15 November 2012

Kenya: Make Varsity Education Affordable to All

Although the government has made significant strides in creating infrastructure that is envisaged in vision 2030, the same cannot be said of education.

Government must show its commitment by not only reforming college education system but also making it affordable to help young people acquire vital skills that are needed.

Higher education is the key to most competitive jobs particularly those outlined under the vision 2030, but the government is not paying satisfactory attention to college education.

A report released recently by Youth Agenda reveal that lack of access to quality education particularly at college level has been a major impediment to the growth in employment.

The study, a youth fact sheet of vision 2030, found that a significant number of young people across the country cannot afford the high tuition fees charged by universities and colleges.

This situation is lamentable considering the existing disconnect between the ambitious projects of vision 2030 and the grim reality on the ground. Take for instance Lamu port, the biggest vision 2030 project.

Maritime experts estimate that in the next 5 years, the industry will create 400,000 jobs and it is only a handful colleges offering courses related to the sector.

The situation is even worse at the university level where it is only Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) that is offering courses related to shipping.

The country is wasting a huge number of potential candidates. In 2011, for instance, more than 60,000 eligible students were unable to attend university due to space limitations and the government inability to cover the cost.

Although Kenya's university have been innovative by creating infrastructure to train more students through parallel degrees programmes, the cost is prohibitive for majority of Kenyans especially those who are not working.

As Kenya seeks to deal with its many challenges, higher education must be considered a priority and put at the same level as employment, food security, health and national security.

There is need to expand and increase the number of universities and ensure that they are equitably localized throughout the country. The existing public university can only accommodate only 3% of the university aged population.

Government must allocate more resources to higher education. The current budgetary allocation to higher education does not rhyme with what is provided to primary and secondary education creating a huge transition gap.

Regrettably, Higher Education Loans Board (HELB) has over the years lacked capacity to cater for needy students who do not secure university education and have specialized skills that can be harnessed through tertiary colleges.

It is high time HELB made fundamental changes and employ creative ways of raising revenue since the current government allocation is seriously constrained to promote sustainable development.

Also the country must encourage private sector, Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Foundations to provide scholarships to needy students and support education programs.

For example, companies like Equity Bank already have scholarship models that target secondary school students. Such programs need to be encouraged, replicated and extended to reach more people.

The crucial role of higher education in the formulation of sound policies and national development cannot be overemphasized. As such, Kenya must enhance its efforts to expand access to higher education.

Raphael Obonyo is the external advisor, UN-Habitat's youth advisory board. raphojuma@hotmail.com

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