Little interest in mining courses poses a major threat to Kenya’s quest to join the league of large-scale mineral producing countries. This could scuttle the country’s industrialisation agenda, experts have warned.
Students have shunned mining and mineral processing engineering courses, despite the existence of lucrative career opportunities in Kenya and abroad.
Data from the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service reveals a worrying trend.
Last year, for instance, only 231 KCSE examination graduates applied for placement to mining and mineral processing engineering and related degree courses at Chuka University, Tharaka University, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and Taita Taveta University. Only 12 were placed, the others having secured their other degree choices.
The numbers were slightly better in 2021, when 591 students showed interest in the courses and 71 were eventually placed, while in 2020, there were 494 applicants of whom 58 were placed.
While the above numbers only account for government-sponsored students, overall admissions including self-sponsored learners are not any better. At Taita Taveta, where Bachelor of Science in Mining and Mineral Processing in the niche programme, 131 students are currently enrolled in the course across all years of study, of whom only 20 are female.
The year-on-year numbers have been steadily decreasing over the past five years, according to Dr Bernard Ouma Alunda, the dean at the institution’s school of mines and engineering. Last year, the institution did not receive any student in the mining programme, hence does not have first year learners.
The highest enrollment was recorded in 2017, when 265 students in the university were taking the undergraduate course. At the Master’s level, the institution has only seven students in the programme, despite a heavy investment in research and teaching facilities, including a Centre of Excellence for Mining, Environmental Engineering and Resource Management. This facility, which is a joint project between Taita Taveta University and Germany’s TU Bergakademie and University of Applied Sciences, Dresden, will accommodate 16 mining and mineral processing research laboratories upon completion.
“The fact that TTU is located in the mineral-rich county of Taita Taveta means that the university is strategically located to address the skills gap, which has over the years slowed down the growth of the mining sector,” says Dr Alunda. “The serene environment provided by TTU and its location offers a good opportunity for the establishment of a world-class engineering institution in mining.”
Many students seeking university admission are fixated with the traditional engineering programmes such as mechanical, civil, mechanical and electrical, yet mining engineering is under-enrolled despite its lucrative career prospects, according to KUCCPS chief executive Dr Mercy Wahome.
According to Dr Muchiri Githiria, lecturer and chairman of the Mining and Mineral Processing Engineering Department at Taita Taveta University, graduates of mining and mineral processing engineering can fit in most engineering fields including and chemical.
They can be employed in the extractive industry including at mining and cement manufacturing companies, the construction industry, and in the academia, where there is a huge need according to Dr Githiria.
According to the Kenya Bureau of Statistics, mining and quarrying Shh91.8 billion to Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), an increase from Sh76.3 billion in 2020 and Sh72.7 in 2019.
The Ministry of Petroleum and Mining says the sector has the potential to boost the country’s economic growth and development through increased export earnings, development of infrastructure, employment creation and improvement of social welfare.
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However, this cannot happen until the mining sector is expanded and modernised. According to the Ministry, mining in Kenya is mainly artisanal and small scale, with a few large-scale mining operations. The small scale and artisanal mines are characterised by small mines, limited or no use of modern technology, poor safety practices and predominant use of manual labour.
In 2021, Kenya launched the Voi Gemology Centre, a gemstone processing facility, through which the government hoped to generate in excess of Sh3 billion annually as revenue from value-addition to gemstones for export.