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Let higher education match national needs

Thursday February 7 2019

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Expanding access to higher education remains a major challenge for the government.

However, in recent years, all those who qualify for university easily get admission because the numbers have gone down drastically in the wake of strict administration of examinations in schools to curb cheating.

This time around, all the 90,000-plus 2018 KCSE exam candidates who scored Grade C+ and above are assured of slots.

For good measure, the government has entered into a deal where students are also placed in private universities and given subsidies to underwrite their costs, though that plan has run into headwinds.

Previously, when the numbers were huge, the universities would only absorb a portion of the qualifiers, forcing many to seek alternatives — including enrolling for parallel degree programmes or joining private universities.

But those options are costly and lock out many qualified students.


Even though the universities can now admit all qualifiers, the challenge is placement in the preferred courses and programmes.

Except for the top candidates, the majority are thrown into all sorts of courses and programmes, irrespective of their choices.

The consequence is that many end up taking degree courses that they did not want and spend their time agonising and complaining.

During the launch of the selection yesterday, Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed asked Form Four leavers who wish to make revisions on their career choices to do so.

However, from experience, only a few will succeed in getting their preferences. This is because the best courses are few and accommodate a small proportion of the qualifiers.

In contrast, there are many general courses offered in nearly all the universities where the majority of the students are pushed. Essentially, this becomes a challenge.


Interestingly, investment and expansion of universities has never been linked to the economic needs of the country.

Resources are pumped into the institutions and spent on programmes that the economy does not need.

This is the reason we call for a rethink of university education and matching of investments with output.

A positive development in recent years is the increased investment in technical and vocational education and training (TVET).

Statistics show more than 120,000 candidates who obtained Grades C and C- will be admitted to these programmes, offering a pathway for career progression.

However, the success of TVET requires attitude change. Public sensitisation is, therefore, vital.

Renewed focus on TVET is encouraging. However, we need to reorganise university education and prioritise courses that attract more students. Placement should match students’ preferences.