is the only body mandated to regulate standards and accredit courses, in consultation with individual universities.
“We find no reason to suspend the commission’s mandate in regulating and accrediting courses as provided in the Universities Act. The application filed by the professional associations has no merit and we dismiss it accordingly,” ruled the judges.
To align the law to the court judgement, the reforms team notes the need to amend any law conflicting with the judgement and give CUE the full accreditation mandate.
The legal framework allows both CUE and professional bodies to regulate academic programmes in Kenya. This has resulted in overlaps in the regulatory mandates with several entities regulating academic programmes in universities.
This caused challenges in the accreditation of professional academic programmes in universities. In the past, some professional bodies refused to recognise the degrees of students from some institutions that had not complied with their standards.
In 2020 for example, the Engineering Board of Kenya released a list of universities it recognises as training schools for engineering.
This excluded Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology, Meru University, South Eastern Kenya University, Technical University of Kenya and the University of Eldoret despite the institutions having engineering programmes.
In 2011, the Engineers Registration Board declined to recognise engineering degrees from Egerton, Kenyatta and Masinde Muliro universities. A similar fate has befallen law graduates from some public and private universities after the Council of Legal Education rejected their papers.
The engineering and law bodies said their decisions were taken largely because the universities had low-quality curricula, lacked qualified lecturers or had duplicated courses, and because there was a general lack of professional focus. This has irked universities.
The professional bodies also argued that some institutions have failed to meet accreditation rules while rushing to meet surging demand for degrees, and lack the facilities to cope with rising student numbers.
The proposed changes will see a section of the University Act giving leeway to professional bodies to take part in the accreditation of academic programmes entirely done away with.
Section 5A (3) provides that CUE may, before approving any academic programme consult with any relevant body established by written law to regulate a profession to which the academic programme relates.
The proposal also seeks to delete laws giving professional bodies accreditation authority over academic programmes in universities. The Acts to be amended include Engineers Act, Medical Laboratories Technicians and Technologists Act, Legal Education Act and the Advocates Act.
Others are the Veterinary Surgeons and Veterinary Para-professional Act, Nutritionists and Dieticians Act, Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Act, and the Media Act.
If adopted, the reforms will be a reprieve to universities that have been on the receiving end of the professional bodies’ ‘bullish’ conduct in seeking control of how students are trained in their professional line.
Vice-chancellors have in the past raised concern over the amount the institutions spend on accreditation of programmes and pointed to the charges as one of the burdens adding to their financial woes.
In 2020, the Vice Chancellors Committee while presenting before the National Assembly Education Committee drew attention to several predicaments militating against the smooth accreditation of some academic programmes in the university, including stringent conditions set by various professional bodies.
In the presentation, the vice-chancellors tabled the amount the institutions were forced to pay for approval to mount and continue teaching some academic programmes. There are 27 professional bodies and associations that regulate the training and conduct of their members.
They include the Law Society of Kenya, the Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the Institution of Surveyors of Kenya, the Media Council of Kenya, the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentist Board, Kenya Nutritionists and Dieticians Institute and Kenya Veterinary Board.
Others include CLE, EBK, Pharmacy and Poisons Board, Nursing Council of Kenya, Clinical Officers Council, Institute of Human Resource Management Kenya, Kenya Association of Technical Training Institutions, and Chartered Institute of Arbitrators Kenya Branch. Despite the court ruling, some professional bodies have been demanding the universities pay the programme accreditation fee.
In 2022, CUE cautioned vice-chancellors against engaging other professional bodies in regard to the approval of university courses. Mwenda Ntarangwi, the commission CEO, said if universities continue to engage any other bodies over courses they have already accredited or approved without due consideration of the commission, then CUE will be forced to withdraw such programmes.
“On a sad note, and despite court judgement, some professional bodies continue to engage universities with little regard, if any, to the commission. This is not only contemptuous but disregard to the sub-sector regulator,” said Ntarangwi in a letter copied to vice-chancellors of universities and principals of colleges.