New accreditation of engineering in universities in Kenya has left out numerous programs after the country’s professional engineers’ body said their degrees don’t meet the requirements for graduates to qualify as professional engineers.

The Engineers Board of Kenya has approved only 25 undergraduate engineering programs offered at public and private universities. Those in 17 others, with an estimated 1,000 engineering undergraduates, were not accredited, even though they were approved by the government agency that regulates university education in the East African country.

Board Registrar Nicholas Mulinge says the new accreditation of engineering programs is based on new legislation that gave the board the mandate to certify all engineering programs offered by public and private universities. He says a review found many did not satisfy minimum academic requirements of graduate engineers to practice.

Disagreement on the mandates of the government education agency and the engineers' board has been blamed for the  accreditation controversy.

For the engineering programs to be accredited, they must meet criteria in program design, curriculum, adequate faculty and training facilities, infrastructure, and duration of training.

 “The problem is that the universities approved engineering courses without regard to professional engineering regulations because they thought the universities are autonomous entities,” says Mulinge.

Some universities also do not have enough qualified lecturers, and some of the programs are “deficient in content, which may require students who have completed the five-year training course to re-sit additional units before they are certified as engineers to practice in Kenya," he adds.

University of Nairobi engineering program head Bernard Njoroge says the regulation for engineering training and professional practice is necessary because the “accreditation requirement for engineering programs is the practice the world over.”

He says his university is striving for a ratio of one engineering lecturer to 14 students.

At Kenyatta University, a public university whose engineering programs are yet to be accredited, management is seeking faculty in its engineering department, particularly practitioners from countries such as India, “which has really good trained engineers,” says deputy Vice Chancellor John Okumu

Engineers' board chairman Main Wanjau says universities must ensure their programs are “intellectually credible, [and] meet national needs and the needs of students and other stakeholders.”

He says universities with unaccredited programs have failed to ensure sufficient numbers of full time faculty members for “adequate levels of student-lecturer interaction, student counseling and faculty participation on development, control and administration of curriculum.”

But Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, whose engineering programs are yet to be accredited, accuses the board of bias. “Although our structural engineering course meets all requirements, the board has not registered it,” says Deputy Vice Chancellor Joseph Rotich. 

University spokesman Bob Mbori says every university in Kenya is allowed to start an engineering program only after getting approval from its senate and from the Commission for University Education, "so the board cannot say that our programs are not up to standard.”

There are at least 3,000 undergraduates pursuing various engineering courses in public universities, and more will join in January.

Although Kenya has an estimated 8,700 engineers from Kenyan and foreign universities, the board has only licensed 2,000 to practice. For graduates to be licensed, they must have degrees from approved universities and three years of internship with approved companies.

The accreditation process is ongoing, with the engineers' board planning to approve programs that reapply if they satisfy minimum academic requirements for licensing graduates.

Joseph Schwartzman, chairman and CEO of Nairobi-based contractor H Young East Africa, says the competence and capability of new hires in Kenya’s construction sector have not been a major concern compared to “the increasing use of Chinese engineers for Kenyan projects.”

“In my view there is a general lack of professional engineers in the country but the quality of those who have graduated from local universities after undertaking approved engineering courses is as good as any other," he says. "The problem is that government is not addressing the concerns that Chinese engineers have taken up almost 80% of the major national projects,” he adds. Construction projects dominated by Chinese engineers are those financed by China.

Schwartzman, who is also treasurer of the Roads and Civil Engineering Contractors Association, says most of the foreign engineers, especially those from China, have not faced the same rigorous vetting process as their Kenyan counterparts.

“Our experience when we look at local construction projects is that if you placed a graduate engineer from a local university alongside some of the foreign ones holding jobs in these projects, Kenyans are by far more competent,” he says.

Schwartzman maintains the board should ensure that standards for the engineering curriculum and facilities in universities are internationally competitive, but also “there is need for the government and professional bodies to create an enabling environment for new hires and graduate engineers to showcase their competence and professional skills.”

In early December, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta expressed concern that China Road and Bridge Corp., which is constructing the $3.6-billion rail line linking the capital, Nairobi, with the port city of Mombasa, has failed to honor an earlier pledge to ensure that 40% of the project is locally provided, including personnel and construction material.