Making higher education affordable to the majority is key to Kenya’s growth

Expensive education diminishes opportunities for poor families to climb out of poverty.

Thursday January 28 2016

A graduation ceremony in Nairobi on November 28, 2014. FILE PHOTO | ANTHONY OMUYA

A graduation ceremony in Nairobi on November 28, 2014. FILE PHOTO | ANTHONY OMUYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By SIMON GICHARU
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Any country that aspires to transform the living standards of its people must emphasise a sound educational system.

Indeed it is a universal fact that education is the cornerstone of development.

No country the world over has ever attained economic take-off without putting good education at the centre of its planning.

An enlightened population contributes meaningfully and in various ways to the progress of a country.

An educated human resource is also a critical pillar of social and political advancement.

However, an education that is out of step with the needs of the people in unlikely to meet this grand objective.

There are several strands to a good education system, with the predominant ones being affordability, quality and relevance.

These interdependent attributes form the platform upon which a firm foundation for development and prosperity is set up.

Attaining affordable education has been the subject of intense debate among multi-sectoral players in Kenya for a long time.

This discourse is driven by the realisation that an expensive education system, however good it is, will not be able to meet the objectives of a country like ours in which a huge section of the population is poor.

Affordable education accords everyone an equal chance to attain the necessary skills, hence democratise opportunities to create livelihoods and generate wealth.

Such a system is an equaliser and a vital tool in sealing the rich-poor gap.

CLIMBING OUT OF POVERTY

Expensive education, on the other hand, diminishes opportunities for poor families to climb out of poverty, undermining all the measures we have put in place as we strive to improve our livelihoods. This is because only those from affluent background will be able to access it.

An exclusive and discriminative education system is inimical to a society’s goal of equity and equality.

Unfortunately, this seems to be the road we want to travel.

Recently, the Commission for University Education introduced fees payable per student.

The new levy is in addition to an array of fees charged by CUE for various services it offers to universities.

There are also other charges levied by multiplicity of regulatory bodies for licensing and accreditation.

This regulatory body further imposes levies on students to be indexed by professional bodies while studying at the universities in addition to other charges they pay on completion of their courses.

We run the risk of shutting the classroom door on more promising Kenyans from poor backgrounds.

Yet, this is the group that should be our overriding focus when designing education policies.

For a developing country like Kenya, the need for education that’s affordable and inclusive cannot be overemphasised.

We will never attain First World status if a majority of our citizens are trapped in the never-ending cycle of poverty.

The cost of programmes such as medicine, engineering, law, IT, among others, have made them the preserve of students from affluent families.

When financial muscle, not ability, is the determining factor of what career students pursue, we are bound to lock out talented professionals.

Another fundamental aspect of a good education is its relevance. University programmes must be attuned to the needs of a nation.

Education can only be useful if it is able to solve people’s pressing needs and multi-faceted challenges.

To realise this, we must constantly ask ourselves what role education should play in the society.

Besides, a sound education system must appreciate that societal needs are dynamic. To remain relevant, it must keep abreast with emerging trends in the society and in industries.

QUALITY OF EDUCATION

Questions have often been raised regarding the quality of education, with some players calling for a complete overhaul of the current system.

While the jury is still out on what steps should be taken to revitalise our education system, we must relentlessly seek ways to ensure that what our children learn in school, colleges and universities stand them in good stead to confront the problems ahead.

One notable move to enhance standards is the recent amendment to the Universities Act 2012 to create one clearing house for university education.

If the letter and the spirit of this law is adhered to, the standard of education would certainly improve.

Hopefully, this initiative will end instances where some degrees are revoked, rendering useless all the studies that a student has painstakingly undertaken and paid for dearly­.

More fundamentally, there is an urgent need to address the current untenable situation where CUE is threatening to close some campuses for various reasons.

Clearly, sector players must act swiftly to bolster the regulatory framework, which is clearly wanting.

Dr Gicharu is the founder and chairman, Mount Kenya University.

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