The Commission for University Education has been given exclusive mandate to accredit and inspect degree courses in a new law awaiting presidential assent.
This effectively locks out professional bodies unless working under the commission.
Parliament passed a Bill placing the commission above the professional boards.
Part of those functions will be to accredit and regularly inspect universities to ensure they comply with standards and guidelines set by the commission and the commission shall be the only body with the power to do so.
This means decisions on degree courses taken by the professional boards, such as the Engineers Board of Kenya (EBK) that has questioned degrees approved by the commission can be challenged in this new order.
The amendments were moved by vice-chairperson of the departmental committee on Education, Research and Technology Julius Melly (Tinderet MP) last week.
The decision is expected to reduce anxiety among students in universities pursuing degree programmes approved by the commission but questioned by professional boards.
A case in point is the engineering board that is embroiled in a tussle with the universities stating that the students will have to repeat certain courses under engineering programmes to meet standards.
At this stage, questions remain as to whether the concerns raised by the boards shall be addressed using the new arrangement. This includes the number of lecturers, equipment and outmoded curriculum.
EBK registrar Nicholas Mulinge said there should have been adequate consultations with all professional boards before the amendments were taken to Parliament.
The boards are critical because the worldwide practice is that any person to be registered in any profession must undergo either pupilage or internship while working in industry under a registered professional for a stipulated period.
The commission can, however, delegate its functions to any suitably qualified bodies, suggesting that the boards can work under the commission.
Such boards include the Pharmacy and Poisons Board, Medical Practitioners and Dentistry Board, Nursing Council, Veterinary Board and the Council for Legal Education.
Others are the Kenya Medical Laboratory and Technicians Board and the Clinical Officers Association, which have been asserting their regulatory authority in the higher education sector.
Boards charge more to accredit universities than the commission. They ask for between Sh300,000 and Sh484,000 to evaluate a degree course.
In comparison, CUE charges a standard fee of Sh150,000 for evaluating a degree course of study.
The Director of the Council for Legal Education, Prof Wanyama Kulundu-Bitonye, said professional boards are critical for quality assurance in higher education.
In an earlier interview, Prof Kulundu-Bitonye said that although the line between the commission and professional bodies’ regulation framework is very thin, degrees have to be endorsed by the latter.
“Our role is additional to what the commission does. Institutions must seek our accreditation,” he said.
Prof Kulundu-Bitonye suggested that Kenya could emulate South Africa, where all professional bodies and associations are housed by the accrediting agency of the government.
This way, he said, the evaluation is reduced to only one body, but assisted by representatives of the professional associations.