EVEN as critics raise their voices on the high rate at which tertiary institutions are being upgraded into universities, a forum has come forth to defend the move.
The Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA) executive secretary, Prof Mayunga Nkunya, said in Nairobi that the region has at present only four per cent enrolment rate in higher education, down from five per cent in previous years.
"In fact, the enrolment rate is currently going down," said Prof Nkunya, noting that the region has the lowest enrolment rate in the whole of the sub-Saharan region.
This emerged at a press briefing by Prof Nkunya yesterday on the preparations of the second Academia-Private Sector (APS) Forum scheduled for 24-26 October at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre.
The annual forum's theme for this year is "Bridging the Academia and the Private Sector through Engagement with the Public Sector" and is expected to be attended by over 250 delegates, institutions, academia and private sector, among others.
Prof Nkunya recommended university enrolment rate to be minimum 40 per cent, adding that access and enrolment to higher education in the EAC partner states was way below the mark.
He further said that the region needs many more institutions of higher learning to ensure that more learners gain access to tertiary education. Challenges arising from rapid expansion of higher education should be addressed, he said, but should not be a hindrance to efforts to expand university education.
One major challenge facing institutions of higher learning, according to Prof Nkunya, was the slow pace of reforms in the system of education in universities around the region.
Prof Nkunya said that even as universities adopt modern innovations, the old systems were not being discarded.
"The system of education in our local universities was set on colonial policies - training manpower to work for the colonialists, not to train innovators and entrepreneurs."
Addressing the same press meeting, the East African Business Council (EABC) executive director, Andrew Luzze, said that expansion of higher education and subsequent upgrading of tertiary institutions had led to a shortage of technical workers and an increase in managers.
This trend, said Mr Luzze, was causing a deficiency in technical manpower around the region and should be addressed. "The private sector is concerned about the rate of upgrading of technical institutions; most technical experts running industrial machines are not from East Africa."
Harmonising university programmes in the region is of paramount importance, added Jennifer Gache, a senior industrial engineer at the East African Community (EAC). This, she said, would ensure that graduates from the EAC partner states would be eligible to work in any of the five EAC partner states.
The objective of the three-day forum is to provide a platform for higher education players, the business community and the public sector to discuss and strategize on how to develop effective systems of university education in East Africa that will bring forth the skills and expertise needed to drive the EAC economies.
The conference is expected to discuss major challenges facing the higher education sector in East Africa. The first one was held last year in Arusha, Tanzania.
The forum is jointly organised by IUCEA, which has the mandate to promote strategic and sustainable higher education systems and research for the region's economic and social development; EABC, the umbrella organisation of the private sector in East Africa; the East African Development Bank, which offers financial services to the EAC member states; and the EAC Secretariat.