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Parallels between higher education in South Africa and Kenya

As part of our ongoing research initiatives, APPETD has recently been evaluating the status of higher education internationally in relation to South Africa. Within this scope, we have specifically looked at African higher education and found several similarities to South Africa.

A common issue remains funding or rather, lack thereof from Government to these institutions (both public and private) and the subsequent constraints that this problem places on the HEIs to maintain numbers and standards. In particular, higher Education in Kenya is experiencing significant challenges, some of which mirror the situation in South Africa. These include establishing a viable funding model for both Public and Private Higher Education Institutions (HEI’s), offering high quality qualifications, increasing the number of learners within limited capacity and outcomes that suitably prepare the learners to contribute effectively to the economy.

Within in the last 10 years there has been massive expansion in the Kenyan higher education sector, with an increase in HEI’s from 18 institutions to 74.1 Due to constraints experienced particularly amongst state universities who do not have any frameworks in place to subsidise income beyond that received via Government, “The government has moved to support the development of private universities through, for example, tax exemptions for physical investments and provision of land for expansion projects in remote areas.”2 However, at the same time, a change in the government funding model which now pays a lower proportion of fees, unrecovered student fees and a reduction in student enrolments have contributed to a financial crisis affecting the sector holistically.

Many Kenyan universities have levels of debt that affect their operations and three universities, including the University of Nairobi, are technically insolvent. The Kenyan Cabinet Secretary George Magoha has made it clear that universities must reduce their costs to remain viable as the government would not be in a position to bail out indebted institutions.3 Mr Magoha has also suggested – seemingly in contradiction to the nature of the issue at hand – the closure of some universities and the rationalisation of universities offering the same qualifications.1.

This rapid proliferation of HEIs is also the primary reason cited for the drop in quality of qualifications and the subsequent lowered employability of university graduates. Institutions were not able to provide the necessary resources or suitably qualified lecturing staff to keep up with the needs of the growing number of learners.4, 5 These challenges have resulted in only one in ten PhD’s conferred being viewed as credible by the Kenyan authorities themselves.6.

The debate surrounding appropriate and sustainable funding models continues, with a suggestion to triple fees, or attract more foreign students.7, 8, 9. Kenya has also received assistance from China for costly infrastructure development at universities. 10, 11

In light of this information, it is perhaps a situation worth monitoring to determine the success or inadequacy of the various corrective measures proposed to rectify the prevailing challenges as this may shed some light on what, potentially, may be incorporated into the South African HE sector as possible tools to mitigate our own endemic problems.


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