Survey highlights ‘skewed’ arts, science programmes
According to a survey, The State of Science Training in Kenyan Universities, released recently by social and market research organisation CPS International, science courses in public universities account for 69.1% of all courses offered, while arts courses account for 30.9%.
This is despite the fact that a report by the Commission for University Education, or CUE, on The State of University Education in Kenya released last year indicated that almost 50% of all students in public universities study arts and social science-based courses. Most students are registered in business and administration (22.3%), education and arts (14.7%) and humanities and arts (8.9%). Less than 15% of students enrolled in public and private universities last year study science, mathematics and engineering.
The survey, commissioned by the Pan African Education Trust, included 68 chartered universities and 309 employers in Kenya. It notes that there is a high risk of over-duplication of science programmes across universities as lower-ranked universities imitate higher-ranked institutions. It also notes that increased privately-sponsored teaching programmes are pulling academic staff away from research into teaching only.
“University lecturers are now like teachers, they do not have time to do research as they are doing teaching throughout the year. This is unacceptable and we have to change this practice,” according to CPS International’s lead consultant Professor Herman Manyora who released the report.
The study based its science ranking on a combination of webometrics ranking, CPS analytics and CUE approved university courses from February 2017 to May 2017. It found that public universities have more science programmes than private institutions. Public universities, where income is 48% from government capitation and 5% from the research fund, offer 87% of science courses and 65.6% of arts courses, according to the survey.
Even though government capitation and research grants for private universities' income stands at 0% and 3% respectively, private institutions nevertheless offer 13% of total science courses and 34.4% of arts courses.
The top five public universities – the University of Nairobi, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Kenyatta University, Egerton and Maseno (in that order) – offer 46.1% of all science courses while the top five private universities – Mount Kenya, University of Eastern Africa Baraton, Kenya Methodist University, Kabarak and Strathmore – offer only 7.2% of all science courses.
High-cost vs low-cost courses
Manyora said private universities offer fewer sciences courses because of lack of funding and good infrastructure geared towards science. Arts, humanities and business courses are low-cost courses.
As the report notes, “It is almost two to five times harder to find a private university offering a practical science programme like nursing, engineering or computing.”
Manyora told University World News that as per the commission’s classification system, courses such as psychology were classified under sciences, while law and arts-related courses were classified as humanity courses.
However, the sciences were then broken down to hard or physical sciences which include science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.
“Although there is a recent developmental focus on teaching STEM by most universities, enrolment is still low – a reason why most employers still find it hard to get the right skills to employ,” said Manyora.
Kenya’s Education Cabinet Secretary Dr Fred Matiang’i recently announced that the government was shifting its policy by putting more resources into promoting STEM in technical training institutions.
Differentiated unit cost system
Matiang’i said the move was necessary as there is need to balance the ratio of artisans, technicians and professionals in appropriate fields.
And early this year the cabinet secretary announced that students pursuing science courses in universities will, from July, receive more funding than those taking humanities, in a move aimed at increasing enrolment in STEM courses. Known as the differentiated unit cost system, the new approach will also see universities offering STEM courses receiving higher capitation to facilitate the construction of laboratories, the purchase of equipment and training of students.
“There is need for a deliberate focus on programme and initiatives by both the universities and government to engage and grow in STEM in order for Kenya to realize the critical human resource base that will help achieve and sustainably drive its Vision 2030 initiative,” said Manyora.
The study also shows that many firms seek consultants and recruit employees based on the university reputation and perceptions of that reputation.
The study also found that there is a strong positive correlation between the number of science courses that a university offers, its global ranking and its ability to attract research grants and funding.
“Universities with the largest number of science courses are ranked highly. Also they have high potential of being funded unlike those with low science courses, hence low ranking and low grants in turn,” says the report.
According to the study only 49% of science graduates were considered by employers to be well-trained while most employees believe that government should invest more in science training.
The study showed that 38% of employers sampled said sciences have more job opportunities compared to arts at 32%, while 30% of respondents argued that both sciences and arts provide employment opportunities.
There is need for inter- and intra-university collaboration, to allow for shared resources, academic programmes and innovative concepts, as this will definitely reduce the high risk of over-duplication of science programmes across universities as lower ranked universities imitate highly ranked ones.
The report recommends greater outreach, dissemination, benchmarking, stakeholder involvement in setting the STEM agenda, an improvement in access to updated research infrastructure like libraries, laboratories and ICT equipment, ensuring the availability of informed data on universities, and the utilisation of university research in policy making and national development.
The report urges the government to encourage female students to pursue STEM studies and refine collaboration and linkages with local, regional and international partners.
It notes that there is a need for increased funding for STEM programmes in both private and public universities, and for research funds to be shared more equitably among private and public universities.