Turning technical colleges into varsities was a big mistake


A past graduation ceremony. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The alarming rate at which technical colleges have been turned into universities or constituent campuses of local public varsities will have serious ramifications in the job market.

Kimathi Institute of Technology, Ukamba Agricultural Institute, Kirinyaga Technical Institute, Muranga College of Technology and Machakos Technical Training Institute, among many others were technical colleges before they were turned into constituent colleges or full-fledged universities.

But why did the government allow the devouring of middle-level technical institutions that are essential in generating the skillful manpower needed to rev the economy and achieve the country’s economic blueprints like Vision 2030 and the recent Big Four Plan?

It’s hard to tell. However, the government’s recent focus in reforming and empowering Technical and Vocational Education and Training institutions (TVETs) through the creation of TVET Authority (TVETA) and other related agencies is an encouraging statement that at least it is getting its groove back!

TVET institutions are critical in a country’s development and employment creations because they equip students with practical skills aimed at self-employment and self-reliance. In Kenya, this falls in tune with Vision 2030, which advocates for competency based education training for a demand-driven economy.

Converting some of the technical institutions into universities was a big mistake that can only be rectified by the government establishing more TVET institutions, equipping the remaining ones and staffing them with well trained manpower.

First, due to the gradual phasing out and insufficient funding of these institutions, currently the Kenyan job market is in dire need of skillful manpower for even basic skills like plumbing and plant operator.

Vision 2030 supports five main industries under the economic pillar. These include infrastructure, tourism, agriculture, manufacturing, ICT and finance.

Equally, the Big Four plan that focuses on affordable housing, manufacturing, food security and universal healthcare, will be powered by youths with skills acquired through targeted and comprehensive training in TVET institutions.

However, with more of these middle level colleges turned into universities, skills training encompassed trough practical training are now being left to degree programmes which are more theoretical than practical.

Moreover, due to perception and wrong branding over the years, more students believe technical courses are of a lower value compared to, for instance arts-based courses. This has led to saturation in social sciences at the expense of technical courses.

Secondly, there is acute lack of qualified skills trainers in Kenya to instil the required skills for the vast changing technological driven economy.

Lastly, there is a mismatch between technical skills and the labour market; The Kenyan job market is at the moment in demand for certain skills.

One of the greatest challenges affecting the economy is thousands of graduates who have skills that the market does not necessarily require for economic growth and sustainability.

Perminus Wainaina is managing partner and CEO, Corporate Staffing Services Ltd