Debate has been raging over the future of the private universities and the parallel degree programmes in public universities following the drop in the number of last year’s Form Four candidates who met the entry requirement.
Since only 88,929 students obtained grade C+ in the 2016 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination and who are all likely to be absorbed in the public universities, the question has been: What will happen to the private universities?
A similar question obtains for the parallel degree programmes that besides offering a chance to self-sponsored qualifiers to pursue degree courses, have been providing revenues for the universities, as the government cut subsidies to them.
Expansion of Kenya’s universities has been based on a faulty premise. It has been supply driven but without basic fundamentals.
The rising numbers of students seeking university admission every year compelled universities to expand rapidly. But as last year’s KCSE exam results have demonstrated, the large numbers of qualifiers were unrealistic.
It was a consequence of institutionalised exam cheating, which triggered false demand for higher education. Government was forced to expand public universities as private entrepreneurs also saw an opportunity to set up campuses and make money.
DOESN'T EMPLOY TEACHERS
But the result is what has come to be described as massification of university education, with negative consequences. For one, there has been over-concentration on particular disciplines such as business and administration, education (arts) and humanities at the expense of what the market needs.
A report published by the Commission for University Education last year, entitled, ‘Status of University Education in Kenya’, indicated that half of the 500,000-plus students enrolled in 2015/16 were in the three disciplines, as follows: business administration (120,223), education (arts) 79,368 and humanities and the arts, 46,139. Contrastingly, veterinary medicine, manufacturing and architecture had a total of 8,498.
The most startling case is education (arts), where the universities enrol about 80,000 and graduate 20,000 every year yet the government doesn’t employ the teachers.
Such scenarios demonstrate a glaring mismatch between what universities offer and what the market needs. Further, expansion was never matched with infrastructure and resources. Most universities have serious lecturer shortages and rely on part-timers, who hardly give quality time to the students.
According to CUE, there were 16,318 academic staff in public and private universities and only 34 per cent (5,604) had PhDs. This has implications on quality of teaching and supervision.
A study conducted by the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA) in 2014 on the status of higher education East Africa showed that 49 per cent of the new Kenyan graduates were not ready for the job market. It will be recalled that the Kenya Engineers Registration Board rejected graduates from some universities.
In the past, the universities were known for excellence in particular areas. Nairobi, for example, was known for engineering, Makerere for medicine and the humanities and Dar es Salaam for law. Kenyatta was a centre for education; Egerton, agriculture and Jomo Kenyatta, agricultural engineering and technology. But this was lost. None can now boast of any specialty.
Yet, as a report by the British Council on graduate employability in four African countries reveals, some the universities with the highest potential for graduate employability are those that have cut a niche in specific disciplines. Strathmore University and KCA University were ranked among those whose graduates had the highest chances of employment.
Second, the universities must look outward and admit foreign students. European and American universities thrive on foreign students. In sum, the reduced number of university qualifiers is a good problem. It offers universities a chance to re-model themselves to confront emerging challenges and play in the global space.
Mr Aduda, a manager at Nation Media Group, is a specialist in education. [email protected]