University admissions reform – What effect will it have?

Both public and private universities in Kenya are suffering from significantly reduced student intakes following government changes to university admissions policies which have resulted in a drop in candidates eligible for university study.

According to Professor Mumo Kisau, chairman of the Kenya Association of Private Universities, private institutions suffered a reduction of between 30,000 and 40,000 students this year. Speaking at a recent press conference, he said the association will more accurately assess the magnitude of the impact after the completion of admissions through the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS).

Stricter administration and marking aimed at curbing examinations fraud and cheating has led to a lower number of students qualifying for admission in universities this year.

According to the results released by the Kenya National Examinations Council, only 15% of last year’s KCSE (Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education) candidates scored the minimum university entry qualification of a mean grade C+ and above compared to the previous year’s 35%.

This in turn has forced KUCCPS to lower minimum university entry points for the government sponsorship programme to C+, down from the previous years’ requirement of a B, giving more students access to government subsidisation at public universities and depriving private universities, which have traditionally relied on fees from surplus candidates who do not qualify for government sponsorship – often three times the fees paid by students under the government sponsorship programme.

Impact on private and public universities

Experts predict that the smaller number of candidates will have an economic impact on both private and public universities. Students who fail to get admission through government sponsorship usually seek admission to private universities, while others are admitted to public institutions under the private students’ programme.

Professor Owen Mac'Onyango, director of communication at Maseno University, one of Kenya’s seven public universities, told the press conference that the government’s move to sponsor all students has left universities with few students for self-sponsored programmes and this could lead to a reduction in income. Speaking on behalf of Laikipia University – another public institution – Vice-chancellor Professor Francis Lelo told the media that universities will be forced to lay off some lecturers, especially those employed on a part-time basis, to reduce operating costs.

"This is a crisis that could force us to shut down some campuses and stop the introduction of new programmes because we are not sure of getting students,” said Lelo.

Professor Erastus Njoka, vice-chancellor of Chuka University, another public institution, said there would be a reduction in income and only competitive universities would survive. However, he supported the government’s move to shut down campuses that do not meet quality standards, arguing that it was meaningless for universities to have so many incompetent students.

Seeking new revenue sources

In the wake of the changes, Moi University’s dean in the School of Education, Professor John Chang’ach, has challenged universities to innovate and find new sources of revenue. He said Moi University was increasing its focus on open and distance learning in order to reach more students.

Beatrice Muganda, director of higher education from the Partnership for African Social and Governance Research, which works to enhance research excellence in governance and public policy, told University World News that the policy changes in the education sector should be well directed and targeted to improve the quality of education in the country.

She urged both public and private universities to embrace the policy changes and strengthen partnerships with non-governmental organisations in order to share knowledge on resource mobilisation and implementation. Smart and well-coordinated partnerships, she said, would help universities develop sustainable mechanisms for knowledge sharing which was critical for improving the research component of universities.

Arnold Musungu, a student pursuing a masters degree in agricultural economics at the University of Nairobi, said that the changes could help to reduce pressure on available facilities at universities. Speaking to University World News, Musungu said some universities have been taking advantage by admitting students beyond their institutional capacity.

Good for students

“This move will help to improve the quality of education and training and students can have more benefit from the resources available,” he said.

However, he also said the move will hurt universities economically as government allocations to higher education institutions were low.

For their part, the Kenya Universities Staff Union has said the reduction of students will lead to reduced capitation from the government which will affect research, developments and the purchase of new equipment. However, the union said that fewer students in the system could lead to improved quality in training of candidates as the contact hours between the lecturer and the student will increase.

High demand for higher education over the recent past has fuelled the rapid growth of the sector but has also led to widespread concerns around quality. As a result of audits over the past two years by the Commission for University Education (CUE), some university campuses were closed, some degrees revoked and some colleges shut down.

Additionally, some programmes offered at both private and public universities that failed to meet the standard requirements of CUE were stopped.

Last month, the government directed the CUE to shut down Presbyterian University of East Africa and placed the Catholic University of Eastern Africa on notice. Among the reasons given for the closure of the university by the ministry of education, science and technology were financial instability, employment of unqualified staff and lack of clear salaries and remuneration structures.