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How private sector can increase university places

By Scott Royster | March 8th 2015
By Scott Royster | March 8th 2015

Kenyan universities are facing a capacity crisis. Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi announced that nearly 150,000 candidates have scored the minimum university entry grade in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination, 22,000 more than the previous year.

This is a worrying figure given reports that only 60,000 of 2013’s 123,000 candidates who made the minimum grade made it into public universities.
These figures suggest that the gap between qualified candidates and available places is widening each year.

There is clearly a need for more university places to come on line quickly if Kenya is to capitalise on the potential of its young people, a key stepping stone to sustainably developing the country’s economy with a supply of home grown talent.

These are precisely the kind of market conditions that speak volumes to entrepreneurs like myself and my colleagues at Maarifa. I co-founded Maarifa with the financial backing of Emerging Capital Partners (ECP), one of the largest and oldest private equity firms investing in Africa today. Our vision is to build a world-class, pan-African education company that provides high quality, market relevant university level education to more than a million Africans over the next 30 years.

The size of the opportunity here in Kenya is clear for anyone to see. But education is not like flipping burgers. It isn’t about launching a new brand to make a quick return on investment.

The world’s best known universities have been around for hundreds of years. Building reputations in university education demands expertise and ultimately of course its laurels are earned on results.

Being able to count business leaders, politicians, entrepreneurs and other public figures among a university’s alumni is the goal of every institution.Modern tertiary education carries with it a huge responsibility, not only to deliver quality teaching but also to provide support services such as student career counselling, accommodation, faculty training, international partnerships, marketing and enrollments, IT and facilities management....the list is long and growing.

Without appropriate funding, universities suffer. And this is where the private sector has a role to play. We believe that entrepreneurs who are motivated to build businesses that pursue profit with purpose, are the key to unlocking new sources of capital for education.
Maarifa are putting this approach into action in Kenya with a proposal to partner with KCA University and its Sponsor, the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya (ICPAK), to invest no less than $17.5 million (Sh1.593 billion) to transform the University.

As well as increasing access to university education for students who are able to pay fees, our proposal also includes $1 million (Sh91 million) of seed funding for a foundation that will provide financial support to well-deserving but financially needy students.

I am proud to say that our model works. The proof is that Maarifa is already working with universities in Zambia and Uganda where we have 6,000 student enrolments. I hope that the members of ICPAK vote ‘yes’ Wednesday at their meeting, so that we can add our efforts to those of everyone else in Kenya who believes in the transformational power of education to lift a nation.

—Scott Royster is Co-founder & CEO Maarifa Education.

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