University admissions herald need for reform

Gender and regional inequalities remain a sticky challenge in university education and require urgent redress.IMAGE COURTESY

The enforcement of tough regulations in Form Four examinations in the past four years have stabilised university admissions. Unlike when an inordinately large number of students excelled in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exams, in recent years, the numbers have declined drastically and, in fact, give a semblance of a bell curve. Then, many students missed out on university admission for lack of capacity.

This time round, things are pretty different. All qualifiers get admission, many to courses of their choice. But that is the rosy part of the story. Several other challenges still obtain.

On the latest admission list released yesterday by the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS), 122,831 candidates from a total of 125,463 qualifiers who scored C-plus and above in last year’s KCSE got university admission.

Strikingly, 2,632 qualifiers for degree courses have been admitted for diploma programmes at technical and vocational training institutions, among them one who scored A and 11 others with A-minus. This brings to the fore the vexed question of placements. 

The official explanation is that these candidates made the choices of their own volition; that since they are interested in particular courses, they are determined to pursue them even at the diploma level. If that is their honest desire, we can put the matter to rest.

Moreover, there is a countervailing argument that select TVET programmes offer better career prospects than some degrees. However, the plausible argument is that these candidates may have acted out of desperation and for lack of information on alternatives.

Which raises the next question: How appropriately and extensively do Form Four candidates get career advice? Do schools help them  to make wise career choices? Does KUCCPS work closely and regularly with schools to advise candidates thus?

The admission has also brought out wide gender gaps. There were more boys than girls admitted to university — at 57.03 per cent and 42.97 per cent, respectively. Crucially important, more boys than girls were placed in science, engineering and mathematics (Stem) courses, which promise better careers and upward mobility. But gender and regional inequalities remain a sticky challenge in university education and require urgent redress.

Another emerging trend is that some degree programmes and universities do not attract students. This underscores the argument that we have always made, that some courses should be scrapped because they are either irrelevant or obsolete.

Overall, the admission trends point to the need for strategic reforms in higher education.