Some 15,547 candidates who scored C+ and above in the 2020 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination snubbed universities while some opted for diploma and certificate courses like plumbing in technical institutions.
Data from the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS) shows 10,707 candidates did not apply for degree courses despite meeting the minimum qualifications.
Another 4,840 preferred Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges to pursue courses in an employment market where university graduates are struggling to get jobs.
The 15,547 candidates accounted for 10.8 percent of the 143,140 students who qualified to join universities.
The growing share of students snubbing university education is a departure from the past when degrees were viewed by many as a ticket for promotion at the workplace and getting a job, pushing the enrolment numbers to record high in recent years.
This has coincided with the government’s increased focus on technical colleges in the quest to feed the labour market with craftsmen and technicians.
The revival of the technical colleges under President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration was a departure from the trend set by former President Mwai Kibaki of converting mid-tier colleges into universities.
This led to an increase in the number of graduates with liberal arts degrees in a job market that was already saturated.
The KUCCPS announced on Monday it had reopened its application portal to give some 32,718 qualifying candidates a chance to reapply for preferred courses.
KUCCPS says that of the 131,833 that applied to be considered for placement in TVETs and universities, only 94,275 candidates were placed in degree courses of their choice.
“All efforts are being made to track 10,707 candidates with C+ and above who failed to apply for courses in universities ‘in the spirit of leaving no one behind’,” said KUCCPS chief executive Agnes Wahome.
Of the 747,161 candidates that sat the 2020 KCSE examination, 143,140 attained the minimum university entry qualification of C+.
More students are preferring to join TVETs, a sign that the government’s efforts to grow enrolment in the institutions is bearing fruit.
Data from the Ministry of Education shows some 2,632 candidates who scored C+ and above in the 2019 KCSE examination and qualified for placement to degree programmes opted for diploma courses in technical institutions.
The number has nearly doubled this year to 4,840 students.
Over the past four years, nearly all students scoring C+ and above were admitted to the regular university programmes, reducing the pool of learners available for private universities as well as self-sponsored degree programmes in public universities.
The drop in the number of students pursuing the parallel degree courses whose fees are based on market rates has hurt university finances, leading the institutions to freeze hiring and slow down expansion as they struggle with debt.
The government has upped funding of TVETs and allowed students from poor families to access study loans at the Higher Education Loans Board (Helb).
Previously, Helb loans were available only to students admitted to universities.
Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows the number of TVET institutions increased by 10.3 percent to 2,191 in 2019 while that of universities remained unchanged at 63 during the review period.
Enrolment of students in national polytechnics rose by 35.5 percent to 102,078 in 2019, while that of public technical and vocational colleges increased by 32.8 percent to 112,110.
The 2019 Census data on formal and non-formal schooling further shows TVET education is dwarfing universities in popularity in Kenya.
While 7.1 percent of Kenyans stated to have completed middle level and TVET education, 3.5 percent had attained university level of education. About half of the population reported primary school level of education as the highest attained.
In its latest effort to boost the popularity of technical schools, Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani announced tax rebates for employers that offer one-year internships to TVET graduates.
“It is my hope that employers will take advantage of this incentive and give our young graduates from the TVET institutions opportunities to gain practical experience to expand their employability,” he said in his budget speech.
Kenya is pushing for 100 percent transition from primary school to secondary school in a move that offers hope for TVET institutions to keep getting students.
TVETs are seen to match well with the competency based curriculum (CBC) that is phasing out the popular 8-4-4 system.
The new system puts more emphasis on nurturing practical skills among learners as opposed to amassing certificates based on theory learning. This dovetails with the teaching in many TVET institutions.