Are the 2022 results positive, negative or plain cheating?

Kenya is seeing the highest number of prospective university students in seven years in what could be a major boom for cash-strapped universities, or what could precipitate a crisis for places in the institutions.

This is after an unprecedented number of more than 173,000 high school pupils made the cut for admission to universities of grade C+ and above in 2022, up from the 145,000 who had obtained the qualification in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations in 2021.

The 2022 KCSE results, in which a total of 881,416 candidates sat for the exams, have also produced more than double the number of students who qualified for automatic admission to universities for degree courses in 2017, when only 70,000 students hit the pass mark.

Figures by the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service, the state agency that places students in tertiary institutions and universities, show that the figure of 173,345 students outstrips the 167,046 places that were available in public and private universities in 2021.

Students to migrate to TVET

Assuming that no expansion has taken place in the past year, it would mean that 6,300 students would not get a place in a university this year, also assuming that all of those who qualified will want to take degree courses in one of Kenya’s 69 universities.

It could also be good news for the universities, for it could see those not getting direct admission enrolling under the module II option, also known as parallel studies (weekend and evening privately sponsored studies), paying significantly higher fees than state-sponsored ones under student loans.

Prior to 2015, when the numbers of those making the cut to direct admission to universities fell, parallel or self-sponsored students kept universities afloat. This changed drastically when the numbers dropped from 2016 when only about 89,000 students qualified, compared with 169,000 in 2015.

The nearly 53% drop between the two years was attributed to a crackdown on exam malpractices by Dr Fred Matiangi and the late Professor George Magoha, who served as education minister and chairman of Kenya National Examinations Council respectively.

Nevertheless, it is unlikely that the 6,300 excess students would miss out on a place or be forced to study under module II as self-sponsored undergraduates, says Joseph Njogu, higher education consultant and CEO of Research Beeline, a company that links researchers with grant makers and funding opportunities.

A big number of those who qualified are likely to opt for technical and vocational education and training (TVET) diplomas, a trend that has been growing in recent years, he said.

Universities will be full

“The number of those qualified for universities this year is a boon for universities, and it is unlikely that universities will admit more than their capacities, causing a strain on facilities,” he said. “Instead, quite a good number are likely to pursue TVET courses in local colleges as we have observed recently,” he added.

The courses among university-qualified students were growing in popularity in Kenya owing to their high demand, some being more marketable than certain degree courses, Njogu noted.

Out of 143,140 students who qualified to join universities in 2020, 6,617 opted to join TVETs, according to the placement agency. The number was more than twice the number of students who had shunned university degrees in favour of TVET diplomas in 2019 (2,632).

“The numbers might go up this year if the trend is anything to go by, but the good thing is that, unlike in the past, universities are going to fill up all the available places,” he predicted.

When fewer than 2022 numbers have attained the minimum grade C+ for joining universities, the institutions have been left with thousands of vacant places, which implies a loss of revenue, Njogu told University World News.

For example, in 2020, they were left with 122,831 empty places against a capacity of 145,129 students.

Meanwhile, the ‘impressive’ results have raised eyebrows with allegations of cheating in the exams, with a huge jump of more than 28,000 for those qualified when compared to 2021 figures being questioned. Also raising questions is the high number of candidates who scored plain A grade at 1,146.

Questions raised over booming results

Kenya’s senate committee on education has promised to open a probe into the exams in response to mounting complaints by the public over ‘unusual’ improvement in performance in some schools.

“We are investigating whether there was a leakage. We have seen queries by Kenyans on social media, but we urge them to be patient. We want to ascertain the truth,” said Joe Nyutu, chairperson of the committee.

He concurred that the abnormal growth curve in results in some schools raised valid questions, noting that a school “cannot have a mean grade of five in one year and then all of a sudden shoot up to nine”, as happened in some schools, he noted.

In the meantime, Education Minister Ezekiel Machogu denies allegations of cheating, saying the focus should be on those who failed the exams.