New projects to expand and improve higher education
Speaking at a graduation ceremony at Moi University, the third largest by student numbers, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced that the National Open University of Kenya would be established by December 2014, in an effort to expand enrolment through distance and e-learning.
Kenya has more than 40 universities, but the 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 open university, which the government hopes will help to ease a backlog of at least 40,000 would-be students, has been in the works since 2010. It will enable students to pursue degrees through online learning – which is currently only offered on a small scale by private universities.
The new institution will enable students to follow lectures online from remote areas, interact with lecturers, submit assignments and check grades. Lecturers will be able to upload course materials online, post assignments and generate discussions via blogs.
The government also hopes to double the number of universities of technology from the current four, to ensure that Kenya’s edge in ICT competitiveness and innovation is honed, the president said. The expansion of technical universities is expected to help grow admissions – but inadequate facilities have so far prevented the institutions from meeting this goal.
The new plan will also see training of 17,000 PhD holders in the next 13 years, in a government-backed programme to be rolled out through scholarships.
“There has to be a concerted effort to increase the enrolment and implementation of PhD training in Kenya. This is a good strategy to increase the pool of available lecturers,” David Some, CEO of the Commission for University Education, told University World News.
“The ministry is in the process of raising scholarships towards this noble idea. We will surpass the figure of 1,000 new lecturers in the coming five years.”
The government also plans to quintriple the size of Kenya’s research funding next year. It currently stands at 0.4% of gross domestic product, or US$180 million, and will rise to 2% of GDP – US$900 million.
Kenyatta said his administration would focus on these initiatives in the coming months in an effort to expand its higher education offering.
“We want to ensure that every encounter with education, however brief, is a quality moment that actually empowers. We are committed to going beyond literacy and numeracy, to arming every Kenyan to compete successfully in our rapidly evolving world,” Kenyatta said.
“We have promised to knock down financial and non-financial barriers hindering access and quality of education.”
PhDs and the lecturer shortage
Kenyatta said the country had set a target of graduating 1,000 PhDs every year in order to end a serious shortage of academics, which is said to be eroding the quality of learning.
Latest data from the Commission for University Education show that the number of professors working in Kenya’s seven public universities has risen by a measly 11% over the past three years, lagging behind sharp growth in student numbers and highlighting the challenge the country faces in matching admissions with lecturers.
The number of professors rose from 238 in 2010 to 265 in February this year, while total academic staff numbers in the seven universities grew from around 4,800 three years ago to 5,189 – 8% growth.
During the same period, student numbers shot from 140,000 in 2010 to 218,832 this year. Lecturers have had to take on ever-bigger workloads, possibly compromising already shaky quality of learning.
“My administration recognises education to be the indispensable pillar of our development aspirations. We have pledged and are working hard to expand access to, and at the same time raise the standard of, education in Kenya,” Kenyatta said.
Education experts and university administrators have argued that additional enrolment can only be handled if the government pumps more funds into higher education, so institutions can afford to expand educational and boarding infrastructure and hire extra tutors.
The planned projects are expected to ride on operationalisation of the Universities Act 2012, which came into effect earlier this year. It is expected to improve funding to public and private universities.
Kenyatta said universities also had a role to play in the expansion drive, through deepening their commercial activities, and that they needed to improve education quality.
Earlier this year, the government secured a grant of US$101.2 million from India to finance power generation at Moi University. The funds are also expected to modernise Rivatex, a textile corporation held by the university, which is expected in due course to employ more than 5,000 Kenyans.
Kenyatta University, the largest institution by student numbers, is in the process of constructing a state-of-the-art referral hospital at the cost of US$95 million – which is more than the institution’s annual budget – to expand its revenue streams, a route that has also been taken by its rival, the University of Nairobi.
The 500-bed hospital will be the country’s first fully-fledged university hospital. In 2009, Kenyatta University surprised the country by venturing into the mortuary business, having constructed a 50-body morgue at its school of applied human science, which also trains morticians.
The University of Nairobi is to construct a US$11.7 million business complex that will feature several conference halls, a modern library, a hotel and restaurant as well as outdoor and indoor sports facilities.