KENYA: New university to help ease admissions crisis

A new institution called the East African University was granted an interim operating licence last week by Kenya's Commission for Higher education. The Ugandan-owned private university offers opportunities for thousands more Kenyan school-leavers to access higher education and should help ease a serious admissions crisis.

The EUA is affiliated to Kampala University, one of Uganda's biggest institutions of higher learning. The commission's licence grants the EUA permission to operate in East Africa's biggest economy with courses in business management and computer science and information technology.

Kenya has more than 40 universities but a surging number of students seeking higher education has exceeded the capacity of existing facilities, especially in the seven public universities, locking out thousands of potential undergraduates.

The admissions crisis has been fed by growing numbers of school-leavers as a result of subsidised primary and secondary schooling, and by soaring demand for higher education as students seek to improve their opportunities in the labour market.

"The award of the letter of interim authority to this university is a clear demonstration that Kenya cannot enjoy the benefits of sustainable development, nor attain Vision 2030, without the contributions of a sound and effective system of higher education," said comission chairman Professor Ezra Maritim.

The opening of the new university to operate on the outskirts of Kenya's capital Nairobi comes at a time when the government is scouring for strategies to help admit a backlog of at least 40,000 students. This has built up over nearly three decades because universities have been unable to enrol all qualified school-leavers.

Many students who qualify for degree studies after the release of the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education in February each year have to wait up to two years before they can be admitted to government-sponsored programmes.

Over the past five years, enrolments have been rising by at least 40% annually while subsidies have increased by only 4% to 5 %. According to the government's Economic Survey 2010, the number of students in public universities was 143,000 in 2009 - up from 101,000 the previous year.

Apart from licensing new institutions and allowing for inter-institution collaboration, the government has also courted private universities to help absorb the backlog of students. Private institutions are set to take close to 25,000 students once negotiations over the subsidies they will receive from the state are concluded.

The licensing of the EUA also gives Uganda's Kampala University a long sought-after launching pad into Kenya's lucrative higher education sector. Attempts by the university to set up a subsidiary in Nairobi were thwarted by Kenyan education authorities five years ago on the basis the university did not meet operational requirements

"We are celebrating [the success of] the five or so years that have gone into the preparation of this multi-million dollar project that is being inaugurated as a fully fledged Kenyan university," said Professor Badru Kateregga, chair of the EAU.

Kenya's search for a stable, effective, affordable and accessible higher education system will receive another boost next year when the country launches a multi-million dollar e-learning university. Plans are underway to establish a National Open University of Kenya - the country's eighth public university - enabling students to pursue their degree dreams through online learning, a trend already practiced on a small scale by private universities.

In June, the treasury set the stage for increased admissions when it raised the allocation to public universities for the current fiscal year by an extra US$293 million. This nearly doubled subsidies to state universities to $640 million, and was the biggest rise in university subsidies in Kenyan history.

The increased spending, in addition to potentially easing the admissions backlog and improving a dwindling quality of learning, was also to be used to fund 13 newly-created constituent colleges run by the public universities.

But fears still abound that the funding remains way below what is required to handle soaring admissions.

Kenya hopes an expansion of technical colleges will also help deal with the admissions problem. But inadequate facilities have so far prevented the colleges from meeting the goal of increasing access to higher education.

Universities have been taking over teachers colleges and upgrading technical colleges in their efforts to expand infrastructure. But the government recently announced a ban on such take-overs, concerned that mid-tier training institutions were being eliminated.

This is very encouraging. It gives hope to many students who could not access public universities. I would urge the Kenyan Government to allow such initiatives so as to expand the education sector of Kenya.

Ouma Lawrence[/b