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Why poor scores threaten parallel degree programmes in varsities

Uncertainty remains on where parallel degree programmes and private universities will source students after Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i announced public universities will directly absorb all the candidates who scored a mean grade of C+ and above in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examination.

More than 44,000 students who scored C plain and hoped to join universities either through Module II (parallel programme) or enrol in private institutions have been shut out of degree programmes after early indications that the cut-off points for selection into various courses will not be lowered.

But, more importantly, after years of opening up higher education and minting billions of shillings courtesy of the huge number of students that get locked out of public universities through the regular programme admissions, private universities and the financially lucrative parallel programme are facing the biggest test yet.

SHOCKWAVES

For the first time in several years, the government on Thursday said it will absorb all the 88,929 candidates who scored between A and C+ in last year’s Form Four examination. This sent shockwaves across the higher education sector.

The move has left no room for state-owned universities to enrol privately sponsored students through the parallel programme while shrinking the admission pool for private universities which have thrived mainly because of the inadequacies in the higher education sector.

Added to this are questions on the places available in middle-level colleges that have in recent years been largely shunned.

This has triggered speculation that the government will adjust the qualifications for higher education come April when the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service comes up with the cut-off points.

SHOCKING RESULTS

But on Saturday, Dr Matiang’i told the Nation it was unlikely the minimum qualifications would be lowered.

“The policy of government is that the minimum qualification one needs to join university is C+. It will be very simplistic if we think of it in another way because what would happen next year if we have more people with a C+; will we raise it again? And then again think of it this way, will we also have to drop the minimum qualification for diploma programmes to C-? No,” he said.

The Nation has also learnt that the KCSE results were so shocking that top officials from the Ministry of Education and the Kenya National Examinations Council had to brief President Uhuru Kenyatta, who was in Mombasa for holiday, before releasing them because of the anticipated aftershocks.

This is because, although the drastic drop in performance in the KCSE exam was symptomatic of the culture of exam cheating and leakages that has clouded the national exams for the past several years, the ripple effects in the sector will be far and wide.

Public universities have spent massive resources, most of it borrowed, to set up hundreds of satellite campuses to cater for the demand for higher education which has been surging each year with thousands registering especially for evening classes.

In addition, they have hired hundreds of part-time lecturers to teach module two programmes.

Mr Francis Aduol, the Vice-Chancellor at the Technical University of Kenya, says the consequences of the expected shrink in enrolment numbers will be grave.

“A huge chunk of module two will die. The programme was only started because a lot of students could not get direct entry into university and it appears like it will no longer be the case,” he says.

CAMPUSES WILL SHUT DOWN

“Permanent university staff in the universities are hired based on the students admitted through direct entry and everyone else, including lecturers who teach module two courses, are hired on part-time basis. Because revenue streams will decline and there will be no students, some campuses will shut down and staff, including lecturers, will lose their jobs,” he says.

This is in addition to the fact that the placement body will have a difficult time setting the cluster points for various courses since there was a general drop in performance.

In 2015, some 3,500 students were selected to study architecture, actuarial science, civil engineering, electrical and electronic engineering, mechanical engineering, dental surgery, pharmacy, veterinary medicine, medicine, surgery and law.

These 11 courses are the most prestigious and have, for a long time, required one to score a straight A in order to qualify. In 2015, there were 2,636 straight As but in last year’s examination, only 141 candidates scored an A.

KUCCPS chief executive Francis Muraguri says they will review the cluster points and call on students who wish to re-select their preferred courses to do so.

CAPACITY

“We have capacity to admit all the 88,000 students but generally from the way they performed, it is likely the cluster points will go down,” he says.

“But it doesn’t mean we will enrol anyone who is less than qualified,” he says.

Only 88,928 candidates attained C+ and above in the 2016 examination compared to 169,492 candidates who managed the grades of C-plus and above in 2015, representing a 47 per cent drop in the number of students who have qualified for university.

Public universities get funding from government but get almost half of their revenue from the module two programme while private universities depend almost entirely on the large number of students who don’t qualify for state sponsorship for higher education.

For example, out of the 522,870 candidates who sat the 2015 KCSE examination, 165,766 scored the minimum university entry qualification of a C+ and above. However, only 74,389 were selected to join public universities due to limited spaces with the cut-off being set at a B of 60 points for male candidates and B of 58 points for female candidates.

In the previous year, 149,717 candidates scored the minimum university entry qualification of a C+ and above out of 483,630 who sat the KCSE exam. For this reason only 67,000 were selected to join public universities on a government sponsorship.

FEES CHARGED VARY

For these two years alone, there were a combined 174,094 students who had qualified to join university but could not, thus providing a huge pool for private and public universities to absorb those who could pay.

This has been the trend for a number of years and it is the reason the module two programme and private universities have grown exponentially.

A state sponsored student in a public university pays about Sh17,000 per semester. In comparison, a privately sponsored student in the same institution pays upwards of Sh70,000 a semester while fees charged in private universities vary. At Daystar University, a first year at their Athi River Campus, for instance, will pay at least Sh99,200 in the first semester alone.

Prof Aduol says that the parallel programmes which were introduced in the year 2000 were started with good intentions.

“One cannot deny that quality has been compromised because every university took its own road because of greed when universities realised there was a demand,” he says.

“It will bring some order and universities will have to think of other avenues they can exploit in order to attract students, like by improving the quality of education they offer.” he adds.

Currently, the country has 33 public universities and 35 private ones, out of which 17 are fully chartered with a combined total of 539,749 students, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. About two-thirds of these are self-sponsored and the Commission for University Education (CUE) has declared that they will all share the 88,000 students this year.

“We cannot change that unless the government directs so,” CUE chief executive David Some says.

“This would enable us implement the programme where university students get loans depending on their courses, known as Differentiated Unit Cost (DUC), which will be rolled out in July to address some of the shortcomings in funding,” he says.

INCREASE FUNDING

Universities last year proposed an increase in funding to students from the current Sh32 billion per year to Sh65 billion. A report by vice-chancellors led by Prof Aduol said it costs Sh600,000 to train a dentist, medicine costs Sh576,000, veterinary medicine Sh468,000, pharmacy Sh432,000 and a general art degree Sh144,000. Under the current funding formula, the government provides Sh86,000 to public universities for each student in public universities.

But while public universities will have the consolation of getting a huge chunk of the government sponsored students because of the low fees they charge, private universities will most likely struggle to get the required numbers due to the cost factor.

Last year, they managed to lobby the government to admit 12,000 of their first year students but the National Association of Private Universities in Kenya says their annual enrolment capacity is 20,000 students. Mr Simon Gicharu, who is the association’s chair, says they have to re-engineer their business models in order to survive.

“The problem is that most private universities only offer art-based courses which puts them at a disadvantage and because the meat is now too small to share, those that do not change their business models will not survive,” he says.

“A good way would be strengthening the diploma courses and introducing science-based courses like medicine and engineering,” he says.

Private universities depend entirely on student fees for their upkeep are already struggling to exist as demonstrated by a report released in August last year by CUE which said they are indebted to a tune of Sh7 billion.

State owned universities receive up to 50 per cent of their income from the government.

“The university sub-sector is spending more resources than what it receives from the various income streams. If this trend is not remedied then the universities may not meet their obligations as mandated in law,” said The State of University Education in Kenya report.

It added that a number of institutions were on the verge of folding up.