Degree ‘loses allure’ as KCSE exam stars shun universities

Kuccps CEO Agnes Mercy Wahome and Education CS George Magoha

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha addresses the media at Eastleigh High School in Nairobi on June 25, 2022 after receiving the results of the 2021 student placement report to universities, Tvet institutes and teacher training colleges from Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service CEO Agnes Mercy Wahome (right). 

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

Are Form Four leavers losing interest in degree programmes offered at the country’s public universities? Is the degree losing its allure? Should universities begin offering technical courses to attract more students?

These are some of the many questions being raised by education experts and students even as it emerges that a growing number of learners are shunning local institutions to pursue studies abroad.

Many other students are enrolling in private universities or Technical and Vocational Education and Training (Tvet) institutions.

In the placement results released two weeks ago, a total of 21,588 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination candidates who qualified for university courses under government sponsorship did not apply, with a large number opting for Tvet instead.

Of this number, some 16,310 qualified candidates did not submit any university courses application while 5,278 opted for diploma programmes at various Tvet institutions, a trend the country has been witnessing for five years.

During the 2021 placement, a total of 14,467 students did not apply for programmes in local universities despite attaining the minimum entry mean grade of C+.

Among the group, some 6,617 opted for Tvet courses while 7,850 did not send application for degree or diploma courses to the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (Kuccps).

Diploma courses

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha later said those who failed to apply for degree and diploma courses at local universities may have opted to pursue education abroad or private universities.

However, education experts say the trend should send university managers back to the drawing board.

They say local universities need to begin offering courses that expose students to marketable job skills.

Prof Magoha said Tvet offers a bright future for students as they usually find employment as soon as they graduate.

“I have noted that 16,310 candidates who qualified for degree programmes in the 2021 KCSE examination did not submit applications and may have opted to pursue other opportunities, including studying abroad,” the minister said.

He added that those who opted to join Tvet stand a better chance of being exposed to quality equipment the government has invested in.

“This is what President Uhuru Kenyatta wants. Jobs are in the Tvet sector and the fact that up to five per cent of those who qualified to join universities applied for Tvet directly is a statement. This statement is because we have invested heavily in Tvet. The government has also increased the number in those institutions,” he added.

“We use Tvet skills every day. This is the way to go.”

Dr George Njoroge, an expert with wide teaching experience at many universities locally and in the United States of America, said the high number of jobless graduates could be the main contributor of students opting to fly out for further studies.

“When students pursue university courses abroad, especially in the West, their academic papers are held in high esteem. That is why these graduates easily find work, compared to those who acquired their certificates locally,” Dr Njoroge said.

He added that local public and private universities need to brand themselves based on their niche courses as that would make their graduates stand out in the job market.

Dr Njoroge said branding also leads to an institution attracting more students.

“If a university brands itself and capitalises on making its courses more attractive, competition improves,” he said.

Competency-based curriculum

“In most universities in the United States, only five per cent of those who apply are admitted. Ninety five per cent of applicants are left out due to competition,” Dr Njoroge explained.

He added that Kenyan universities need to identify gaps in their curricula and focus on addressing them.

“With the continued rollout of the competency-based curriculum (CBC), universities have no choice but to restructure their courses and ensure that they meet the needs of the job market,” he said.

According to Dr Njoroge, the trend of students opting for courses at Tvet institutions should be a wakeup call to local universities.

“The young people are joining Tvet because they want to get skills and quality education that will help them find jobs fast instead of pursuing a degree and acquiring a paper that will leave them unemployed for eternity,” Dr Njoroge said.

Dr Wilfridah Itolondo, a senior education lecturer at Kenyatta University, said continued investment in Tvet by the government and numerous campaigns encouraging more students to take up Tvet courses is a major contributor to the shift.

“The attitude of the government and the society towards universities is changing. This has made many high school students want to pursue Tvet courses, not degree programmes at the university,” Dr Itolondo said.

She added that universities face funding and many other challenges, which need urgent interventions from the government and donors.

“Our universities need to look at the kind of education they offer. They should ensure the programmes and courses are competitive. Our students need to find or create jobs as soon as they graduate,” she said.

Prof Magoha said the next government should audit universities and “right-size” them to ensure they have enough faculties to improve the programmes offered.

Kuccps Chief Executive Mercy Wahome said many of those opting for Tvet want to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses. The programmes are presumed by many Kenyans to be more marketable than business and arts courses.

“If a student’s passion is a Tvet course, let him or her pursue that,” Dr Wahome said.

She added that with the CBC rollout, more students will eventually want to pursue Tvet courses “because that is where they will find their passion and competency”.

In the last two years, several universities have introduced Tvet courses in their curricula in a bid to attract more students.

Meru University of Science and Technology, a public institution, graduated its first Tvet diploma class during a ceremony held in May.