Why universities are killing Vision 2030 dreams

A past graduation ceremony at Maseno University [Collins Oduor, Standard]
With more than 1,000 approved courses, Kenya’s menu of degrees is littered with disciplines that are not key to its prosperity.

Commerce and education degrees seem to have a special taste, with 50 per cent of all students in the country’s 71 universitiesgraduating in these two fields.

Graduation trends gleaned from the Commission for University Education (CUE) show that more than 30 per cent of graduating students each year are awarded commerce degree or one of its other hybrids in business studies, while 20 per cent graduate in education arts. In a study conducted by Dr Eusebius Juma Mukhwana, a former deputy commission secretary in charge of planning and research development at CUE, 74 per cent of all university students are enrolled in business, education arts and humanities.

In his argument against few courses dominating almost the entire student enrollment spectrum in universities in Kenya, Mukhwana says the situation is putting the country firmly on the road towards further under-development. “Such programmes sack huge resources and hold back the agenda of Vision 2030,” says Mukhwana, who is currently at the University of Embu.

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The study, Transforming University Education in Africa: Lessons from Kenya, highlights that while higher education is deemed to be a stimulant for development, Kenya cannot achieve its ambitions with more than 70 per cent of university students graduating with three or four degrees.

Nation-building

The issue is that although some degree courses that are central to development have not been erased from the higher education calendar, the number of students graduating with degrees in such courses is almost negligible to have an impact in nation-building.

Only 2.7 per cent of graduating students are awarded degrees in agricultural sciences, although the sector is viewed as the backbone of Kenya’s economy. Despite the importance of livestock to Kenya’s economy, about 200 veterinarians graduate each year, accounting for 0.1 per cent of the total number of graduates.

The number of graduates in agriculture is almost equal to the number of graduates in journalism at 2.5 per cent of the total number of graduates. 

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It also compares favourably with law, which accounts for 2.3 per cent of the total number of graduates each year. However, heavy shortfalls occur in manufacturing studies at 0.1 per cent, mathematics and statistics at 1.7 per cent and architecture at 0.6 percent.

Surprisingly, the pattern of just a few degrees dominating university education sector is not new. Graduate labour market studies conducted by Deloitte and Touche in 1994 showed that between 1985 and 1993, four types of bachelor degrees, namely BEd, BA,  BCom and BSc general accounted for 70 per cent of the total number of bachelor degrees awarded during that period. In fact, 33 per cent of those degrees were education-related, while six per cent were commerce.

But since 2005, commerce has switched positions with education and is now the most awarded degree in the country. Interestingly, the BCom degree has been the fastest growing, not just in terms of graduating students but in terms of options it offers. Whereas in the past this degree had robust options in accounting, human resources, finance, insurance and marketing, universities have developed further options in procurement and supply chain management, entrepreneurship, business administration and operations management.

Other variations are actuarial studies, international business management, strategic management, microfinance and management science and many other variants.

In this regard, some commerce hybrids are not just degrees without power but are degrees that nobody wants in the industry, unless holders of such qualifications are employed as sales and customer service clerks. The issue is that whereas a traditional commerce degree creates an entry point to professional status in accounting, finance, insurance and human resources management, most of the new options are lowly classified by international professional bodies.

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Even if things were different, it is worrying that the government thinks the country can leap-frog high unemployment and widespread poverty to a widely-shared prosperity and equity in a period of about 10 years, when higher education is anchored on just a few degrees, some of them almost useless. Kenya urgently needs manufacturing and engineering cadres, high quality science teachers, agricultural and livestock extension workers, computer software developers, designers and a wide range of specialised medical personnel.

According to a World Bank study, Expanding Tertiary Education for Well-Paid Jobs: Competitiveness and Shared Prosperity in Kenya, realisation of the Vision 2030 will only be achieved through increased absorption of new technologies. “This will require a much stronger pipeline to supply scientists and engineers to the labour market and with problem-solving skills and capacity to drive manufacturing and innovation,” says the study.

National priorities

A key finding of the study is that Kenya’s higher education must balance the academic and professional qualifications of graduates with the needs of the economy and national priorities. Specific attention must be paid to graduate output in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, popularly referred to as Stem. Currently, only 13 per cent of graduates from universities in Kenya are from STEM disciplines. This means that more than 80 per cent of Kenya’s 565,000 students currently studying in public and private universities are enrolled in non-science undergraduate courses.  

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. According to Mukhwana, the country is also not producing enough PhD graduates who could become the future leaders in academia.

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“Many of the students enrolled in post-graduate training do not graduate,” says Mukhwana. Taking into account that only about 50 per cent of 10,000 PhDs that are required in Kenya’s 71 universitiesare currently in place, there is urgent need to increase the number of students graduating with PhDs across all academic disciplines.

It is for this reason that the government deferred its unachievable deadline that all university lecturers should be holders of PhDs by November this year. In this case, it is good to know as to who is hoarding Kenyans’ dream to prosperity and progress by 2030. 

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