East African International Students to Benefit from Single Qualification Framework

Sudanese refugee James Mathiang (left) with his teammates has had difficulties getting his qualifications recognised even though he was offered a scholarship. Wilson Odhiambo/IPS
Sudanese refugee James Mathiang (left) with his teammates has had difficulties getting his qualifications recognised even though he was offered a scholarship. Wilson Odhiambo/IPS
  • by Wilson Odhiambo (nairobi)
  • Inter Press Service

IGAD has, over the past year, been conducting a series of seminars and workshops aimed at finding a solution to the problems faced by foreigners and refugees looking to continue with their education and employability in foreign lands.

During the 3rd IGAD conference held in Nairobi, Kenya, in March last year, it was agreed that its member states needed to develop a harmonised qualification framework that would allow their students to cross borders in search of work and education easily.

The IGAD member states include Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti, Uganda, South Sudan and Eritrea.

Countries usually have different education systems and standards, making it mandatory for foreigners to prove their qualifications before joining any institution.

Joining a higher education institution in Kenya demands one to have attained certain set standards from high school, which in this case, is to have a mean grade of at least a C+. Therefore, an international student seeking to join the same institution must show that they achieved an academic qualification from their country equivalent to the Kenyan standard.

To do this, they must go through the Kenya National Qualification Authority (KNQA) and have their high school grades converted to verify whether they meet the standards.

However, given the difference in curriculum and education standards for different countries, this is usually a tedious process for many.

Students have complained of waiting for months (or even years, in some cases) before having their qualifications approved to join learning institutions. This has especially been tough on refugees from Somalia and South Sudan, whose education systems are still volatile, making it difficult for them to get quality education in countries of their choice.

South Sudan, for instance, has seen many of its citizens stream into Kenya in search of refuge and a fresh start to life. And due to their height, many Sudanese teenagers are sought after by basketball coaches in colleges and universities who are willing to offer them sport scholarship opportunities.

IPS spoke to James Mathiang during one of his basketball games to understand his transition process as a foreigner trying to further his ambitions.

Mathiang is a refugee from South Sudan who had been offered a sports scholarship by African Nazarene University (ANU) but is yet to join since he has not cleared the qualification process.

"I came to Kenya in 2021 with my family and currently live in one of the estates in Nairobi. Our country is still facing civil unrest, and my parents felt it was wise for us to seek refuge in Kenya, which also meant continuing with our lives in a new country," Mathiang told IPS.

"I play basketball and have many of my relatives who have been in Kenya for longer, who also play the sport and were able to introduce me to some of the teams they play in."

It was not long before one of the basketball scouts noticed Mathiang's potential and offered to get him a scholarship in return for his talents. Mathiang is, however, yet to benefit from the deal due to the required qualification conversion process.

"It has already been seven months since I was offered the scholarship, but I am yet to understand how the conversion process works. I may have to sit for another qualification exam in Kenya since my papers are not recognised by KNQA," Mathiang told UWN.

According to KNQA, the qualification is a planned combination of learning outcomes with a definite purpose and is intended to provide qualifying learners with applied competence and a basis for further learning.

Joining a university in Kenya, requires one to have completed four years in high school and attained a mean grade of at least a C+.

This standard may differ in a country like Sudan or Uganda, where students must spend at least six years in high school before joining a University. As such, a Kenyan going to Uganda in search of higher education has to meet a standard equivalent to that of Uganda and vice versa.

Rollins Oduk, who has been on a basketball scholarship at the Uganda Martyr University, recalls how it took him almost two years to convert his secondary school certificates to meet the qualifications required by the Ugandan system.

"Since Uganda did not have a qualification system like Kenya, I had no choice but to enrol into one of their secondary schools and sit for fresh exams so that I could be accepted by their higher education institutions. In the meantime, I could still play for the University and get some financial benefits as I waited. This is a good move by IGAD, and it will help a lot of foreigners like me," Oduk told UWN.

According to IGAD, only one of its member states, Kenya, has a properly functioning qualification system that enables foreigners to confirm and convert their qualifications quickly.

Dr Alice Kande, managing director, KNQA, explained that having a regional qualification framework would lessen students' obstacles when moving across the member states in search of education.

"KNQA is receiving so many foreign qualifications that are awarded without a clear clarification on whether they are accredited in their countries of origin, their requisite volume of learning, the skills that they impart and their equivalence to local qualifications," Kande told IPS.

"The authority plays an important role in ensuring that authenticity of foreign qualifications is ascertained; and that the country only accepts and recognises foreign qualifications that meet the national standard. By doing this, we hope that students get quality training and education that equips them with the skills necessary to work both locally and internationally and that the country as a whole only accepts and recognises qualifications that meet the national standard and protects the country from fake and substandard qualifications," she added.

According to Zetech University, it is tough for institutions to enrol international students due to the bureaucracy of specific government offices that frustrates the effort of potential students and the recruiting universities. There is a disconnect that makes it necessary for the concerned offices to sit with the universities and discuss a way forward.

"To join Zetech, foreign students are expected to have a visa, a student pass and the KNQA equation to get admission. It is particularly difficult for Somali students because of the fear of terrorism; hence the student pass takes too long to process," said Dr Catherine Njoki, Liaison and Resource Mobilization Director Zetech University. A student's pass can take up to eight months to a year to acquire, making some give up entirely on their education.

"The students are also required to equate their results with the KNQA. This Government body is also very slow in their service delivery, and they decline to support the recruiting institutions with a general guideline of how students can get temporary admission as they await the confirmation. KNQA should become a little flexible with such information and also realise the country needs the foreign exchange as much as the institutions need the students," Njoki told UWN.

KNQA, however, states that it should only take two to eight weeks for an evaluation process to be concluded.

"According to Kenya National Qualifications Authority, service charter evaluation of qualifications processing time is (14 -60) working days from receipt of an application. This is counted from date of receipt of all relevant documents provided by the applicants," Kande explained.

The following are some of the requirements that will be expected of someone trying to have his qualifications converted:

(i) Certified copy of each qualification certificate to be evaluated.

(ii) Certified copy of official transcript of each qualification to be evaluated.

(iii) Certified copy of certificate and transcript of qualification preceding the one that has been submitted for evaluation.

(iv) Certified copy of Identity Document or birth certificate for children under the age of 18 for citizens or Passport for foreigners

(v) Translations (if applicable) together with the documents in the original language prepared by a sworn translator.

Njoki added that IGAD should bring all stakeholders involved to help address these issues.

"I would like to continue with my education through this sports scholarship, and if this harmonised system works, there are many foreigners like me who are going to benefit from it," Mathiang concluded.

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