Government in reform mode, puts brakes on new universities

The Kenyan government has barred the establishment of new public universities and satellite campuses as part of a raft of reforms aimed at rebuilding robust institutions of higher education and improving quality in the sector.

Speaking at a workshop organised by the ministry of education in collaboration with the World Bank on 6 May, Education Cabinet Secretary Professor George Magoha said there is a need to strengthen existing institutions by ensuring they are well equipped and have the capacity, including faculty, to deliver quality education.

A former vice-chancellor himself, Magoha said the number of fully-fledged universities in Kenya had risen from 18 in 2009 to 49 today. A total of 25 others were awaiting charters. Since his appointment in March this year, he said he had received over 30 requests to open up new public universities. “This quantitative expansion seems to have occurred at the expense of quality,” said Magoha.

The workshop was attended by vice-chancellors, lecturers, officials from the Commission for University Education, the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service and Kenya National Qualifications Authority. However, Magoha said he was disappointed by the poor turnout of vice-chancellors. Out of 78 invited, only 20 attended, he said.

Among the other measures the government is considering under the reform agenda are right-sizing and downsizing of staff to ensure proper staffing norms and the rationalisation of academic programmes and institutions, with a view to realising the full potential of the existing universities and campuses. This could see programmes and even universities and campuses being consolidated to maximise existing resources.


To this end Magoha has directed the Commission for University Education to conduct a survey of all universities. The probe will look at qualifications of teaching staff, facilities, student to lecturer ratios and supervision capacity for postgraduate students. The commission has also been directed to review PhD programmes. The report is expected to be presented to the cabinet secretary by 31 July.

“I expect to see a proposal on how we rationalise the existing universities so that we can have universities that are of high quality, providing the necessary student support for learning, [that] are involved in relevant research, and are globally competitive,” said Professor Magoha.

As such, universities will only specialise in academic programmes in which they are relatively strong, while strengthening academic programmes that contribute to the national and global development agenda.

Duplication of programmes means universities are receiving funds from government to do the same thing, he said. He asked universities to focus and specialise in different fields to offer solutions to the challenges facing humanity. He cited climate change and water scarcity as issues that require more attention.

In a rejoinder to the cabinet secretary, Kenyan Vice-Chancellors’ Committee Chairperson Professor Francis Aduol said universities’ top managers are aware of the challenges facing public universities and are equally concerned to find solutions. “However, the circumstances in which we operate makes it difficult to work,” he said.

Aduol, who is the vice-chancellor of the Technical University of Kenya, said inadequate funding for public universities remained the elephant in the room inhibiting efforts to improve quality. He cited the lack of facilities and teaching staff to cope with the growth in student numbers as major constraints to the attainment of quality teaching and learning in Kenyan universities.

Skills inventory

Magoha also announced the establishment of a skills inventory system to help align university education with labour market needs.

The information management system will provide information on the skills that employers need, allowing universities and industry to work more closely, not only to meet employment demands but also anticipate future growth.

In its latest survey, the Federation of Kenya Employers, a lobby for all major corporate organisations, said at least 70% of entry-level recruits require a refresher course to fit in and deliver in their new jobs. As a result graduates are taking longer than expected to become productive.

“Employers have expressed concerns over our graduates’ ability to competently respond to the demands of jobs they get upon graduation. Some employers are compelled to spend time and resources getting these graduates ready for the jobs they are given. Universities can help respond to these challenges by creating closer relationships with industry to shape curriculum development,” Magoha said during last week’s meeting.

“We cannot settle for this current status because advancing the livelihoods of our citizens to the next level will be aided by consistent evaluation of our reform trajectory, with an eye on industrialisation and technological expansion. We have to prepare our citizens for the fourth revolution that is upon us, characterised by a knowledge economy and technological advancement,” said Magoha.

The new skills inventory platform, expected to be in place by the end of this year, will see universities offer programmes based on their demand in the job market. It will also ensure that universities concentrate on specific competencies and skills which employers are seeking.

Kenya’s development efforts for the next few years, articulated in the Big Four Agenda, aim to enhance the country’s competitiveness in line with Vision 2030. Last year, the government formulated a new five-year Education Plan (2018-22), which includes priority areas for investments in higher education.

The plan, which was made public last week by the cabinet secretary, proposes increasing the gross enrolment ratio in university education from 7% to 15%; enhancing quality and relevance of training and research while increasing access to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programmes to 60% of the student population; and supporting academic staff to acquire PhDs and appropriate pedagogical skills.


The government said it will boost support for those institutions that demonstrate innovativeness, entrepreneurship and active linkages with industry and communities. They will get first priority in accessing incentives by the government while being linked to bilateral partners so that they can grow their niches and deepen their research capacity.

The reforms will also see the full establishment of the Open University of Kenya, which will ensure at least 30% of degree programmes are available via e-learning by the year 2022.

“We want to enhance equity and inclusion in university education, especially for females and students from low-income families, while strengthening governance and management of university education,” the cabinet secretary said of the strategy.