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Citizen Weekly

Sunday, 3 August 2014


A parliamentary committee on education has been directed by National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi to conduct further investigations to establish whether the United States International University had breached the universities Act and the validity of their degrees and diplomas.  

This follows failure by Usiu to act on a letter dated October 8 2013, (Ref MST/ADM/2/32/VOL II) addressed to the chief executive officer commissioner for universities education and signed by EN Torome for principal secretary. Usiu had been ordered to amend it’s charter to create a position of a chancellor or have it withdrawn altogether.

The ministry of Education, Science and Technology had rejected an amended version of the United States International University Charter saying it is in conflict with the Universities Act No 42 of 2012.

Universities Act 2012, promulgated on December 14 2012, Clause 38(1) stipulates that all universities shall appoint a chancellor who shall be the university’s head and who shall confer degrees and grant diplomas.

The Act mandates only the chancellor to perform the above functions and not even the vice chancellor. Going by the records in the ministry of Higher Education Science and Technology, Usiu has never appointed a chancellor or a senate, having been abolished recently by the vice chancellor and since then, she undertakes decisions single handedly. It has now been discovered that it is a deliberate and tactical move by Usiu to continue without a chancellor, states the letter. It is believed that the vice chancellor, Freida Brown, who has been in the helm for more than 20 years, fears leadership competition from locals who are more qualified.

According to Usiu’s revised charter which was rejected, under section 11, she has disbanded the council and replaced it with board of directors with no clear mandate and contrary to the universities Act 42 of 2012 section 35.(1) which states that:
 “In addition to the provisions of its charter, a university shall establish the following organs of governance or their equivalent - (a) a council, which shall - (i) employ staff; (ii) approve the statutes of the university and cause them to be published in the Kenya Gazette; (iii) approve the policies of the university; (iv) approve the budget”. The ministry is now proposing that she reinstates back the council to perform the above duties as stipulated in the Act.

The chairperson of the departmental committee on Education Sabina Wanjiru Chege had failed to convince the house regarding the matter as demanded by Machakos member of parliament Victor Munyaka.
The call to have the matter investigated further was as a result of claims from a number of graduates from the university questioning the validity of their papers after failing to secure jobs years after graduation and being turned away by potential employers because of Usiu papers.
The bone of contention is that Usiu has no post of the chancellor to confer degrees and diplomas and that Usiu’s structure has since its establishment failed to appoint a chancellor to award the certificates.

Munyaka had sought clarification after concern by graduates who have passed through Usiu with longserving vice-chancellor at the helm; Freida Brown emerged regarding the validity of the papers.

Usiu graduates are a worried lot should the new investigations reveal that their degrees and diplomas were awarded irregularly because they will be termed as null and void and will not be recognised not only in Kenya but also globally.

Usiu has found itself between a rock and a hard place in the wake of a circular by principal secretary in the ministry of Education, Belio Kipsang and Commission of University Education, Prof David Some in which both sought to rein on private universities in breach of the act.

But it is not only Usiu which is faced with this kind of problem, sources say Prof Some has also demanded from nine foreign universities in a letter dated September 25 2013 which instructed the institutions to show proof their collaboration with local institutions was still intact to ensure compliance with the act.

During the heated debate in parliament, majority of MPs termed the report as half-baked, forcing Speaker Muturi to make a ruling that further investigations be done as the matter was in public interest, which was later trashed and considered unsatisfactory.

Part of the ruling he made was based on the issue of the institution he said was in the interest of the public to be informed about the fate of credentials obtained at Usiu not known to have had a chancellor to officiate at graduation ceremonies in accordance with the act.

Chege would have escaped the debacle in the house had she tabled a comprehensive and well researched report into the issue of violation of the act by Usiu and the validity of the degrees and diplomas awarded by the vice chancellor as per the Act.

What is now raising eyebrows is why Usiu has over the years failed to appoint qualified Kenyans to hold the post of vice-chancellor currently held by Prof Brown. She holds a dubious title of being the longest serving vice chancellor in Kenya.
Brown has been under pressure to respect Kenyan laws as stipulated under the universities Act 2012 that commenced in December of the same year but sources say she has always bragged that she is untouchable and that she will serve as Usiu’s VC as long as she wants.

“Some of the areas the Act proposes for reform include appointment of chancellors in both public and private universities, development of statutes and regulations by universities accreditation of universities,” said Dr Kipsang.

The ministry notes that charters for private universities awarded under the repealed universities Act in their current form are in conflict with the provision of the Act in regard to governance, management, and appointment of chancellors among others.

The Act under section 35 provides for governing organs of a university that should include a council, senate and management board section, says education commissioner, Humphrey, stressing that private universities are required to have additional sections-board of trustees or its equivalent and the sponsor.

Enactment of higher education reforms were aimed at streamlining and improving the management of university affairs. The universities Act 2012, finally signed into law by retired President Mwai Kibaki introduced far-reaching changes.

Public universities, which were previously governed by specific acts of parliament, have been brought under the same law as private institutions.

The Act makes null and void all existing charters and letters of interim authority, which were previously required by institutions before they could operate.

The universities Act 2012, which was first published in 2009 but faced heated opposition on a number of fronts, establishes several new bodies and restructures existing ones to aid the management of higher education.

Previously, public universities relied on their senates to approve courses while private institutions had to seek the green light from the Commission for Higher Education.
Under the new law, foreign universities will be required to submit proof of accreditation from their home countries before they are allowed to offer courses in Kenya.

For local institutions, the accreditation agency will require core courses to be declared before starting operations, and accreditation will revolve around the core courses.
Public universities will also be subjected to quality assurance overseen by the commission – a role previously prevented by university acts.
In an effort to introduce professionalism in the recruitment of university chancellors, such officers will now be picked by the university community and alumni. This brings to an end an era in which university leaders were appointed by the president of Kenya.

The push for new legislation came against a backdrop of dissatisfaction over Kenyan universities’ continued lack of competitiveness in the global arena and their poor performance in international rankings.

The latest Webometrics survey, which ranks universities according to their web presence, showed that Kenya’s top institutions had slipped several places, indicating that they have been slow to take up new technologies.

Educationists have hailed the legislation as the single strongest weapon in a government arsenal of action aimed at strengthening higher education sector that is mired in quality concerns and a biting admissions crisis.

Over the past few years, the reputation of higher education had deteriorated dramatically due to the mushrooming of bogus private institutions and a surge in student numbers, which has not been matched by a rise in teaching staff.

The law introduced a US$117,600 fine against any university caught offering an unaccredited course. Institutions’ administrators also face a jail sentence of up to three years for the same offense.

Back to Usiu, owners of the local facility are not fully known. It is claimed the university is owned by a group of Americans, with an ex-US ambassador to Kenya (Aurelia Brazeal) listed as director of the university located in Kasarani off Thika Road.

According to the website, the university is an independent, not-for-profit institution serving approximately 4,800 students, of whom 88pc are domestic and 12pc are international representing about 54 nationalities.

It was founded in 1969 as the Africa campus of United States International University in San Diego, California, and business mogul, Manu Chandaria is listed chairman of the board with Freida Brown as vice-chancellor.

The university was first accredited in 1981 by the accrediting commission for senior colleges and universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges as part of Usiu-San Diego.
However, the university was mandated to become chartered in Kenya with the gazettement of the universities Act in 1985. Regulations and procedures for the accreditation of private universities were published in 1989, and in 1999 Usiu was awarded its charter as an independent institution through the CHE.

 In Kenya, this requirement is for private universities only and  public universities do not have any accreditation requirement.

In 2001, the systemwide university structure began to change. Usiu-San Diego merged with the former California School of Professional Psychology to form Alliant International University; however, control of Usiu-Kenya was contingent upon approval from CHE.

In 2004, CHE did not approve the change of control because Alliant was under a show cause action by Wasc. Usiu-Kenya negotiated with Alliant to relinquish control of the university so that it could pursue independent US accreditation from Wasc and in January 2005, an agreement was signed with Alliant to separate the Kenyan campus from Alliant International University.
Students at the Scripps Ranch Campus of Alliant International University (formerly United States International University) were in panic after information leaked that the school may go the for-profit route and their degrees would lose value sharply.

“God forbid that your degree doesn’t mean anything,” said Evelynn Jones, a representative of the Student Government Association.
“SGA people are concerned this will be a for-profit university,” and education officials across the country are concerned that graduates of for-profits are not able to get jobs.

Students circulated online statements under the banner of “Save Our School: Alliance for Alliant.” There were questions such as, “Do you want to go to a school that is under investigation by the US Senate, department of education, department of Justice, and state accreditation boards?”

For-profit universities, including San Diego’s Bridgepoint Education, have been investigated thoroughly by various government bodies, partly because of poor job placement of graduates.
Alliant is now based in San Francisco as a result of a merger with the California School of Professional Psychology.
Previously in San Diego, a beleaguered USIU was allowed more time to solve pressing financial troubles that hamper attempts to improve academically as it faced bankruptcy.

Usiu had filed for bankruptcy in late December, obtaining time under federal law to draw up a reorganization plan to pay off an estimated $14 million in debts.