Student enrolments at Kenya’s universities soared by 22.8 percent last year, according to data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS).

Figures demonstrate that student numbers rose from 361,379 to 443,783 in the course of the last academic year. Experts suggest growth is driven by considerable overseas investment and greater collaboration from international partners, as well as the establishment of new satellite campuses and the introduction of new courses, on top of a significant rise in the number of female applicants.

Earlier this year, the Commission for University Education (CUE), a Nairobi-based organisation providing quality assurance for Kenya’s regional universities, ordered 10 sub-standard Kenyan universities to close in an attempt to filter out inadequate providers of higher education (HE), following criticism that the organisation was not being doing enough to combat widespread cheating and the existence of rogue colleges.

Professor David Some, CUE’s chief executive, ordered the department to place a dozen universities under review, giving them 90 days to address the issues raised. Some say the CUE’s new regulations, which will force campuses and satellite centres to meet a minimum set of standards and will take effect this year, have inspired new hope regarding the quality of Kenya’s university provisions and contributed to the HE enrolment surge.

While Kenya’s universities perceive rising student numbers as encouraging, critics believe the growth presents a brand new challenge for the region’s HE sector, which will now need to source sufficient funding and develop new facilities to accommodate the flow.

According to University World News, the Kenyan government has set aside US$646 million in state funding for the 2016-17 financial year which commences in July – up from the current US$624 million, representing an increase of just three percent.

The allocation has been deemed ‘inadequate’ by university administrators and is expected to cause further disturbance to the expansion of facilities in the region’s public universities, which has trailed behind growth in enrolments for many years.

Female applications have grown faster than those from males University World News reports, as Kenya comes to terms with a demographic shift that is awarding women more places in higher education and further on into employment.

According to the recently published Economic Survey 2016, the number of female students rose 24.9 percent in the review period, up from 147,412 to 184,164, a considerable increase when compared to the 21.3 percent growth (up to a total of 259,618) in male student enrolments within the same time frame.

“Kenya is experiencing a game-changing demographic shift, with the number of women enrolled at universities rising much faster than that of men, a departure from the trend five years ago,” said Nairobi-based lecturer Festus Kimani.

With last year’s success in secondary assessments, Kenya’s total HE enrolments are expected to soar by at least 20,000 this year, meaning the country’s Higher Education Loans Board (HELB) will have to seek new financial sources and boost their efforts in student loan recovery to fit the growing demand.

Kenya’s HE sector must act fast to accommodate the surge in university applications, and with the volatile nature of the region’s economy, on top of widespread inconsistencies throughout the region’s HE network, critics have raised concerns regarding the deterioration of quality since universities are far more concerned with boosting student numbers than they are with raising graduate skills.

“The country’s higher education system is failing to meet market needs, as it does not prepare labour market entrants with appropriate skills,” said Diariétou Gaye, World Bank Country Director for Kenya.

Whether Kenya’s HE sector has done enough to support the surge in applications and weed out sub-standard institutions remains yet to be seen, and another extensive audit of Kenya’s public universities could soon be on the cards in order to affirm quality among the region’s HE providers.

Image via Flickr.

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