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Why students and varsities welcome back bridging courses

Self-sponsored programmes diminished in 2016 following a decline in the number of students who scored the university cut-off mark of C+ and above. [iStockphoto]

This will give a chance to students to better their final KCSE scores and subsequently get admission into a degree programme they wish to pursue, but they previously did not qualify to take.

The programme will also give students a chance to pursue a degree of choice but score poorly in some subjects required for admission.

For this group of students, the government will allow them to improve scores of the individual subjects they had missed on before joining the course they want to pursue.

For example, a candidate cannot access the Kenya School of Law unless they have a minimum Grade B plain in English or Kiswahili in addition to meeting the minimum entry point of C+.

For a student who get a C+ but miss on the subject requirement, they will now have a chance to take the bridging programme to improve their subject marks, then proceed to the Kenya School of Law.

Also to benefit from the programme are foreign students or Kenyans who studied in other jurisdictions but wish to enroll into a Kenyan university.

It will also be a reprieve to public and private universities giving a new gateway to the institutions to increase the number of students enrolled under self-sponsorship; a major revenue source for them.

The self-sponsored programme diminished in 2016 following a decline in the number of students who scored the university cut-off mark of C+ and above.

Since then, universities across the country have been struggling to attract enough enrollment leading to redundancy and under-utilisation of facilities in the institutions.

The ripple effect has seen some institutions close down satellite campuses, cut down on staff and halting some degree programmes that don't attract enough students.

It also pushed the institutions to financial distress and some sank into bad debts as revenue plummeted.

The bridging programmes will also give a new lifeline to teaching and non-teaching staff in universities that risked lay-offs due to reduced number of students in the institutions.

"Universities have excess personnel and facilities which are severely underutilised culminating in redundancies and wastages due to under-enrolment. The decline in student numbers has left a number of the universities vulnerable threatening their academic and financial viability and resulting in a low public confidence in a number of these institutions," the document reads.

The lucrative self-sponsored programmes crumbled after reforms in the management of the national examinations in secondary schools that saw a sharp decline in the number of students who qualify to join university.

The parallel programmes accommodated students who wanted to join university degree courses but had missed out on placement to study under government-sponsorship.

The private degree programmes are touted to widened access of university education for Kenyans; so too, the bridging programmes are staged to increase university enrollment.

The programme will also be a reprieve to candidates who have in the past been forced to repeat some secondary school classes in pursuit of a mark to get to university.

In most schools, students who seek to repeat are required to retake the two last classes; that is Form3 and 4 thus end up spending two years to gain direct entry to university.

The bridging programmes are touted as a panacea to increased access to quality university education.

This is not the first time the bridging courses are in universities; as they existed between 2008 and 2016.

Students will be admitted to top universities and then bridge to enroll for degree courses. [iStockphoto]

However, they were dropped after a decline in number of learners making it to university.

The decline in enrolment resulted to lowering of admission requirement under the government sponsorship programme from the previous grade B to C+ and absorbed all the qualified students to enter university effectively putting out the self-sponsored programmes.

The Cabinet memorandum indicates the reintroduction of bridging courses has been necessitated due to the stringent entry requirement to Kenyan universities that has limited students' chances to pursue degree programmes.

The performance of KCSE exams over the years has been dismal with an average of only 20 per cent of candidates sitting the examination proceeding to university.

The measures, outlined in the cabinet memorandum, are aimed at making higher education institutions "more inclusive, equitable and sensitive" to students who come from socially backward communities

The programme also seeks to provide a level playing field to students from socio-economically disadvantaged communities entering higher education institutions.

"It is imperative to extend support to candidates graduating from their secondary schooling by making provision for programmes which can facilitate their access to tertiary education where they do not marginally meet the existing admission requirements," the document reads.

Under the previous bridging programme, was meant to meet the high demand for university education prior to 2016. The upgrade programme was offered in two variations:

The first, targeted students who qualify for direct entry into the university, but fall short of the required grade in the requisite subjects by 1 point for the degree courses of their choice. Then there was the, pre-university programme (PUP) which was a bridging course six months designed for secondary school graduates who may not have achieved the grades needed for direct entry into a university, missing it by one point.

Justification of the programme was that the performance of students in the university who bridged and others who did not indicated that there was no significant difference; meaning that the programmes were effective in preparing the students for university education.

"The many able students who had missed University entry by 1 point in the subject cluster or in the direct entry requirement were able to take the degree of their choice and enter the University through this route which highly increased the number of students who took the STEM programmes," the document notes.

Several countries such as the UK, Australia and South Africa have similar programmes.

In the UK, bridging courses are known as the Access to Higher Education Diplomas. They are one-year (full-time) or two-year (part-time) diplomas and target those who don't meet the minimum university entry mark to join universities.

In Australia, the programmes are referred to as Enabling Program and bridge the gap in university qualifications for struggling students, particularly marginalised groups.

In South Africa, a student has to take the Matriculation Exam (Matric). Results for the Matric determine entry into particular programmes.

If a student fails to attain a grade to enter into a particular course, the learner can enroll in a bridging course.