YOUR SAY: Why Public University Students are Failing Bar Exams

A report by a Taskforce constituted by the Attorney General indicated that law students from public universities are most likely to fail bar exams compared to their colleagues from private universities. Here, one of our readers tries to demystify the reasons why the situation is as such.

By Cosmas Ronno

That law students from public universities are failing their Bar Exams en masse comes as no surprise.

Since the enactment of the Universities Act, Cap 210B of 1985 and subsequent establishment of the Commission for Higher Education (CHE) and its successor the Commission for University Education (CUE) public universities have been slow to align their policies and operations to the new statutory regime.

What with the false belief that they were ‘superior’ or that after all, it was fellow dons from public universities that were running the show at CHE and CUE!

Private universities, on the other hand, were the underdogs and needed to quickly bring themselves in line with the new regulations if for nothing else but to get letters of interim authority and charters.

As a consequence, private universities are at least two decades ahead of their public counterparts in matters of student/teacher ratio, facilities, adherence to calendars and almanacs, professional delivery of pedagogy, and so forth.

RELATED POST: Law Students from Public Universities most likely to fail Bar Exams, Report

It is easy to see why the reported failure rate is so high:

Firstly, there is the unmanageable numbers of students both government and self-sponsored arising from the mythical perception that law is a highly paying career and the insatiable need for public universities to make money given that the state’s contribution to universities’ financing is miserably law.

Secondly, there is the perennial culture of cheating and cutting corners. The faculty, faced with overwhelming numbers will cut corners by skimming over coursework, giving out only minimal assignments and giving tutorial classes a wide berth (given the poor faculty/student ratios how can you have a tutorial class of less than 50!?).

The students on their part quickly adopt the fine art (and science) of cheating, stealing, and copying which art is being practiced by everyone from the political class, to the academic fraternity, to the village headmen. No brainer here, seems like this is the name of the game!

Lastly, there is the very poorly supervised pupillage (attachment) arising from the twin challenges of overworked lecturers and law firms who treat attachées more as errand boys than students who need an opportunity to be professionally mentored.

There is no way a student operating under such conditions is going to pass bar exams. On the other hand, the few private universities that administer an entry exam at the first year level, has 1 teacher to 40 or fewer students, and has an attachment arrangement with top-drawer law firms (Strathmore comes to mind- I hear every year they take students to, among other places, the ICC!) have no problems getting their law graduates thrash those bar exams at KSL.

What’s surprising in all this is that the law lecturer at the self-declared ‘world class’ University of Nairobi (high failure rate) is the self-same guy moonlighting at Strathmore and Riara!

This disastrous state of affairs is repeated in nearly every faculty/school in all public universities. The only exceptions are in faculties where equipment and operational logistics cannot allow for large classes. Cases in point include Medical Schools and a small number of Engineering and Architectural faculties/schools where in addition to small classes and rigorous tutorial and practicum sessions the entry behavior of first years is on the crème del crème level.

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