It is almost 3 years since I left the gates of Kenyatta University’s (KU), but last Christmas as I drove past this institution a strong feeling of pride and association gripped me. At a 100km/hr I experience a pull into opposite directions. That of heaping loads of praise to my alma mater versus that of openly telling them they can do better. As its beautiful complexes grew smaller on my rear mirror I wondered if I can still lovingly critique them without changing how I fondly look at my graduation photos from this university. Can we disapprove of a process that produced us? Does asking for better make us ungrateful?
I am sure that this feeling is not unique to me. Neither is the knowledge and evidence of a malfunctioning higher education system isolated to a few of us. However, questions of whether the pride (based on sentiment) we hold in these institutions can be reconciled with our misgivings of them (based on evidence) are still valid. Even more pressing is a question whether holding universities on a pedestal maintains a status quo that so needed changing.
I contend in this article that most of these institutions that we hold sacred have done a disservice to us. I also make an even more specific claim that our continued awe of them only preserves the status quo and has a multiplier effect in the labor market that makes universities more unwilling to listen and respond to market changes. So what is the exact problem with these institutions we so fondly talk about?
First, is the immeasurable value of their product. Imagine presenting a cheque to every bank and all bankers cannot agree on the value written on its face. Why would you go back again and again to the issuer? Why would the issuer, the university in this case, continue flooding the market with these cheques that confuse everyone? You see, never before has there been such confusion on what is in a university title. This stems from the reality that comparative measures of what universities produce for their graduates is conspicuously missing – to their advantage of course i.e. we can only compare a university’s performance to that of another institution with a similar model. Universities remain the dominant credentialing system enjoying immense power of prestige.
Secondly, higher institutions continue to yield shamefully modest outcomes when compared to the tremendous investment sunk into them. Any recent recall of budgetary allocation testifies to this. Off course, the guilt of graduate unemployment cannot be placed on one institution’s shoulders. What can be blamed on the universities though is the absence or smallness of their efforts. You see, our universities know how to attract numbers, stretch disciplines, meticulously record grades e.t.c. – what they do not record is the success rate of their graduates. In other words they cannot (and it appears they care less) account for what the product they sold you (education) does for you.
I put it to you that if future funding to universities is to be tied to post-graduation success rates, then we will be up to something. Universities must recognize that the world has changed and so should they. This realization should be marked by innovation around improving outcomes not the repackaging/renaming of age-old degree programs that we are currently treated to.
In its purest form, this article is about getting us to a place of consciousness that the current system of education is not working and this should be a personal matter. Personal because there is something called incidence and impact. While the incidence, being the point of contact that experiences the immediate consequences, are the graduates for now. The impact, being the place where the final effects are registered, is on us all. It is on slashed budgets from others sectors taken to education, on rations for school fees, on the burden of jobless youths, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews that we eventually shoulder.
I propose the following for starters:
- That universities work with employers to develop a market-based credentialing system that is competency-based
- That universities must rate themselves on the success rate of their graduates and not on the enrollment numbers
- That intervention programs working with graduates like TheBridgeAfrica, must create an ecosystem where employers and educators step into each other’s world
Our parents and nations break their backs to get us into the gates of these institutions; it is fair that they tell us what their product has done for us, for you, for the nation. It is also fitting that our pride in these universities cease to be a selfish one –if they meant that much to us, we should lovingly critique them so that they mean even more to the future generations.
Simon Ndirangu Mwangi is the Founder & CEO of TheBridgeAfrica
TheBridgeAfrica–Connecting the Workforce to You. http://www.thebridgeafrica.com/index.html