But it is quite annoying in that most of the new degrees have formed the largest segment of university qualifications that most employers do not want.
While an employer would readily shortlist for an interview a graduate holding a Bachelor of Commerce degree, a human resources manager in a medium-sized company would hesitate to interview a graduate holding a Bachelor of Science (Financial Engineering) degree. The issue is that too often employers are interested in persons holding a degree that is designed to provide a wide range of managerial skills, while at the same time has competence in a specific area.
Although universities argue that some of their new courses are popular, some of those degrees have ruined careers of so many brilliant students.
For instance when the Ministry of Defence advertised the recruitment of specialist officers into the Kenya Defence Forces, one key requirement was that applicants must be registered by their respective professional bodies. Quite regrettably, few if any of those new fabricated degrees in public universities are recognised by local or international registration and regulatory bodies.
Undoubtedly, the military was just following the common trend in the country where employers, whether in the public or in the private sector, are demanding registration status of graduates in engineering, medicine, architecture and surveying while lawyers are expected to hold degrees that are recognised by the local Council of Legal Education.
Graduates seeking managerial jobs in the business sector or industry are in many instances also required to have acquired full professional status in accounting, finance, marketing or insurance in addition to their undergraduate or postgraduate degrees.
The craze by public universities in Kenya to duplicate or fabricate degrees has also been noted in Uganda, where public universities have been accused of establishing valueless degrees in order to attract students. Prof Mahmood Mamdani says the proliferation of inter-disciplinary programmes but without anchor in core disciplines in public universities has resulted in the devaluation of higher education.
These included undergraduate degrees in urban planning, environmental studies, secretarial studies and development studies. Others were diluted postgraduate programmes in mathematics, economic policy and planning, human rights, refugee law and forced migration, ethics and public management, peace and conflict resolution.
“This low level training is better described as ‘vocationalisation’ that is traditionally associated with community-based colleges,” says Prof Mamdani who is the Director of the Makerere Institute of Social Research. He is also the Herbert Lehman Professor of Government at the School of International and Public Affairs in Columbia University.
For Kenyans, it does not matter whether those new degrees are offered locally or in Uganda or anywhere else in the region, taking into account that Kenyan students are major importers of higher education in East Africa.
However, the main worry is that despite their academic weaknesses and low quality, those degrees are recognised by the Commission for University Education and the Uganda’s National Commission for Higher Education, basically by virtue of being offered by elite public universities.
Some of the issues raised in this article are just the tip of the iceberg of the prevailing situation in higher education in Kenya and elsewhere that Kenyan students go to for higher education.
For most young people, the nagging question is what has gone wrong with university education, taking into account that a degree has always been considered as an entry point to a good job and favourable future career prospects.
But what they do not know is that not all degrees are pointers to future success.
In essence some degrees, no matter how one looks at it, have too little value to help anyone to enter the labour market with some advantage or even with scanty survival skills.
Bluntly put, some university degrees represent declining value for money and have many students and their parents worried whether the investment is worthwhile.
Nevertheless, despite these severe shortcomings, universities in Kenya and so many others in the region can become beacons of technological and economic transformation.
But for them to achieve that critical mantle, those universities would have to undergo radical reforms and stop behaving as siblings or equals of back-street academic garages.
Dr Bidemi says professors and lecturers in public universities should be accorded time to undertake research, instead of being over-stretched in teaching courses that would better be offered in junior colleges.
She argued that most lecturers are almost burned-out having been overworked and over-burdened. “Subsequently, there is need to control too rapid growth of programmes that are hastily marketed to students,” says Dr Bidemi.
For the government the time has come to show leadership not simply by urging vice-chancellors to raise sufficient funds by attracting many privately-sponsored students but to recognise that universities exist for public good and should be supported adequately.