Educationists agree that three factors influence the quality of students that graduate from institutions of higher learning. These are entry qualifications, creating a diverse student body, and student aptitude – the willingness of the student to pursue a given course.
The entry qualifications are useful for identifying admissible students as well for predicting their potential.
However, the quality of graduates is not mere grades but also the conviction to pursue a particular profession and display a sense of purpose.
Thus, the process of admitting students to universities should not limit itself to grades, but aim at quality.
Attaining national unity is a goal the admission process should aim at by creating a diverse study body. To throw light on this goal, we need to understand public universities.
First, most of those admitted are self-sponsored. There are more self-sponsored students in public universities than in private universities.
Secondly, most universities are monolithic, with the majority of students (60 per cent or more) coming from the immediate ethnic community except those found in Nairobi.
The danger with such a situation is that the universities end up producing stereotype tribal chauvinists.
Outside their tribal boundaries, other communities are foreign, second-rate, enemies or suspects who need to prove their innocence.
Kenya embraced the quota system for admission to secondary schools in the 1980s. This policy ensured 85 per cent of such students came from the host district.
The products of this policy are tribal chauvinists as we saw during the post-election violence.
It required negligible efforts to persuade graduates at various levels of this system to believe that the neighbours who had lived peacefully with them for years were enemies to be fought and killed.
This is what we saw during the land clashes of 1992 and 1997, and the post-election violence. It is, therefore, not surprising that negative tribalism and nepotism are hindrances to equal employment opportunities in private and public universities.
To safeguard the quality of graduates, there is a need for the government to formulate policies regulating admissions. As Kenya embraces devolved county governance, there is need for concrete efforts to instil the spirit of national cohesion through the education system.
We should be scared now that more universities are being created in rural areas. It is good to provide access to university education to as many Kenyans as possible, but we must protect nationhood rather than sacrifice it at the altar of political expediency.
Currently, an amorphous entity called the Joint Admissions Board provides admission services to public universities for direct entry students.
However, this body will soon be replaced by a central admissions organisation catering for both public and private universities.
Higher education is undergoing unprecedented change. With privatisation opening doors to mature students who are working and others who may not have obtained the minimum cut-off grade for direct entry at secondary school level, the majority of students are now admitted by individual universities.
Thus, a convincing pass in the secondary school examination is no longer the only requirement as in the past.
The new students’ admissions body must try to avoid the shortcomings of its predecessor which treated students as mere statistics.
The new system should standardise and close quality gaps in the admission of both direct and mature students to private and public universities.
The students should be allowed to apply directly for courses at universities of their choice. The respective universities will admit their capacity and roll over excess to other universities.
The role of the admissions body should be to confirm available slots in all universities for every course and disseminate this information to all stakeholders.
A centralised system runs counter to the spirit of devolved government and eliminates incentives for competition and innovation.
In view of the persistent examination irregularities, caution must be exercised if continuous assessments tests are going to be used to grade students for placement in higher education or employment.
Many Kenyans have proved to be short-cut experts and CATS may be largely abused.
Dr Gudo is the dean, Faculty of Education and Arts, KCA University. (firstname.lastname@example.org)