Kenya is experiencing faltering social, economic and political development. Although economic growth was realized in a few years, poverty and lack of basic needs were the order of the day. Other issues are unemployment and de-industrialization as well as the lack of sufficient food. The problems were caused by the lack of finance and the vision of what the nation needs. These problems in our country affect the administration and diffusion of higher education.
The problems added to the crisis that necessitated the reforms introduced at the University of Nairobi last week. The university should be the place where problems are solved and future visions are sketched out. The downfall of the university means the downfall of the nation, while its success means the advancement of the nation.
In independence, the university was a status symbol that we could do as an independent state. It was supposed to produce high cadres to take on the responsibility of the departing colonial rulers. The University’s Institute of Development Studies should conduct research that will determine the path of development, while the Nation’s Population Institute should help the nation control rapid population growth. The Institute for African Studies should conduct research leading to understanding of African culture as the county changes. The Royal Technical College, as it was called, was designed to provide technical skills to make development a reality. Over time, other disciplines such as law and medicine were also introduced to meet the demand for these skills by the rapidly developing nation.
The university’s range of courses did not meet the needs of the rapidly developing nation. The university was elitist and was known as the ivory tower. It meant that it was out of touch with the reality of the majority of people. The majority of the population earned their livelihood in the informal economy, in agriculture, in animal husbandry, in artisanal fishing and in mining. The university set out to catch up with the infrastructure of the developed world rather than helping informal workers, artisanal fishermen, mining, ranching, and agriculture develop. It failed to develop models and systems that would support the transformation of these workers. Unfortunately, this didn’t go down well with the majority of people. Most people could not get access to elite education because of the high grades required to enter university. The grade points continued to rise and left a large part of the people out of the education system.
Those who were excluded from the education system continued to join the informal sector that became entrenched in our big cities. Unfortunately, the university had no solution to the expanding and consolidating informal sector that permeated our everyday practical experiences. The informal sector permeated all economic and political systems. The university became an institution of imperial education that was expanded to include the majority of its graduates who became unemployed but nonetheless consumed imperial goods. The university with its elite modernization project was looking for ways to eradicate the informal economy instead of promoting it.
The university’s elitist modernist project was also no match for globalization. The digital revolution took place outside the university. Innovations like M-Pesa and Ihub-Technopolen took place among normal Kenyans in university laboratories or science parks. The university has failed to create an infrastructure to benefit from the digital revolution that is taking place. Science parks have not been built to attract high-tech industries or pharmaceutical companies that rely heavily on innovation from university science laboratories.
The university had failed to capture the industrial university nexus that took place during the digital revolutions. Research topics from industry were limited and widely spread. Research focused on cataloging problems rather than solving them. It failed to develop models and systems that would solve the community’s problems. His reform efforts included introducing business ideas into management rather than the community ethos. Business ideas serve to acquire and exploit and do not allow creativity, as in the case of community programs. Community programs are based on creativity and solidarity, which are necessary for generating ideas and creating visions. By shifting to corporate ideas, the university missed the teamwork necessary for the digital revolution.
Last week’s reforms did not address those foundations of the failed university that have to do with the curriculum, subject matter, ethos, and norms and values ââof higher education. Changes in management have not addressed the university culture of knowledge generation. The generation of a knowledge culture requires passion, commitment and foresight. It means providing basic necessities for the survival of the faculty and students so that they can participate in knowledge generation, problem solving, and vision charting. It means creating environments for brains to work in.
A change in management, the closure of universities and an increase in fees, in my opinion, will not address the fundamentals of knowledge generation. The university needs to return to the basics of problem solving and seek allies in industry and society who can help promote knowledge generation. Looking inwards leads to losers who are not part of the necessary change process. Dealing with the crisis shows that we have not learned from the implementation of structural adjustments that have produced losers who did not support the reformed programs. The university needs everyone on board to reintroduce the culture of knowledge generation, problem solving and vision charting. For this to happen, the faculty and students must be mentally and physically happy and stable.
Dr. Kinyanjui is the founder of the Beyond Knowledge Horizon Research Center and Five Colleges Women’s Study Research Center Mount Holyoke, MA