Since independence, there has been exponential growth of both public and private universities in Kenya, with both being complementary in increasing accessibility of higher education. As of 2019, the number of public accredited universities has increased to 31, with 6 constituent colleges (public), 18 chartered universities (private), 5 constituent colleges (private) as well as 14 universities bearing interim authority letters (Ministry of Education, 2019). An increase in the number of universities has led to the increase in new student enrollment, and it is estimated that the enrollment rate will increase even further by the year 2030.
Source: University Education Commission
However, the quality of university education rather than its quantity is essential to ensure that the sector delivers its mandate. The question, therefore, is about how the university education in Kenya can be improved and delivered better, and this is what this paper seeks to find out.
Challenges undermining quality of University Education in Kenya
Increased student-Teacher ratios
Even though there has been a 13% growth in academics teaching in public universities, this is not matched by the rise in the number of student enrollment. The outcome of this is that there is an insufficient number of available teaching staff. This, therefore, subverts the quality of training that the students receive. This gap in the number of students enrolled and the availability of qualified staff has risen to 70:1 as witnessed in public Universities (Titi, 2016).
Traditional Pedagogical practices
Charo et al. (2019) reiterate that many higher learning institutions over rely on obsolete curricula, which in most cases is theoretical. Kenya has a vision and is in the process of putting more developmental efforts in articulating the big four agenda, and this also encompasses making the country competitive. Competitiveness also includes ensuring that the graduates produced by the Kenyan universities match the job market. However, if the Universities still rely on traditional methods and rote learning, then the graduates produced will be half baked and will not be a perfect fit for the job market.
Industrial Action and Student strikes
According to Ige (2013), industrial actions negatively affect students learning as well as their performance. External environmental factors, in this case industrial action, influence values, goals and output of the university system. The time wasted on these industrial actions could be used to offer quality education to the university students, and device more innovative ways to deliver competitive skills. On the other hand, students’ strike is considered a mechanism of self-destruction, and it negatively affects the quality of education of the students, with the students ending up as the losers (Albar and Onye, 2016).
Poor leadership and governance
The top management in the universities should be up to the task and ensure that they brand the University as a top employer. They are expected to exhibit sound management and leadership skills. When delivering their mandate, they should put the interests of the universities at the forefront while exercising impartiality. Transparency should be maintained at all levels. However, some of the university leaders have recently been in the limelight for the wrong reasons. For instance, consider the expose of the ‘Mara heist’, where there was a blatant plundering of the university funds and resources by one of the top leaders for selfish gains (Kenya Citizen TV, 2019). If accountability lacks in a leader, then there is weak delivery of services. As a result, these funds which could have otherwise been utilized in research and development and investing in other innovative areas for the betterment and value addition are embezzled.
Current estimates show that only half of student loan demand can only be funded by HELB. Sustaining the swift growth in enrollment in the public universities in the long run may be an uphill task given the limited budgetary resources (Ige, 2013). Thus, the government should device alternative funding strategies, especially which aim at not only boosting the number of enrollments, but also which are performance based as these will increase the quality of university education over time.
Recommendations for delivery of quality university education in Kenya
Given the above shortcomings, the question then is how can the university education in Kenya be improved and delivered better? To improve this there should be collaborative efforts of all the stakeholders; students, university staff and the government. Although the results may not be instantaneous, they will be felt over time. The necessary actions to be taken include:
- In terms funding, the Kenya government can introduce mechanisms of budget allocation which are performance based, as this would act as incentives for university institutions which have shown improvement in results. For instance, a country like the Netherlands uses a funding formula where an incentive is used to increase internal efficiency; half of recurrent funding is offered depending on the number of awarded degrees. Other mechanisms include the use of performance contracts and competitive funding.
- Funding research. Kenya is not on the leading edge when it comes to funding university students for research because it relies on research grants only. The students, therefore, end up doing substandard research due to limited resources. Research is geared at finding a solution to an existing problem and needs funds especially during data collection. Since some of the students lack the financial muscle for this, they do the research for formality and to just to pass the course. The government can commit to increase these funds to 2% of the GDP as outlined in the vision 2030 as this will boost both economic and social developments.
- HELB can also employ alternative sources of funds by delegating the management of funds to private companies and also the local government. In order to have a sustainable alternative financing source for institutions of higher learning, initiatives similar to the Afya Elimu fund can be employed.
- The government should also balance the student-teacher ratio by employing competent teachers who meet the set out qualification. This will improve the quality of education at the universities, as a teacher will be able to gauge the performance of students without being overburdened.
- Strengthening the annual performance contracts to foster good governance. Implementation of the annual performance contracts has been unevenly adopted since there is inadequate funding to ensure that the same is implemented. This only means than this framework just acts an imposed requirement, and thus does not satisfy the purpose for which it was intended. If there is seamless good governance, then issues of instabilities and unrests will be dealt with, because there will be channels and frameworks of dialogue and conflict resolution.
- Adoption of pedagogical practices and use of an innovative curricular. If universities use a more interactive and experiential teaching, then this will facilitate collaborative and active learning. This can be through the establishment of teaching centers, which are well-resourced to foster innovation.
In conclusion, university education should be adoptive, proactive as well as responsive, so that the benefits can be fully utilized by all the stakeholders. The skills and expertise that students received is determined by the quality of the training offered by these institutions. It is, therefore, the mandate of all parties involved to ensure quality and effectiveness of delivery of university education.