Higher education is transformative
There is no doubt attending university opens the mind of an individual to a whole world of new possibilities, making higher education a transformational experience for many people. A degree has become a necessity even as potential employers fight to retain the best skilled in their ranks. Professional qualifications offered by universities are recognized and respected worldwide, and this means demand for higher education will keep on rising. According to the US department of Education, the United States of America had a transition rate of 69.2% from high school to university while in Britain, 33.1% qualify for university. In Kenya, the situation is pretty different. The number of Kenyans with at least a single degree stands at a paltry 495,000 out of the 42 million. Only 70,073 students (11.38%) got C+ and above in 2017 with 541, 879 students failing to make the cut. More than 75% got D+ and below and therefore could not qualify for direct entry into university. How then can we create opportunities for further learning among this group?
Clear career progression path
One way of increasing opportunity is by developing a clear career progression path for all students who failed to gain the minimum entry requirement. Students who scored grades C and C- can join a variety of KNEC diploma programs in order to prepare them for degree. A three-year diploma program of their choice would guarantee them entry to university at either first year or second year depending on their grade, the course chosen and performance, while giving them the benefit of key credit transfers. Students scoring grades D and D+ would be allowed to pursue craft qualifications at technical and vocational colleges, giving them an opportunity to pursue Diploma, and later degree. Any candidates who scored D- and below or failed to get into high school or sit for KCSE would then seek entry into University through artisan programs, craft, diploma and eventually degree. By introducing such a clear progression path, and engaging stakeholders at all levels from village polytechnics to University, the opportunity would have widened for candidates currently shut out by the system.
Credit Transfers for Diploma holders
Currently, the country has tens of examining bodies offering essentially beneficial professional qualifications at certificate or diploma level other than KNEC. Hundreds of thousands of students have graduated or enrolled into ACCA, KASNEB, ICM, ICDL, CIM, ABE, ABMA, IHRM, City and Guilds and many other examination bodies that need to be harmonised. Harmonization of these qualifications would not only provide yet another career progression route but also enable graduates from these programs to get credit transfers and pursue degree programs of their choice. This approach has already been piloted by ACCA which now guarantees entry into accounting degree programs for students with high school grades that wouldn’t have allowed them anywhere near the gates of a world class university.
A student who has no KCSE can easily sit for 9 ACCA foundation papers, then choose 2 professional papers and a project to get a degree in accounting from Oxford Brookes University and do an extra 2 papers and a project to get a master’s degree in professional accounting from the University of London. If Kenyan universities were to take a similar approach and offer credit transfers to those either pursuing or already graduated with similar qualifications, opportunity for higher education would more than triple within a few years.
Open and distance learning
Another way of ensuring greater opportunity is encouraging open and distance learning for those already working or unable to attend full time classes on campus. While many Kenyan universities have taken up open learning as a means of increasing enrollment without need for extra space, this mode of learning seems to have favoured those pursuing post graduate training as opposed to individuals seeking to graduate with their first degree. Craft and diploma holders across the country, either working or doing business or otherwise unable to pursue higher education would welcome open learning opportunities presented their way.
Perhaps privy to this fact, neighboring Tanzania established the Open University of Tanzania (OUT) in 1994. OUT now has more students than any other institution of higher learning in Tanzania. University of South Africa is famed to have close to 500,000 students on open learning while the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) of India has more than a million university students enrolled into different programs. Isn’t time for a Kenyan Open Learning University? With or without a nationwide open learning university, universities in Kenya need to expand the idea and accommodate more programs, and therefore more learners, hence increased opportunity.
Aside from offering a clear career progression route, ensuring credit transfers and investing more into open learning, Kenyans would do better with an apprenticeship policy that allows individuals learning on the job to actually graduate with Diploma or Degree certification after a reasonable duration of say, three years. Government sponsored corporations like KENGEN, KPLC, KBC and Kenya Airways would do well to partner with universities and other institutions of higher learning to accept apprentices willing to work and learn on the job for as long as it takes. Wouldn’t it make more sense if KBC offered a degree in mass communication and Safaricom offered a program in Telecommunications Engineering? Wouldn’t it be more exciting to have KPLC offering Electrical Engineering or Cytonn Investments offering a degree in Investment Analysis?
Apprenticeship would ensure that companies have well trained skilled personnel whom they can retain for longer while at the same time casting the net wider and increasing the opportunities available to Kenyans for open learning. Technical and Vocational Training Colleges and Universities need to think deeper into this and design programs that meet the objectives for companies requiring skilled manpower and Kenyans seeking opportunity. Apprentices wouldn’t have to pay for higher education, and even if they paid, their return on investment would be exponential in relation to the amount paid.