KENYA: Entry points lowered to boost access

The number of new students who will access Kenya's seven public universities next academic year has been increased to a record 20,000, following a decision by the Joint Admissions Board to lower the entry grade.

The board made the historic announcement recently, indicating an increase of more than 3,000 students compared with 16,629 admitted in the previous selection.

Addressing journalists at Maseno University, its Vice-chancellor and JAB Chairman Professor Fredrick Onyango said university dons had reached the decision to admit slightly more than 20,000 students after exhaustive deliberations that considered a number of factors including availability of bed capacity.

Onyango said many universities had established constituent colleges and it was important to extend the benefit to university applicants. "We have set the cut-off at 65 points, a mean grade of B plain and this is a point lower compared to last year's 66 points," he said.

The board also had good news for graduates of the 2008 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) who were female and-or from marginalised areas. Their cut-off point was to be lowered from 65 by another one or two points.

In 2008, 305,995 candidates sat for the KCSE exams and 72,500 scored an aggregate of C+ or above - a substantial decrease from the 82,000 who managed a similar performance in 2007. The country's minimum grade for accessing university education remains C+.

Before 2008, JAB was absorbing an average of 10,000 students annually in public universities under the government-sponsored programme, leaving thousands of qualified students with the option of seeking places at private universities, tertiary colleges or joining public universities under parallel degree programmes that are self-sponsored.

The government covers the expenses of 'regular' students while those in parallel programmes shoulder the financial burden on their own. A 'regular' student at a public university pursuing a course in an arts-related field pays 28,500 Kenyan shillings (US$375) annually while self-sponsored students pay 150,000 shillings (US$1,974) a year.

Yes, the Joint Admissions Board has lowered the cut-off point for 2008 candidates, but those for 2009 are still in the dark as to their cut-off point. By 2 August last year, the 2008 candidates knew where they stood on their university education, yet 2009 candidates are still waiting to hear from the JAB.

Peter Murimi