By Wandia Njoya via fb
I have seen a message doing the rounds on whatsapp, purportedly from Prof Henry Bwisa, which is an open letter to university dons on unemployment of school graduates. I have not been able independently confirm the source of statement, but since it is doing the rounds, I thought I should reply. This is MY statement.
1. The statement is right on CUE. CUE is not helping higher education. In fact, in their evaluation material, CUE asks more questions about examinations than about any other part of the academic process. CUE has lengthy and very expensive procedures for curriculum reform in terms of fees and inspections. A university requires almost 2 years and a million shillings to get a program approved. By then, the program is outdated. Just recently, Prof Francis Aduol, VC of TUK, said that universities were going broke paying for accreditations from different bodies.
That said, professors are complicit in this problem because they get paid good allowances for keeping up this system as inspectors for CUE.
2. University managements are also to blame. They are hiding behind regulation to entrench corporatization, and so resources are going to waste on branding, keeping managers happy with administrative positions, and policing the rest of us using performance management. Universities should be required by law to be audited and publicize their income and expenditure reports. Currently, university management decisions are opaque and not explained to Senates who include faculty and students, let alone the public.
3. UASU has failed as a union. They have failed to make the plight of lecturers part of a larger struggle against neoliberalism, and struggle for better learning conditions for the students and higher education for society. That is why when lecturers go on strike, the students have no idea or sympathy for lecturers. In the UK, when lecturers went on strike earlier this year for their pensions, the students supported them because the students understood that the same neoliberalism eating the lecturers’ pensions was the same one that was impoverishing students with student debt for higher education. UASU leaders have not engaged the public on the importance of higher education, or the student debt through HELB, or the unemployment disaster and how it affects our former students. By contrast, the doctors engaged the public on why their strike was about the larger situation in public hospitals and national healthcare. We lecturers need to get off our high horses, stop thinking about privilege, and tie our struggles to the wider struggles of wananchi. We are not special just because we have titles and certificates.
This is where I differ with the statement:
1. FKE has no moral right to talk about skills mismatch. There was one time I asked them for a meeting to discuss why they are talking of mismatch and yet we teach those skills, yet the same employers wail about students taking the wrong subjects. The FKE official didn’t know what I was saying. I have discussed that weird conversation in my blog post “#UnemploymentDisasterKE: The Market is the problem, not the youth.” So FKE is just repeating an ideological narrative blaming the failures of capitalism on capitalism’s victims. Prof Richard Wolff has said in one of his many lectures that blaming graduates for taking the wrong degrees is part of the neoliberal turn. Neoliberalism is notorious for putting personal responsibility on individuals for structural problems. So now capital is blaming victims of unemployment for their unemployment.
2. To this statement: “Would you willingly employ someone who cannot help you meet the obligations of your business? You have taxes to pay. There is competition to beat. There are loans to pay. Suppliers could be on your neck. You need high profits from highly productive personnel to meet these obligations. Surely can we blame industry when it looks for experience? “
My answer is YES. We can blame the industry and the private sector as a whole. Who bribes politicians and funds their campaigns? Who is part of the privatization – turning social services into profit? Rotich himself said that GoK was rigging the public health sector in favour of private hospitals. In 2017, private sector was lecturing Kenyans about protesting the un-credible elections, yet they didn’t protest that the elections were not credible in the first place. They never lecture government about corruption: they just organize panels televised live where they pretend to care about the difficult economic environment ordinary Kenyans have to deal with.
And industry does not “need” high profits to meet obligations. It needs profits to over pay managers for doing nothing but barking orders from the golf courses and massage parlours, as their poor workers are over stretched through performance management and underpaid, especially through casual labor. What proportion of its income (not its profit) does industry really pay to the exchequer? Does industry pay 30% of its income (not its profit) like we employees do? No. That’s why they have foundations and do so much CSR. To avoid paying taxes.
And NO, there is no competition to beat. Kenya is full of monopolies, like in the telecommunications and the energy sectors.
3. I don’t believe FKE saying that employers need Shs 100,000 for retraining graduates. In fact, graduates are PAYING companies through this insidious thing called internships. Some companies ask interns to pay cash, while others don’t help with the interns living costs. It’s essentially free labor that youth are giving, which is better described as slave labor. But let FKE get its website running and publicize that report, so that we can read how they arrived at that figure.
And graduates are being retrained not to be better professionals but to exploit more efficiently. They are being retrained to cheat and to not care about the impact of what they do on society. What we teach students in the class is not to make profit, but to be good citizens. Capital knows that, and that’s why in the West, rich people like the Koch brothers have invaded universities through funding to prevent the training of ethical graduates. There’s an interesting book by Anand Giridharadas entitled “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World” in which he says that global exploiters are now recruiting humanities students (yes, students doing those irrelevant subjects) to train them on the billionaire lingua that justifies corporations doing harm to environment and society but patching it up with philanthropy.
So the question isn’t how to “churn” graduates (and churn is an inhumane word) readily accepted by industry, but how to have a legal framework that makes industry acceptable to the democratic will of the people and respectful of our natural environment.
4. If we want “pragmatic” teaching in the classroom, we need to loosen the grip of regulation on universities by the Commission for University Education (CUE), and to improve university management to recruit more lecturers and provide more resources. But the lecture method is not wrong in and of itself. Otherwise programs like TED Talks and Engage would not be doing so well. With a lecturer who is researching and thinking, lecturing gives them the time to elaborate an idea for students. Lecturers do not always have to baby sit adult students with entertaining activities in the classroom. Students need to go out and read on their own, then come to listen and discuss. Micere Mugo says that when she was at University of Nairobi, lecturers had to read widely and be prepared before they came to class for lectures, because students would also be reading, and would challenge them and openly disagree with them. That was before Moi’s detention and exile of students and lecturers that imposed a culture of silence and hatred for thinking in universities. Today, students don’t want to read and engage any more because of being beaten and humiliated for all their educational life for having a mind of their own. They also need to hustle for their living expenses, and so they need to graduate as quickly as they can. In that, professors are complicit because they humiliate students who disagree with them.
For projects, that’s an administrative problem as well. Money that could go to field trips goes to parties and branding and making academic managers look like corporate managers. These days, lecturers don’t want to apply for donor funding because the administrations use it and humiliate us when we try to retrieve the money for the project we got the money for. Heads of departments have little autonomy in budgeting, and are often told by non-academics who are managers to explain how their projects are academic. Benjamin Ginsberg has explained how academics have been disempowered in his book “The fall of the faculty.”
There is no understanding of the current crisis of unemployed graduates (and by the way, graduates are disproportionately less than the uneducated unemployed) without understanding neoliberalism and its impact on education. This is how I share the blame, starting from the most responsible:
1. Private sector and industry, who have hijacked politics, used money to undermine democracy, through bribing politicians to look the other way, to privatize social services and to deregulate private sector. After impoverishing us, capital bribes us with CSR
2. a fickle and stupid political class (aka comprador elite), who feel no need to read and think because they get their positions through inheritance and corruption, who sell their own people to anyone (especially foreign) with money, essentially replacing politics with oligarchy
3. Kenyan professors who are both victims and perpetrators of the system. They have the educational tools to articulate the problems of neoliberalism, but they prefer to use their education to gain entry into clubs of the ruling and economic elites and assist capital in reducing higher education to an empty shell.