Kenya has set aside an extra US$60 million this year to construct physical infrastructure and buy modern equipment for technical colleges, to give the institutions the capacity to admit thousands of young people seeking tertiary education.
The money will be used to set up technical, industrial, vocational and entrepreneurship (TIVET) colleges in a country where there are currently none. The plan also involves setting up a national polytechnic in each of Kenya's eight provinces.
Kenya last year adopted a new constitution that divided East Africa's biggest economy into 47 counties, altering previous boundaries and leaving some of the administrative regions with no technical institutions.
New Higher Education Minister Professor Margaret Kamar said last week that the government was keen to uplift the infrastructure of colleges, and there was also an urgent need to review curricula to enable the colleges to better meet national skills needs under the country's economic blue print, Vision 2030.
That document seeks to transform Kenya into a middle-income economy in the next two decades, a goal educationists have said can only be achieved by developing highly skilled human capital with an appropriate mix of both technical and formative skills.
"The idea is to make Kenyan youths not only employable but also self-employing," said Kamar.
Once the technical institutions are well equipped, some will be upgraded and allowed to offer degrees in areas like engineering, a departure from the current system where technical colleges and polytechnics only offer diploma and certificate courses. The fact that only a few universities offer technical degrees has resulted in a shortage of high-level technical skills.
Last year, The Netherlands government extended at least US$25 million to Kenya to help fund this project, which is also aimed at increasing access to higher education and fighting biting youth unemployment. The African Development Bank has also given $31 million.
Youth unemployment has been rising and the accompanying serious social problems of increased crime and dependency present a major challenge to Kenya's coalition government.
Young people form 60% of the population and they have for decades been at the periphery of major national economic and development initiatives because of lack of capital.
"We recognise the importance of technical training and that is why the government has provided adequate resources for the provision of facilities to our technical training institutions," said the director of Technical Training, Wambai Oluate.
"We now have a very high number of youth seeking and accessing technical training because of the expansion of technical training institutions. Our focus to is to further increase this enrolment," he said.
Statistics from the government's 2010 Economic Survey showed that the number of students enrolled in polytechnics has been rising and stood at 31,344 in 2009, up from 29,700 in 2008. But the upgrading of the Kenya and Mombasa polytechnics last year led to a decrease of 14,000 students enrolled in technical courses countrywide.
This is the number of students that the higher education ministry wants to recoup with the planned expansion of technical colleges and opening of new ones.
Technical colleges have in the past few years also come under threat as universities sought expansion avenues to resolve an admission crisis plaguing higher education. This has seen universities collaborate with technical institutions and change the programmes they offer.
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