The World Bank Group loan deal with Kenya has come with a condition that the government merge the public institutions of higher learning, citing duplication of courses and cost-cutting by the cash-strapped entities.
Public universities have come under financial strain in recent years following the collapse of Module II programmes and, hence, a dip in student enrolment.
The World Bank’s mission is to alleviate poverty and boost shared prosperity through sound financial systems to underpin economic growth and development and their financial advisory to developing countries cannot be gainsaid. Moreover, education is the sector that will remain in need of reforms due to its ever-evolving nature.
But as Prof Ved Prakash put it, “Sometimes it is better to look into the past in order to prepare for a bright future. It may be prudent to keep a sense of perspective and give the regulatory part of reforms a deeper and more thoughtful consideration prior to effecting structural changes of any kind.” Therefore, there can never be too much caution in designing and implementing such a measure.
An analysis of United Nations data by the journal Science concluded that a halt to population growth in this century was unlikely. It projected that between 9.6 billion and 12.3 billion people would be alive by then.
Kenya’s annual population growth rate is estimated at 2.28 per cent. On this basis, it can be projected that the country will have more than 100 million people by the end of 2058, hitting 125 million by the end of the century.
Such population growth will trigger a high demand for education and can only be responded to by rapidly growing the supply of educational services at a similar rate, other factors being kept constant. Providing access may not be felt in the short term but it will seem to be more difficult as realisation dawns that there is a direct correlation between population growth and educational issues.
Our high schools are experiencing congestion because the facilities were built with a specific number of occupants in mind. There are easier options for our higher education in the midst of falling enrolments and endowments. However, merging might reduce costs in the short term but also diminish opportunities for access in the long term.
Countries such as Australia, Canada, China, France, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands and the UK carried out these initiatives in the 1990s and early 2000s.But this were purely a result of increasing international competition in the higher education sector and also by the adverse impacts of reduced public funding. But not all were successful.
The government could think of bailing out universities and putting in place frameworks to boost efficiency and effectiveness and not to narrow future student access through a merger. Mergers in developing countries like Kenya may cause tension in the education sector. But if it comes to that point, then it has to be an evolutionary process with different stages to avoid challenges of restructuring.
Dr Kapkiai (PhD) is a lecturer at Kisii University. [email protected]