Policy protects courses, mandates of upgraded colleges

Kenya has formally allowed universities to take over tertiary colleges in a new policy framework. But the upgraded institutions must retain their original courses, programmes and mandates, says the policy announced last Thursday by cabinet.

The policy, aimed among other things at stemming a national decline in the number of technical and vocational diploma and certificate courses, also gives the Ministry of Education extra powers over universities in protecting tertiary institutions that are being upgraded.

A brief from cabinet said the government had also approved a public-private partnership, or PPP, programme that would allow private companies to participate in infrastructure development. This enabled cabinet to approve 47 projects under the PPP programme, among them expansion of university hostels and other facilities.

The decision cleared a policy hurdle that had blocked universities from seeking private investment to build new academic and residential facilities, as surging enrolments piled pressure on space-strapped institutions.

Universities have been looking for new financing models, such as private equity funds, to meet the demand for infrastructure development, but lack of clear policy had discouraged them from doing so – despite education facilities being added to the list of buildings that qualify for tax breaks two years ago. For example, public universities have had to get government clearance to bring in private investors.

Kenyatta University and Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology are currently seeking investors to build hostels on their campuses to ease congestion in facilities.

Tertiary expansion

Last week’s two government decisions are the latest in a string of initiatives aimed at expanding the tertiary sector. With student demand soaring, universities have been struggling to admit all qualified students.

Universities currently enrol around 190,000 students, and the number is expected to exceed the 200,000 mark by the end of this year.

The policy may bring to an end a protracted battle over universities subsuming colleges.

There has been concern about colleges losing their identities as they join universities as constituent institutions. Over the past five years, such partnerships have almost wiped out the college sector, as universities used constituent colleges to grow income streams and fund expansion.

Colleges had complained to government about the growing penetration of universities into their territory and the threat they represented. Currently, an audit is being planned of mid-level colleges to establish their capacity.

The new policy is seen as a change of tune by the government, which had previously disallowed universities from taking over further education and training colleges. Last year, the government said it would bar universities from offering diplomas and certificates, leaving colleges to handle these lower qualifications.

Now universities will be able to take control of colleges as long as the colleges retain their diploma and certificate offerings. This will give universities access to a key income stream, as the number of students seeking lower qualifications has been rising as fast as those seeking degree courses, but will also protect the provision of diploma and certificate courses.

Ministry statistics show that more than half of the 200,000 school pupils who sit the Certificate of Secondary Education annually join colleges after failing to secure places at universities.

The new policy also provides guidelines under which colleges must operate. They will be expected to focus on courses relevant to the job market – especially technical qualifications – so as to produce skills in demand by employers.

It is also hoped that it will entice investors into the mid-tier level of tertiary education, which has previously been largely neglected by government regulation.

Reform agenda

The policy is part of a wider reform agenda in the tertiary sector that will see Kenya spend US$56 million in donor funding in the next two years to strengthen vocational and technical training countrywide and help boost the country’s skills base.

The plan includes building new technical education and training institutions and elevating some to national polytechnic status. Government officials and educationists said that tertiary and technical institutions would be key to increasing access to higher education and fighting youth unemployment.

Youth unemployment has been on the rise, with accompanying serious social problems of increased crime and dependency presenting a major challenge to the government. Young people form 60% of the population and they have for decades been at the periphery of major economic and development initiatives because of lack of capital.

“The idea is to arm as many youths as possible with skills. This will help them get formal jobs as well as assist them in self-employment. That’s what Kenya needs,” said Dan Ngugi, an economics lecturer in Nairobi.

“For years, the government had ignored the tertiary education sector in its policy agenda. But this policy shows that it is willing to deal with this crucial segment of the education system. But it must fund institutions.”