Kenyatta University is about to make history on its 37th graduation ceremony on December 19.
The university will be releasing to the market some 209 graduates with first class honours (the highest in Kenya’s history) and top this with 31 doctors, 29 pharmacists, 60 MBAs and 21 PhDs in education.
Higher education in Kenya has grown in leaps and bounds, to the extent that one would say that there is probably a degree holder in every market place. Dr Ruth Wanjau, a chemistry lecturer at Kenyatta University, says registered university students have increased from less than 5,000 when she was in campus, to hundreds of thousands currently.
Yet, the number of Kenyans with at least a degree have never hit the one million mark to date!
Statistics from across Kenyan universities suggest that the number of Kenyans with at least a degree is slightly over 495,000. Some universities do not have the exact number of graduates who have walked through their doors. The University of Nairobi is obviously in the lead, with an alumni population of 165,000, followed by Kenyatta University with over 58,000.
The rest of Kenya’s universities have never hit the 30,000 alumni mark, with some universities, especially those granted charters recently before former President Mwai Kibaki left office, having none.
USIU-Africa, the oldest Kenyan private university and Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA), have alumni of less than 20,000. Other private universities have less than 10,000 degree alumni.
The only private university which will be surpassing the 10,000 mark after this year’s graduation is Mt Kenya University, which will have 11,904. Mt Kenya is the fastest growing private university in the region, and is under the patronage of Simon Gicharu, a Kenyatta University alumnus.
The demand for higher education was created by Tom Mboya’s student airlifts which saw the life of 800 East Africans changed between 1959 and 1963. Among the beneficiaries of these scholarships were Prof Wangari Maathai and the father of US president, Barrack Obama Snr. Mboya was only 28 when he started these airlifts. Talk of vision.
Prof Joseph Nyasani, a renowned philosopher and lecturer at the University of Nairobi and CUEA says the number of graduates in Kenya is low because the institutions in the country previously did not have the capacity to churn out larger numbers.
“During my time as a dean and principal, the number of students who qualified for university education were 50,000 or so, but only 10,000 could be admitted. It forced us to raise the cut off points from C+ to B+. The problem was purely logistical,” explains the academic with over 40 titles to his name.
Prof Nyasani says that the increased number of universities enabled more students to access university education, and that the number of graduates will increase even more in the next decade. He says that this should not compromise the quality of education, as long as university senates deliver on their mandate.
“I do not see how, by teaching at Nairobi and CUEA, I can compromise quality, yet the material I use is the same,” says the good professor in wonderment.
Students studying education are the majority in the country, numbering about 40,000; the other courses are distributed among 320 programmes offered in the country. The education sector happens to be the leading employment market in the country, where even those who never trained in education are absorbed.
Prof PLO Lumumba, the director of the Kenya School of Law shares his insight with The Nairobian: “Up to 1984, Kenya had one university(University of Nairobi). Kenyatta University came after it got a charter in 1985. It was not until the last two decades that the proliferation of higher education took shape, and in the post 2000 period, when it grew exponentially.”
Lumumba says that previously, especially in the 1980s, most Kenyans sought higher education in India and Europe, mostly through scholarships. According to the former Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission director, university admission was limited to accommodation capacity in universities and there was no parallel programme.
Prof Edward Kisiang’ani, a political science professor attributes the low number of graduates on policies and government advisers in previous years.
“The government had previously laid emphasis on mid-level education, because it was the level where skills for manpower needed particularity by the government was nurtured. It never invested heavily on higher education. If you look at the present government’s manpower, you will realise that most of them are diploma and certificate holders,” the political analyst revealed.
Prof Kisiang’ani further notes that the government did not need people with highly specialised knowledge or those who are too academic, since those with lower levels of training could do the same jobs, if not better.
Dr Nicholas Tinega, a surgery consultant in Nairobi, concurs. He observes that: “In fact, 90 per cent of Kenya’s medical needs are catered for basically by graduates of the Kenya medical training colleges across the country, because our doctors leave for greener pastures overseas immediately after their mandatory service in government.”