Interview: Mabel Imbuga
What can be done to retain the best lecturers and professors in Kenyan universities?
MABEL IMBUGA: Over the last decade we have witnessed decisive measures from the government to increase the salaries of Kenyan professors and to make the country more competitive. The universities have done their bit by creating new positions for professors, to attract them and ultimately keep them in the system.
Sector professor positions and joint positions in partnership with foreign universities are among the examples of how the Kenyan education system can retain staff and increase their income.
What are the main challenges in filling the skills gap between classrooms and the workplace?
IMBUGA: Many students attending Kenyan universities are encouraged, or even obliged, to do internships of at least eight weeks in their chosen field of studies. A lot of Kenyan universities also give students the opportunity to get the certifications required by certain fields or companies while they are still studying. This can give the students an edge over other graduates once they join the labour market.
Most universities have also launched partnerships with public and private institutions to further fill the gap. By working in partnership with the universities, a win-win opportunity arises for the industrial sector, as students are already trained and ready to join the workforce as soon as they finish their education. Maintaining the dialogue between the private sector and the universities is the key to succeeding.
Has the Higher Education Loans Board been efficient in addressing demand for higher education?
IMBUGA: The board is very effective, but with growing demand throughout Kenya, the capacity to absorb more loans is a serious challenge. Reform should be undertaken or the government will need to make commitments to ensure that the loans are sustainable. In fact, the government is restructuring the loan system, which will become similar to a bank and be able to lend money to students or their parents. Different categories of students will be encouraged to apply and to receive different types of loans, according to the model that suits their needs. This new type of capital should help sustain the rising number of students applying to Kenyan universities. The efficiency and recovery of the board is among the best in Africa, and any reforms to improve it further should be supported.
What are the challenges associated with funding in terms of the quality of higher education?
IMBUGA: A public university like Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology receives less than a third of its funding from the government. Universities must become more like entrepreneurs and seek funding from various different sources. Public universities are aware that this public funding will continue to fall in the years to come. The government is forming a board that will look into the issue of funding public universities. Once implemented, this new structure should help the big picture of higher education in Kenya and improve its overall quality. Most universities agree that different unit fees should apply from one programme to another. For example, medicine or engineering studies are more expensive than sociology and mathematics, but this reality does not reflect in the ultimate cost of the programmes.
How can incubation centres further promote entrepreneurs and employment?
IMBUGA: Universities are working hard to make students understand that innovation is the best way to find employment and “market” themselves for the private sector. Partnerships exist between universities and entrepreneurs to address youth unemployment and teach students how to become entrepreneurs. Universities are there to ensure students understand that the only way to succeed in a competitive global market is through innovation and entrepreneurship.
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