By DANN MWANGI
The Joint Admission Board recently made public its selection for entrants to the public universities in the next academic year. In this respect, various issues arises, both legal and policy and it would be important for education and economic policies makers and the public at large to interrogate the role of JAB, both current and past.
To begin with, the right to education in Kenya is enshrined in Article 43 (f) of the Constitution and is classified as an economic and social right. This right is so fundamental and protected as it has been enshrined in Chapter Four of the Constitution and it should, therefore, not be treated casually.
It now belongs to first generations of human rights that all nations that have ratified or observes the International Covenant on Economic and Social Cultural Rights, Kenya included, must adhere to. Therefore, when any public body or official failures to undertake an administrative duty in a fair manner or does it without respect to law, a citizen can seek redress for a fair administrative action under Article 47 of the Constitution.
Before the enactment of Universities Act 2012, JAB has being the only body, founded on policy or tradition and not law, which has been selecting students for admission to public universities.
Now, Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service is the only body mandated with selection of students to join universities and this is not limited to public universities and colleges alone.
Obviously, the philosophy behind having this new body founded in the new Universities Act must have been informed by serious inadequacies both capacity and logistical that JAB has faced before.
The role of the new body is not only selecting students to join institutions of higher learning like JAB but also to disseminate information on available programmes, their costs and the areas of study prioritised by the government, collect and retain data relating to university and college placement, advise government on matters relating to university and college student placement and develop career guidance programmes for the benefit of students.
Inequity and inequality
Article 56 of the Act also empowers the new placement board to promote equity and access to university and college education through developing criteria for affirmative action for the marginalised, the minorities and persons with disabilities.
It’s also supposed to establish criteria to enable students access the courses for which they applied taking into account the students’ qualifications and listed priorities.
Clearly, there is a huge difference of roles between the new placement board and JAB. The new board is supposed to transform the selection process and admission to higher education and this adequately resolves problems that JAB has faced before.
In fact, the new law answers critics, who have accused JAB of promoting education inequity and inequality, students who have blamed JAB of wrong courses admission and also researchers who have done extensive research on workings of JAB.
As for the critics, JAB is accused of being a private members’ club for public universities as it takes the top cream in KCSE and “dumps” the other students in private universities.
By so doing, JAB, stifles competition in higher education as some universities lack capacity to train students but since the financing of higher education in Kenya by government is largely pegged on admission through JAB, students are “forced” to study in public universities. Further, students have suffered more through the JAB selection process and with the coming of the new body, selection process will be streamlined.
In a research done in 32 universities and constituent colleges by our affiliate company in August last year, 91.1 per cent of student respondents felt that the JAB does not do enough to ensure equality and fairness in allocation of university admission slots and it actually selects universities and courses for virtually all students in public universities unlike students in private universities who choose their preferred courses.
In addition, many students at 96% felt that JAB should be restructured to accommodate both private and public universities and that formation of a single body to handle University admissions in the country was necessary. Above all, the study revealed that 86.6% of the students did not view JAB as a useful board while 10.1% of the students felt that it is a useful board.
Although it is evident from this August 2012 study that the main customers of JAB did not view it as relevant, it’s important that the Universities Act that was approved in December 2012 be fully implemented and adhered to.
In my view, the recent selection done by JAB is not only illegal and unconstitutional, as it no longer has powers to select students for admission to higher education, but fundamentally affects the quality and access to higher education in Kenya.
Inasmuch as the current Chair of JAB, Prof Mabel Imbuga was quick to defend JAB because the new placement board has not been constituted, JAB did not attempt to fulfill major objectives expected from the new board.
Above all, almost half of the members of the new Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service will be the current JAB members and this means they failed to lobby or even demand that the this new board be constituted. New Education Cabinet Secretary, Prof Jacob Kaimenyi, must ensure JAB is dissolved and the new placement body operationalised.
The writer is a lawyer and Regional Director, CPS Research International.