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Why varsities will outlive latest setback

By Robert Wesonga | June 20th 2020

Weeks ago, the Ministry of Education, together with the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service, announced the results of university and college applications that students who sat KCSE had made earlier in the year.

One of the talking points was that 2,632 students opted to join technical colleges instead of universities. In total, 88,724 will be joining colleges and technical institutes to study for certificates and diplomas. This is the first time we have such statistics.

What the government has done with regard to reviving technical and vocational institutions is commendable. This sector has for years been on its death bed – with many good institutions of yesteryears already dead. It is also commendable that the government has subsidised fees required to complete courses in these institutions.

Part of this brilliant news is that all these students will qualify for student loans from the Higher Education Loans Board (Helb). But alongside this good news has been claims from those who have declared that the university shall now be dead in the next few years.

If anyone revels in the lie that technical and vocational training institutions (TVETs) will kill universities, it means that we have a problem. It means that the choices made by some students who opted to join TVETs were informed not by their individual desires, or even analysis of the country’s needs, but by euphoria.

Euphoria is not new to us as a nation. It has in the past seen students flock to science subjects because they have been termed marketable, only for the narrative to change a few years down the line, and students flock back to the arts and humanities. It is this love for euphoria that saw the thriving of pyramid schemes in the early 2000s.

While it is good that big-sounding degree courses that don’t mean much are being discarded, I can guarantee that the university as an institution is here to stay.

Fought and defeated

It will exist, not just for job creation and service to industry, but also to whet the appetites of those who love knowledge first as an end in itself. Why is the university here to stay, you may ask? Look no further than Oxford and Cambridge. They have survived through the centuries even when the countries in which they are domiciled have gone through life-changing events.

What Kenya has witnessed in the past few years is absurd, and serves to feed the imagination of those who prophesy the death of the university.

The mentality that if a university is near a water body, then it must offer meaningless degrees with the words ‘marine’ or ‘aquatic’ in them, or that if a college is domiciled in a semi-arid area, then it must offer a degree that sounds something like ‘Bachelor of County Government Administration of Semi-arid Lands’ is what needs to be fought and defeated. Such creations are not a sign of creativity. On the contrary, they signify a lack of imagination and wallowing in the absurd.

Mid this week, a social catastrophe presented itself to us: thousands of girls in many counties are said to have become pregnant between January and May this year. This period coincides with the time when students have been home with their parents and guardians. Although they should regret this devastating situation, teachers are not being blamed for this turn of events.

For years, teachers have been blamed for everything. Even when students go to school with mobile phones that their parents bought and use them to steal exam, parents – apparently shocked – wonder where teachers were when their children were getting involved in these misdemeanours.

The writer is a lecturer at the University of Kabianga – Kericho

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