HE budget emphasises shift to STEM education and training

The 2017-18 budget allocation to higher education and training sectors points to a government committed to a stronger focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics in order to boost industrialisation, according to a research analyst.

In the budget to be implemented in July, the government has allocated KES83.8 billion (US$810 million) to university education – an increase of 44% on last year – and KES10.1 billion (US$97.7 million) to the Higher Education Loans Board or HELB – an increase of 11% compared to last year, but less than the KES19 billion (US$184 million) requested in order to support more than 10,000 students studying abroad.

In the HELB budget request, HELB Chief Executive Charles Ringera said the money was also intended to support the implementation of a differentiated cost system of funding, whereby the amount of funding students receive would tally with the actual cost of their programme of study.

Eric Musau, a research analyst at Standard Investment Bank in Kenya, told University World News that the recent shift in focus to science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses in institutions of higher learning was aimed at creating a large pool of specialists to help industrialise the economy by 2030.

“For the universities, the government has allocated the budget to different courses as requested by the university but the focus will still be on science and technology. The government is no longer doing the blanket allocation as before, where it was based on the size and number of students in the university,” said Musau.

Increased enrolment

According to National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich, who presented the budget at the end of March instead of May to allow for preparations for the upcoming elections, the increased allocation is a result of increased enrolment in public and private universities “owing to, among others, the establishment of the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service, which has ensured equitable placement of learners in both public and private universities, as well as colleges, a departure from the past when central admissions were the preserve of public universities”.

In an indication of a greater emphasis on vocational training and science and technology research, the government has also allocated KES6.2 billion (US$60 million) to technical, vocational education and training and a further KES620 million (US$6 million) to the Kenya Advanced Institute of Science and Technology at Konza Technopolis.

The institute, set up with support from South Korea, is expected to “enhance the quality of higher learning while nurturing a technologically advanced population producing creative young talents”, according to Rotich.

In November, Kenya and South Korea agreed on the regulatory framework that will see the Asian nation provide US$100 million to set up the public research university at Konza. Construction is due to start in the second quarter of 2017.

The research university will offer masters and PhD programmes in electric and electronic engineering, ICT engineering, civil engineering and agricultural biotechnology. Twenty masters and five PhD students are expected to be admitted into each of the programmes annually.

According to Musau, more investment is being made in research because the country’s GDP has grown and “the government has not matched it in terms of research to increase productivity”.

Talent exporter

According to Rotich, Kenya could leverage investments more generally and become a strong exporter of talent in the region.

“Indeed, the ongoing curriculum review effort which shifts to a competency-based framework is an essential part of the drive for retaining Kenya’s competitive human resource advantage. Towards this end, the government will concentrate on improving technical and vocational training and university quality, in order to attract and retain the best talent and produce job market ready talent domestically and for the world,” he said.

So far 60 technical and vocational colleges have been constructed in the country with an additional 70 still under construction and expected to be completed by June 2017. In addition, the government is also in the process of equipping existing institutions with appropriate training equipment.

“To further support the growth of technical institutions in the country, I have allocated money for technical, vocational education and training in this budget. As we forge towards industrialisation, the technical training institutes will become indispensable for developing skills needed in the industrial sector,” said Rotich.