Financial constraints main barrier to HE study – Survey

Although more than 90% of students in Ghana, Kenya and Uganda consider bursaries helpful in supporting their education, access to scholarships is limited, with less than 30% of them having benefited from such funds in the course of their studies, according to a survey of students, recent graduates and faculty members in these countries by Education Sub-Saharan Africa (ESSA).

While over 90% of respondents thought education was useful to help them to get jobs, they raised concerns about the quality of education facilities, in particular on the research front, poor infrastructure and a lack of relevance of some of the taught courses.

Authored by Laté Lawson, Anthony Mbithi and Pauline Essah, it surveyed 833 people, including 406, 202 and 225 individuals of both genders, almost equally represented in Ghana, Kenya and Uganda respectively. A total of 90% of the respondents were aged between 18 and 39.

The place of government-funded student loans in higher education can be called into question based on the study, since as many as 70% of students and recent graduates surveyed in the countries reported relying on support from parents and guardians to meet the financial demands of their studies.

Ghana had the highest number of such students, with 83%, Uganda 76% and Kenya 70%, according to Young Africans Speak: Views on university education and the transition to work in Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda published on 14 September.

As a result, only 31% of Kenyan students interviewed in the survey cited the loans as a source of funding for their education, while 6% and 1% of them in Ghana and Uganda respectively indicated that loans financed their education.

Financial constraints

“Financing options such as student loans and government scholarships are available in the three countries considered. This, however, does not eradicate barriers and financial constraints faced by young students to access higher education, as most students and recent graduates mentioned financial constraints as the main barrier in choosing where to study,” it notes.

A total of 65% of the respondents reported that “financial constraints” were also the main barriers to choosing where to study with 75% of them in Kenya, 74% in Uganda and 65% of them being Ghanaians.

Teaching and research in the spotlight

The survey found that only 10% of students and recent graduates in Ghana had benefited from philanthropy scholarships, despite the existence of bursaries from different sources, with 20% of Kenyans and 28% students having benefited in Uganda.

Even rarer were government-issued scholarships, with only 6% Ghanaian, 11% Ugandan and 18% of Kenyan students having accessed them.

Interestingly, over 60% of respondents reported that their motivation for seeking university or college education beyond employment was for the purposes of acquiring more knowledge, followed by the need for “better career opportunities”, and the desire to acquire life skills. The need to “make more money” and the desire for an “entrepreneurship drive” came fourth and fifth respectively.

Also encouragingly, the report found that respondents were content with course content and the quality of teaching, but faulted the quality of research facilities.

“While recent graduates and faculty members reported that, in their universities, colleges and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) centres, the course content and the quality of teaching are good, the quality of research facilities is more questionable across all three countries,” the document reiterates.

What are the systemic shortcomings?

Equally getting a nod of approval is the education system in these countries, and their capacity to prepare the youth to “meet the needs of society”, with about half of respondents – 52% in Ghana, 53% in Kenya and 45% in Uganda – rating systems as good.

They, however, identified ICT as a subject that needs improvement, owing to its importance in securing jobs. In fact, the majority of the interviewees considered computer science and ICT training, and vocational training as “most useful in seeking and finding employment”.

University administrators in the countries would also be happy to note that most (recent) graduates and faculty members were positive about departmental staffing, faculty-student interactions, retention of staff and technical ICT support in the institutions, with a “number of exceptions”.

“It should be noted that, although poor infrastructure and teaching materials have been listed among the challenges of the educational system, the faculty is considered of quality,” the authors deduced.

Successful transition from school to work is, however, found to be satisfactory in Kenya and Ghana where 59% and 54% of respondents respectively rated support from universities as good compared to Uganda, where only 40% of them rated the support as good.

Education authorities in the countries would also be happy to note that the students believed that access to higher education is subject to successful completion of secondary education.

“Before asking young African students their motivation and challenges to accessing higher education, we probed to understand their preparedness. In so doing, across the three countries, not less than 80% of students and recent graduates agreed that secondary school education prepared students well for tertiary education,” the report observed.

How useful is tertiary education to find employment?

In terms of the usefulness of education and training received in getting a job, the majority of Kenyan and Ugandan respondents – 64% and 54% respectively – felt the same was “very useful”, while only 46% of Ghanaians felt the same.

Overall, though, more than 90% of the interviewees considered the training they got to be useful in finding employment.

The study noted: “Higher education is an investment, the highest returns of which can be achieved only when the life skills that have been gained through education are used.”

“Thus, asking young graduates ‘how useful is education?’ seems to be of major importance, as answers to that question may highlight the discrepancies between skills gained through education and the ones required by the labour market.”

The majority of students said they chose their preferred institution for studies based on advice from family and friends, as opposed to the “public image of a university” or based on guidance from the secondary school they attended.

Also not coming as a surprise, the learners used social media, recommendations from people close to them, as well as online search to find information about universities, colleges or TVET institutions in their countries.