Top students prefer STEM courses, study shows

Kisumu National Polytechnic

Paul Odoyo, a mechanical engineering student, operates a lathe machine during a practical session at Kisumu National Polytechnic on February 24, 2020.

Photo credit: Ondari Ogega |  Nation Media Group

Robin Wanjala Simuyu jumped up with joy when he heard his name read by Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha. He was the top candidate in the 2020 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations. He knew that his dream to pursue a degree in medicine at the university had finally come true.

The second student, Allan Udoma Wasonga from Agoro Sare High School, also scored A (plain) mean grade of 87.173. Like Robin, he will pursue a medical degree and specialise in surgery.

Robin and Allan’s dreams to study medicine echo those of hundreds of other students who scored A and A- (minus) in their KCSE exams who want to pursue reputable courses.


 According to 2020/2021 Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS) data of students’ placement to universities, most top-performing students compete to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) courses, as they are considered prestigious.

 The data shows that the most competitive courses in universities are Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery, architectural studies, Bachelor of Engineering (Aeronautical Engineering), Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering, Bachelor of Science in Clinical Medicine, Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Bachelor of Law, Bachelor of Computer Science and Bachelor of Science, Information.

Popular courses

 Other popular courses include Bachelor of Science (Aerospace Engineering), Bachelor of Engineering (Electrical and Electronics Engineering), Bachelor of Quantity Surveying, Bachelor of Science (Electronics and Computer Engineering), Bachelor of Science in Electrical and Telecommunication Engineering, Bachelor of Science, Clinical Medicine Surgery and Community Health, among others.

The courses tend to be offered by the older and more established public universities such as the University of Nairobi, Moi University, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Kenyatta University and Maseno University. The universities also tend to admit most students who score a mean grade of A and A-(Minus).

 In the 2020 KCSE examination, 893 candidates, representing 0.12 per cent, obtained an overall Grade A compared to 627 representing 0.09 per cent of the candidates in 2019. A further 6,420 candidates scored A-(Minus).

The students are expected to compete for the available spaces in the universities to pursue these highly competitive courses. During a recent exclusive interview, Technical University of Kenya (TUK) Vice-Chancellor, Francis Aduol, said most students who score A and A- seek to pursue courses in medicine, engineering or law.

 “The courses are considered prestigious, but they also require brilliant minds, which is why the competition is usually high during course selection,” said Prof Aduol.

 Despite there being a high unemployment rate among graduates, Prof Aduol said most of the students pursuing engineering, architecture, and other prestigious courses are not necessarily looking for employment, but an academic challenge.

KUCCPS is expected to release the placement report by August to enable students to start reporting to various universities and colleges in September.

Business courses

Speaking to Higher Education, KUCCPS chief executive, Dr Mercy Wahome, said when students apply for their placement while in Form Four, they tend to apply for the competitive courses hoping to get an opportunity.

“However, after results are out, majority of the students end up in Bachelor of Education, commerce and business courses,” she said.

Even as students prepare to start applying for the courses, data from previous years shows that some courses have not attracted students.

An analysis in the last two years shows that although universities declare capacities in some courses, students do not choose them, while some courses rarely attract students. Despite the Ministry of Education advising universities to scrap off non-competitive programmes and focus on the more competitive courses, universities continue to offer these courses.

Applied Linguistics

Last year, the least competitive programmes that attracted the fewest students were Bachelor of Arts in Development Studies, Applied Linguistics, Gender Development, Translation and Interpretation, Geographic Information Science, Childcare and Protection, Theology, Youth Ministry and Pastoral Studies.

 Others that have few students selecting them are Bachelor of Science in Environmental Resource Management, Environmental Planning and Management, Animal Production, Environmental Studies, Fisheries and Aquaculture, Parks, Recreation and Leisure Management, Plant Nutrition, agricultural courses, Bachelor of Science in Botany, Zoology, Agribusiness Management and Entrepreneurship, Horticulture and Wildlife Management and Conservation.

 Bachelor of Social Work and Community Development, Bachelor of Technology in Mechanical Ventilation and Air Conditioning, Bachelor of Arts in Peace and Conflict Studies, Bachelor of Business Administration, Bachelor of Science (Aquatic Resources Conservation And Development, Bachelor Of Science (Natural Products ) have also not been attracting students.