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Why Kenyan learners are looking overseas for college admission

-HELB’s data as at March 2022 shows that at least 109,661 former university students had defaulted on their payments, accounting for US$109million as at the end of 2021. That figure stood at US$67 million 2 years ago.

By Remie Otieno

Kenyan students with study abroad ambitions are signing up to foreign universities in record numbers and experts are now likening the shift to rising education costs and poor quality of higher education in the country.

The US, UK, Canada and Australia remain the top preferred destinations for Kenyan learners seeking overseas learning chances for their undergraduate studies or post-secondary programs.

Inflated tuition fees, exorbitant housing costs for college students, quality of faculty, curriculum standards, and technological infrastructure available, accreditation regime and the administrative policies in institutions of higher learning are some of the factors influencing the quality of higher education in most public universities.

Those concerns, according to Omar Mohamed – the Chief executive of EduCare International, a Kenyan-based student recruitment firm, have led to an increased number of Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) students abandoning prestigious institutions such as the University of Nairobi (UoN), Kenyatta University (KU) and Moi University among others for international campuses.

“Foreign countries like the US, UK, China, Australia among others are known to allow international students to take a part-time job in their countries. These quality of education in such countries are also unmatched contrary to what we are seeing here,” he says.

Samuel Nyandemo, a Senior lecturer in economics at UoN agrees, saying those concerns are justifiable in his scathing assessment of the situation in public universities which he acknowledges has been fueled by mismanagement and ethnic appointments.

“Besides the need by students to diversify their schooling careers, we have a big problem in public universities and it is mainly mismanagement, tribal groupings and rampant absenteeism by lectures, that can never be the case in foreign universities,” says the Don.

Similarly, Mr. Nyandemo believes a complete overhaul of the current curriculum structure in public universities needs tweaking, adding that most courses should be future-driven to meet current market needs, as opposed to supply-ascribed courses in the market today.

“With exception to Strathmore and USIU universities, nearly all Kenyan universities are faced with these challenges with an altered calendar,” he says.

According to the Universities Funding Board – the agency that sets fees on behalf of the government, tuition fees in most Kenyan universities range between US$1,380 USD – US$5,000 USD per year. On the other hand, the cost of living for an average student ranges between US$500 and US$800 every month going by the current market economics.

This compared to between an average of Sh1.2 Million and Sh1.5 Million in tuition fees payable every year in most foreign universities whose study programs offer flexibility to students taking up part-time jobs with such benefits outweighing tuition fees, according to Mr. Mohamed.

“These are flexible studying arrangements not offered here and thus the demand for such openings which was halted last year and the year before because of the pandemic which prevented movement outside the country,” said Omar, adding that medical, engineering, law and arts courses are attracting Kenyan learners keen to study abroad.

In July last year, UoN for instance more than doubled its fees for postgraduate courses and parallel degree programmes. The new rates were to apply to new students, meaning the institution would have transitioned to the new regime within the next five years.

The financial crisis at Higher Education Loans Board (HELB) – the agency that disburses loans to university students on behalf of the government, is also an alarming concern for the higher education sector owing to the sharp rise in defaults due to layoffs and free in hiring due to Covid-19 ripple effects in the labor market.

The unemployment rate increased sharply in 2020, approximately doubling to 10.4 percent in the second quarter of 2020. Kenya’s economy was hit hard by COVID-19, severely affecting incomes and jobs, exposing through the dampening effects on domestic activity of the containment measures and behavioral responses.

A total of 604 firms in Kenya sent workers home due to the coronavirus fallout, according to Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) which said that at least 33 jobs were lost in every modern sector company between March and August 2020.

But the latest Economic Survey 2022 shows that the labor market was moving past the Covid-19 pandemic and that the economy has weaned itself off government bailout.


-Kenya has 102 public universities and campuses — which posted a deficit of Sh6.2 billion ($55.3 million) in the year to June 2021 and received nearly Sh70 billion ($624.9 million) from the Treasury to run their operations.

-HELB’s data as at March 2022 shows that at least 109,661 former university students had defaulted on their payments, accounting for US$109million as at the end of 2021. That figure stood at US$67 million 2 years ago.




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