Poor scores threaten parallel degree programmes

Uncertainty remains on where parallel degree programmes and private universities will source students after Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i announced public universities will directly absorb all the candidates who scored a mean grade of C+ and above in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examination.

More than 44,000 students who scored C-plain and hoped to join universities either through Module II (parallel programme) or enrol in private institutions have been shut out of degree programmes after early indications that the cut-off points for selection into various courses will not be lowered.

But, more importantly, after years of opening up higher education and minting billions of shillings courtesy of the huge number of students that get locked out of public universities through the regular programme admissions, private universities and the financially lucrative parallel programme are facing the biggest test yet.

For the first time in several years, the government on Thursday said it will absorb all the 88,929 candidates who scored between A and C+ in last year’s Form Four examination. This sent shockwaves across the higher education sector.

The move has left no room for state-owned universities to enrol privately sponsored students through the parallel programme while shrinking the admission pool for private universities which have thrived mainly because of the inadequacies in the higher education sector.

Added to this are questions on the places available in middle-level colleges that have in recent years been largely shunned.

This has triggered speculation that the government will adjust the qualifications for higher education come April when the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service comes up with the cut-off points.


But on Saturday, Dr Matiang’i told the Nation it was unlikely the minimum qualifications would be lowered.

“The policy of government is that the minimum qualification one needs to join university is C+. It will be very simplistic if we think of it in another way because what would happen next year if we have more people with a C+; will we raise it again? And then again think of it this way, will we also have to drop the minimum qualification for diploma programmes to C-? No,” he said.

The Nation has also learnt that the KCSE results were so shocking that top officials from the Ministry of Education and the Kenya National Examinations Council had to brief President Uhuru Kenyatta, who was in Mombasa on holiday, before releasing them because of the anticipated aftershocks.

This is because, although the drastic drop in performance in the KCSE exam was symptomatic of the culture of exam cheating and leakages that has clouded the national exams for the past several years, the ripple effects in the sector will be far and wide.

Public universities have spent massive resources, most of it borrowed, to set up hundreds of satellite campuses to cater for the demand for higher education which has been surging each year with thousands registering especially for evening classes.

In addition, they have hired hundreds of part-time lecturers to teach module two programmes. Mr Francis Aduol, the Vice-Chancellor at the Technical University of Kenya, says the consequences of the
expected shrink in enrolment numbers will be grave.

“A huge chunk of module two will die. The programme was only started because a lot of students could not get direct entry into university and it appears like it will no longer be the case,” he says.


“Permanent university staff in the universities are hired based on the students admitted through direct entry and everyone else, including lecturers who teach module two courses, are hired on part-time basis. Because revenue streams will decline and there will be no students, some campuses will shut down and staff, including lecturers, will lose their jobs,” he says.

This is in addition to the fact that the placement body will have a difficult time setting the cluster points for various courses since there was a general drop in performance.

In 2015, some 3,500 students were selected to study architecture, actuarial science, civil engineering, electrical and electronic engineering, mechanical engineering, dental surgery, pharmacy, veterinary medicine, medicine, surgery and law.

These 11 courses are the most prestigious and have, for a long time, required one to score a straight A in order to qualify. In 2015, there were 2,636 straight As but in last year’s examination, only 141 candidates scored an A.

KUCCPS chief executive Francis Muraguri says they will review the cluster points and call on students who wish to re-select their preferred courses to do so.

“We have capacity to admit all the 88,000 students but generally from the way they performed, it is likely the cluster points will go down,” he says.
“But it doesn’t mean we will enrol anyone who is less than qualified,” he says.

Only 88,928 candidates attained C+ and above in the 2016 examination compared to 169,492 candidates who managed the grades of C-plus and above in 2015, representing a 47 per cent drop in the number of students who have qualified for university.

Public universities get funding from government but get almost half of their revenue from the module two programme while private universities depend almost entirely on the large number of students who don’t qualify for state sponsorship for higher education.

For example, out of the 522,870 candidates who sat the 2015 KCSE examination, 165,766 scored the minimum university entry qualification of a C+ and above. However, only 74,389 were selected to join public universities due to limited spaces with the cut-off being set at a B of 60 points for male candidates and B of 58 points for female candidates.

In the previous year, 149,717 candidates scored the minimum university entry qualification of a C+ and above out of 483,630 who sat the KCSE exam. For this reason only 67,000 were selected to join public universities on a government sponsorship.


For these two years alone, there were a combined 174,094 students who had qualified to join university but could not, thus providing a huge pool for private and public universities to absorb those who could pay.

This has been the trend for a number of years and it is the reason the module two programme and private universities have grown exponentially.

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