MAY 6, 2019
Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is my pleasure to join you today at this important workshop on knowledge sharing and consultation on Higher Education in our country. This country has invested heavily in education because of its belief in the role that education plays in enabling the country to meet its development goals. Reforms in the education sector seek to ensure that there is access, equity, relevance, and quality in education at all levels. In the University sector, we have seen exponential growth in number of institutions in the last 10 years, moving from 18 fully-fledged universities in 2009 to 49 fully-fledged universities and 25 others waiting to be chartered in 2019. This means we have a total of 74 universities and colleges. Sadly, this quantitative expansion seems to have occurred at the expense of quality. We cannot settle for this current status because advancing the livelihoods of our citizens to the next level will be aided by consistent evaluation of our reform trajectory, with an eye on industrialisation and technological expansion. We have to prepare our citizens for the fourth revolution that is upon us characterized by a knowledge economy and technological advancement. Kenya’s development efforts for the next few years, articulated in the Big Four Agenda, aim to enhance the country’s competitiveness in line with the Vision 2030. For that purpose, the Government formulated, in 2018, a new five-year Education Plan (2018-2022), which includes priority areas for investments in higher education. Specifically, the Plan proposes the following key objectives:
I. Increase the gross enrollment ratio in university education from 7 percent to 15 percent;
II. Enhance the quality and relevance of training and research;
III. Increase access to STEM programmes to 60 percent of the student population;
IV. create opportunities for academic staff to acquire PhDs and appropriate pedagogical skills;
V. Establish the Open University of Kenya (30 percent of degree programmes available via e-learning mode by 2022);
VI. Enhance equity and inclusion in university education, especially for females and students from low-income families; and
VII. Strengthen governance and management of university education. Research, innovation and technology are the key drivers of development in the world today. That is why the Government has emphasised the role of STEM in the future of economic transformations of the country. Through research and innovation, universities provide the foundations and impetus necessary for such transformations as they train graduates who are not only ready for immediate absorption into a technologically-oriented economy but who are also grounded enough to be fully functional in an ever-changing work environment. We are not the only nation focusing on technology and innovation. There is no doubt that research and innovation are critical to improving the lives of Kenyans, making our country globally competitive, and boosting economic growth and generating the much needed jobs for our youth. This country has been a leader in the region in terms of education, manufacturing, and investment. We must continue providing technological and research leadership in the region and beyond but more specifically coming up with real solutions for challenges facing Kenyans daily. Some Kenyan employers have expressed concern over our graduates’ ability to competently respond to the demands of jobs they get upon graduation. Some employers are compelled to spend time and resources getting these graduates ready for the jobs they are given. Universities can help respond to these challenges by creating closer relationships with industry to shape curriculum development. The industry can also provide more students with opportunities for experiential learning through placements and internships. The country also needs a skills inventory system that will provide information on the labour market needs so that universities and the industry work closely together to not only meet employment demands but also anticipate future growth. As such, the strategy to design, develop and implement an ICT-based Information Management System is important in helping the country achieve optimal use of available human resources. This calls for collaboration and multisectoral approaches to education and human resource development. I have emphasised the need for universities have to start playing to their strengths to avoid duplication. We cannot have every university offering the same programmes and courses and neglecting the value of setting themselves apart through specific programmes that make them stand out. You cannot be an expert when you stretch yourselves thin across multiple programmes. If you choose to focus on science and technology, for instance, then stay focused on it instead of seeking to offer all manner of programmes outside such a focus. To this end, I would like to see more support for those institutions that demonstrate innovativeness, entrepreneurship and active linkages with industry and communities. Let such universities be given first priority in the forms of 3 incentives by the government and bilateral partners so that they can grow their particular niches and deepen their research capacity. We also have to be bold in deciding on the number of institutions that we need especially in view of quality and relevance. It is true we have worked hard to provide increased access to university education but that has at times come at the expense of quality. Time has come for us to have a candid conversation about universities in Kenya. I am, therefore, calling upon the Commission for University Education to prepare a report to my office regarding the current status of university academic programmes; qualifications of academic staff that support teaching and supervision of students; lecturer to student ratios; and facilities and equipment for teaching and learning in the various universities. The report should be submitted to my office by July 31, 2019. I would expect to see a proposal on how we rationalise the existing universities so that we can have universities that are of high quality, providing the necessary student support for learning, are involved in relevant research, and are globally competitive. It is my hope that the knowledge we will be sharing in here for the next two days, will help us come up with strategies to address this desire. Clearly, it is to continue increasing the volume of public resources allocated to higher education. This has led the vice-chancellors of public universities to express their concern over a looming “cash crisis” that could impact negatively the quality of their programmes. The fact that the Government had to close down many private institutions in recent years is also a sign of poor quality. I therefore hope that this workshop will tackle the following issues regarding higher education in Kenya: a) Sustainable Financing b) Strengthening the TVET sub-sector c) Setting up of the Open University of Kenya d) Expansion of private higher education e) Resource mobilisation for higher education f) Improving quality, access and relevance g) Strengthening research and technology transfer In the meantime, and in summary, it is still my strong believe that universities must consider adopting the following measures to help keep our reform agenda on the right path: 1. Right-sizing and down-sizing of staff to ensure proper staffing norms.
2. Rationalisation of academic programmes and institutions in Kenya with a view to ensure full potential of the existing universities and campuses. If possible, existing universities and campuses can be consolidated for maximum utilisation.
3. The freeze on the establishment of new universities and satellite campuses must be upheld;
4. Consolidating similar academic programmes, with the aim of efficiently utilizing and maximizing on existing resources;
5. Ensuring universities specialize in academic programmes in which they are relatively strong at;
6. Strengthening academic programmes that greatly contribute to the national and global development agenda, through increased provision of resources, including finances, facilities, equipment, infrastructure and human, for their support.
I wish to thank the World Bank for supporting this important workshop. It is now my pleasure to declare the workshop open and wish you fruitful discussions.