Some policy makers of the East African Community (EAC) were reported in Kampala recently deliberating upon, among others, the policy direction for education in the region. They resolved to expedite progress towards mutual recognition of academic qualifications within EAC.
The move, first mooted in 2003, identifies with the spirit of Europe’s Bologna Process and has its overriding motivation in enhancing movement of professionals within the bloc. For a region of five states working towards a common market, it matters to pay attention to the economic considerations underlying reciprocal recognition of degrees.
What cannot be denied though is that in today’s global knowledge economy, quality remains the hallmark of roaming qualifications. With Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda having embraced Education for All, the last decade has recorded commendable progress in getting young girls and boys into primary school through to secondary. This numerical rise has translated into more degree-seeking East Africans.
In 2011, Uganda had 65,417 students qualified for university and other tertiary institutions compared to 61,820 in 2010. The Higher Education Loans Board in Tanzania received over 55,000 applications for university loans in 2011 compared to about 40,000 continuing students. In Kenya, university enrolment is reported to have risen from 91,541 to 130,000 between 2006 and 2010. Burundi, which had no private university in 2000, was counting four by 2002.
This spurt of university enrolments, however, has not been matched with commensurate resources. Consequently, some universities have had to nurture growing numbers of East Africa’s professionals within a constrained environment. In times when exploding enrolments at universities are eliciting misgivings about the quality of graduates, it pays to brace oneself for healthy competition within the ambit of regional co-operation. As opinion coalesces around healthy comparison of academic credentials across East Africa, careful consideration of how the refocus impacts quality is most beneficial.
The education landscape in the EAC is fairly varied and unemployment continues to hurt national economies differently. This situation is compounded by difficulty in re-aligning academic qualifications across partner countries. For a Makerere trained engineer to navigate the increasingly competitive terrain of East Africa’s labour market, not only must their grades be comparable, but also the extent to which they can apply themselves.
With several universities sprouting at national level, the focus on quality constitutes a vital building block for paving a levelled road towards a mutually beneficial East Africanwide co-operation in education. Quality assurance is the architecture needed to ensure that skill assessment is comparable. That is the foundation for mutually recognising learning outcomes.
Kampala International University (KIU) has over the years taken on a new acronym of Kenyans in Uganda because of its appeal to students from Kenya. For sure, Kenyan students and parents alike are never short of words to acknowledge that their main attraction to Uganda as a study destination is the cheaper cost of attaining a degree.
In pursuit of comparable qualifications in East Africa, however, each country should seize the moment as opportunity to render higher education not only affordable, but also applicable to prevailing needs. The industrialisation imperative in the EAC is worthless unless the push for degree comparison is premised on attracting skill for promoting innovation and advancing the knowledge economy. In the age of an evidently global market where careers are more transnational than ever before, the case for competitive foreign degrees cannot be overstated. With the goal of degree recognition re-echoed as economic, what remains is for national aspirations to rally behind clearly defined targets of quality training.
Besides, for East Africans to remain competitive, their comparative strengths across the global playing field also have to stand out. In a global knowledge economy, education must nurture locally relevant as well as globally sought after competencies.
Mr. Kaheru works with the Association for the Advancement of Higher Education
and Development (AHEAD) in Kampala