The relatively high number of PhD degrees awarded by Kampala International University at its graduation last week has raised eyebrows.
In fact, the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) had asked the university to hold the awards until it had verified them but the institution chose to go ahead. To be clear, the NCHE admits that KIU is a chartered university and is, therefore, allowed to award PhDs. However, the council doubts that KIU has the capacity to graduate 42 doctorates at once.
For the regulator, this is indeed a legitimate concern. Nevertheless, it would have been more helpful if the concern had come up earlier, rather than on the eve of graduation. Besides, KIU might be under the spotlight right now but this issue relates to all institutions of higher learning in Uganda. High standards have to be maintained if Uganda it to hold onto her position as the education destination of choice in the region.
This gets harder with privatisation of higher education, but that is precisely why NCHE must come in. This newspaper has always cautioned about Uganda taking for granted the niche that it enjoys in the provision of education to East Africans. Already, many in the region are questioning the quality of our education but some parents stick with it because it is available and relatively cheap.
However, if we need a reminder that our niche position can be eroded very quickly, let's look no further than the controversial declaration by Kenya's higher education commissioner last week that KIU is not chartered in that country and therefore the institution's certificates are not recognised!
That is why it is important for minimum standards to be established, publicised and strictly adhered to, so that prospective students know the status of institutions they are about to join rather than get rude surprises long after they have graduated.
A committee established by the NCHE should help in that regard as its task is to work out an improved regime of minimum requirements and general guidelines for the training and awarding of postgraduate degrees in Uganda and East Africa.