Why most Kenyans prefer to study abroad


A graduation ceremony. A Synovate study says 57 per cent of 1,044 respondents prefer foreign universities over local ones. Photo/FILE

The majority of Kenyans prefer studying or sending their children abroad for higher education, a new study has shown.

The survey by Synovate carried out last month shows that 57 per cent of 1,044 respondents sampled prefer foreign universities over local ones due to a perception of high quality standards, prestige, and exposure to life overseas.

The respondents also complained of inadequate educational opportunities locally.

The study shows that 43 per cent of Kenyans prefer to study locally with more than two thirds of the respondents in Coast and Western regions having the highest preference for overseas education.

This was a sharp contrast to the North Eastern where 77 per cent of the respondents said they would rather attend local universities.

“These results indicate that Kenyan universities, especially public ones, still have some way to go in winning public confidence,” said George Waititu, managing director Synovate.

He said that public universities have been plagued by lack of resources due to their reliance on diminishing state funding, though parallel degree programmes have been used to generate some additional income.

“The issues of congestion, shortage of teaching staff, inadequate facilities, and the resulting perception of poor quality education continue to plague the universities,” said Mr Waititu, adding that the government needs to have a deliberate approach to expand the quality and space of local universities.

“We want to see less and less people studying abroad so that the economy can gain,” he said, adding that the low preference for foreign universities in the North Eastern region could be as a result of little exposure and knowledge on foreign education. “Generally speaking, the region tends to be poorer than the rest of the country making it more difficult for those in that region to prefer the more expensive universities abroad,” he said.

Makini Group of Schools founder and chief executive officer Mary Okello said local universities needed to improve quality so as to tap into the money that locals are spending abroad on higher education.

“What this study means is that we have to make our degrees more competitive, we need to raise our standards and this will also boost our revenues from university education. Other countries capitalise on their education and make money out of it,” said Mrs Okello.

“As a Kenyan, I would discourage people from going to study abroad at least for the first degree because people are usually too young and it will also save on foreign exchange… for post graduate it is okay and it also gives exposure,” she said.

Foreign universities are generally better equipped with facilities and the lure of working opportunities after school also makes them more attractive to Kenyan students.

“Currently, there is no role modelling and when students finish their education it is like nobody cares about what happens after that. But when they go abroad they find opportunities,” said Kenya Private Schools Association national chairman John Kabue Mwai.

“The management of government resources has also been poor. The government spends so much on the education system but the implementing persons do not maximise those resources,” he said, adding that as a result the quality of education comes down.

The survey comes amid increasing demand for higher education locally, and slow growth in the number of student visas issued for Kenyans going to study in foreign countries for the past three years.

The United States, for instance, issued 5,384 student visas to Kenyans last year compared to 5,877 and 5,838 in 2009 and 2008 respectively, while the UK issued 916 last year compared to 770 and 969 for the two previous years.

Australia issued 555 student visas in the 2010 financial year compared to 611 and 625 issued in the earlier two financial years respectively.

Visas issued for study in South Africa have, however, increased marginally with 598 issued last year compared to 583 and 635 in 2009 and 2008 respectively.

Many foreign countries such as the UK and the US, which are the leading destinations of Kenyan students, have instituted stringent visa requirements over the past three years in an effort to track foreign students and tame illegal immigration.

Sluggish global economic growth has also reduced the disposable income of many families, which is the leading source of funding for higher education, and reduced work opportunities abroad.

Data from the Institute of International Education, which tracks student information in the US, shows that 62 per cent of foreign students get funding from personal and family sources, while 24 per cent are funded by colleges or universities.

After the release of the Kenya Certificate of Secondary School Examination results last month, local and foreign universities have stepped up their marketing efforts to rope in new students.

The number of students who attained the minimum entry qualification to local public universities, a C Plus, was 97,134.

Compared to the current public university capacity of 24,221, this means that about 72,913 students may miss places at the seven public universities, leaving them with choices of applying for parallel programme courses, joining the private universities and local colleges, or seeking university admission abroad.

Already, in the past month, there have been two education fairs at Kenyatta International Conference Centre and Sarit Centre with the higher education providers putting their best foot forward to lure fresh students.

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