Kenyan universities have dropped in academic rankings compared to their peers in Africa in what could make it difficult for local graduates to get jobs in the competitive global labour market.
The latest study by Spanish research firm Webometrics shows that four of the six Kenyan universities ranked dropped with University of Nairobi (UoN) and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) moving up marginally.
The poor ranking also means a lower prestige for local universities on the international stage, slowing down scholarly partnerships and ability of the institutions to attract foreign students.
“The drop in the rankings presents a major barrier to Kenyan graduates seeking international jobs,” said Kuria Muchiru, senior partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers Kenya.
Global companies are increasingly eyeing emerging markets such as Africa for growth in what has seen them open regional shops and hire executives from the developing world to support their expansions.
Strathmore University was ranked at number 40 in Africa, having dropped from 38 in January while Moi University slipped out of the top 100 Africa list from its previous standing at 90, according to Webometrics.
Kenyatta University dropped seven places to stand at 58 while United States International University slipped 17 places to stand at 95. UoN moved up one place to stand at 26 while JKUAT edged up two places to stand at 87.
The bulk of the top places are occupied by South Africa universities such as University of Cape Town and University of Pretoria with neighbouring institutions such as Makerere (ranked in position 10), University of Khartoum (18) and Addis Ababa University coming ahead of Kenyans.
The low rankings, analysts say, look set to narrow the superior skills gap that has seen Kenyan graduates fair better than their counterparts in the region.
Educationists blame the ongoing dilution of the quality of Kenyan degrees on uncontrolled expansion in the past 10 years that has seen public universities open campuses in some of the remotest locations in the country, putting to doubt the quality of teaching in the units.
Though the number of qualified lecturers has been growing, it lags far behind the student enrolment rate forcing many universities to hire unqualified staff for academic positions.
This year, for instance, public universities are admitting 32,000 freshmen, up from 20,000 last year without a rapid increase in capacity of libraries and number of lecturers. It is also common to find university departments staffed by non-Phd holders teaching postgraduate classes.
University Academic Staff Union data indicates that there are about 10,000 lecturers in both public and private universities, up from 7,000 four years ago. Over the same period, student population grew from 90,000 to 142,000 — a 57 per cent jump.
In the more comprehensive Academic Ranking of World Universities released last year, no Kenyan university appeared in the top 1,000 list, in which Africa was represented by only three universities — all of them from South Africa.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) observes that university rankings are becoming increasingly critical for universities as they provide a employers, parents and students with a reliable quality status of learning institutions.
“Rankings are a manifestation of the new competitive higher education environment and a driver of change,” says OECD.
Egypt is another major player in tertiary education in the continent, accounting for 16 of the top 100 slots under the Webometrics rankings.
Webometrics ranks universities based on an online measure of visibility and generation of research and it ranks 12,000 universities after assessing the volume and quality of online academic research and scholarly activity of 20,000 universities around the world.