Increasing mobility and growing demand for higher education in Kenya

Recent developments in Kenya paint a picture of expanding student mobility programmes as well as a rapidly growing higher education system that is nevertheless struggling to keep up with surging demand for post-secondary places.

The Kenyan government clearly sees education as an important component of the country’s future, even as it grapples with the challenges of transforming and expanding its education system while also ensuring appropriate support and opportunities for a growing student population.

Recent legislative changes

In September Margaret Kamar, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, signed The Universities Bill 2012, which, according to University World News, “seeks to introduce radical changes to higher education” such as:

  • Abolishing the decades-old Commission for Higher Education (CHE), which has hitherto regulated the sector, and replacing it with the Commission for University Education (CUE).
  • The CUE would advise government on university education policy, undertake accreditation inspections, monitor and evaluate the state of university education and ensure compliance with set standards.
  • Additional new bodies running the educator sector would include the Universities Funding Board, to coordinate financing of universities; the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service, to handle admissions to public universities and colleges; and the Technical and Vocational Education (TVET) Funding Board, to handle funding of the TVET sector – a role previously left in the hands of individual, middle-level colleges.

Editor’s Note: in January, the bill was signed into law, bringing public universities, which were previously governed by specific acts of parliament, under the same law as private institutions.

Kenyan authorities, in partnership with the EAC (East African Community), are also promoting more student mobility. To that end, in November 2012, education ministers from Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda met in the Rwandan capital Kigali, and after three years of negotiations, approved the Inter University Council for East Africa (IUCEA) Bill 2012.

This bill, which has been forwarded to the EAC Council of Ministers for approval, repeals IUCEA Act 2009, aims to achieve a unified university system in the region, and enables the building of a system allowing students access to learning and mobility across East Africa. It’s just one example of various subsets of African nations banding together to bolster the prospects of their higher education sectors.

Such harmonisation efforts could help to avoid accreditation disputes, such as the recent trouble thousands of Kenyan graduates of Kampala International University in Uganda have been having upon learning that their qualifications would not be recognised because some courses had not been cleared by the CHE.

The Council of Ministers also adopted a proposed 2013-14 budget of US $1,894,400 to launch the East African Science and Technology Commission (EASTECO), and another US $2,009,041 to launch the East African Kiswahili Commission. The commissions will be based in Rwanda and Tanzania, respectively.

Such intraregional cooperation in developing nations is becoming the norm. Just last month ICEF Monitor reported on a similar phenomenon in Asia, where a credit transfer system was enacted by higher education institutions in the Greater Mekong Subregion. The cooperative moves in East Africa are in line with a global trend, and could have a substantial impact on student recruitment.

Cooperation and competition

Though East African governments have agreed to regional development initiatives, the universities themselves often compete for students. Dr Patrick Mbataru of Kenyatta University noted in a recent interview with University World News that, because Ugandan universities are the most aggressive recruiters in the region, Kenyan institutions have begun to adopt the same approach.

Perhaps the most interesting example of this is provided by Mount Kenya University, which has made moves to open a branch campus in the Somaliland capital Hargeisa. Somaliland is a self-declared independent state unrecognised by the United Nations, which broke from Somalia after years of civil strife. Mount Kenya University’s bold move was driven by competition in East Africa.

Dr Mbatura pointed out,

“The room for expansion in East Africa is getting even more squeezed and universities must look further afield if they wish to grow.”

Funding for Kenya’s education system

The roots of higher education in Kenya date only from 1956 with the founding of Nairobi’s Royal Technical College, a school that would in 1970 become the country’s first university – The University of Nairobi.

Today the story has considerably more depth. Kenya has:

In addition to increased student mobility plans, the current Kenyan government has increased funding for state universities by 36%, and President Mwai Kibaki said in November 2012 that the government would upgrade thirteen of the constituent colleges into full-fledged universities, increasing the number of public universities from seven to twenty.

Kenya’s 2012-13 budget included US $35.2 million in funding for HELB (Higher Education Loans Board), up from US $28.2 million in 2011-12, with the goal of making educational loans available to thousands more students. Nearly 54,000 students in national and village polytechnics and technical training institutes will be eligible to benefit.

Meanwhile, with the March 2013 election looming, the CORD (Coalition for Reform and Democracy) political alliance promises that if it wins the next government, it will double funds to HELB.

Clearly education funding is an issue on many minds. Perhaps that’s because demographic data from the World Bank suggests that, in the near term, Kenya must create one million jobs each year just to accommodate new entrants into the labour force.

As the World Bank report notes:

“Young people don’t just need jobs, they also create them. Therefore, what matters most is to make sure that the education system delivers the skills needed in emerging economies, and incubates entrepreneurs.”

Kenyan growing pains

Amidst rapid advancement and restructuring, there have been some problems in the higher education sector. The growth of public universities and the expansion of their curricula is wiping out some vocational schools, reducing options for secondary level graduates who may not be qualified for or financially able to attend universities.

Also hurt have been teacher training colleges and Government Training Institutes (GTIs), which have been taken over by universities and no longer offer certificate courses. The space has been filled by commercial colleges, which have been criticised by some employers for turning out poorly equipped graduates.

Universities face problems as well – space, labs, and computers are at a premium. Administrators are dealing with surging numbers of students seeking admissions. Finance Minister Njeru Githae has said in his budget policy statement for 2012-13, “The sector’s biggest challenges include inadequate infrastructure and staffing, slow pace of ICT integration and dealing with accelerated admissions to universities.”

Kenya’s future

In 2008, President Mwai Kibaki launched a development programme entitled Kenya Vision 2030. Though most of the recent educational reforms and funding are separate from that ambitious programme, the goals are the same – to create a globally competitive and prosperous nation with a high quality of life.

Despite the recent hiccups, Kenya is making strides towards successfully reorganising and strengthening its tertiary education sector. By 2020, the number of Kenyans with a university degree is expected to exceed those without any formal education – quite a leap for a country whose first university is only forty-two years old.



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