A Review of the Impact of Massification on the Quality of Higher Education in Kenya

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Formal education in Kenya can be traced back to the colonial days when the British determined who went to school and at what age. Weidman (1995) observes that University Education (UE) in Kenya began about 1963. This was the time when Kenya got independence and was evidently in a rush to set the economy running by setting the pillars of the socio-economic goals and targets (Sifuna, 1998). This prompted the Kenyan Government to factor in the critical role of University education in the realization of economic development. This has also been underscored by the World Bank (2002) which affirms that higher education is essential in nation building as well as greater social cohesion, strengthening confidence in social institutions and promotion of democratic participation. It can also lead to the appreciation of diversity in gender, ethnicity, religion and social class. APEID-UNESCO (2006) observes that many individuals consider higher education an avenue for social mobility and carte blanche for upward mobility in society.

At the national level, higher education is a vital tool for human resource development, sustaining economic growth, restructuring society and promoting national unity which is crucial for peace and development. The important role that higher education plays, especially in developing countries, cannot therefore, be overemphasized. As such, the Kenya government, corporations and private sector have directed their efforts to harmonise, streamline and strengthen the development of education in Kenya (Government of Kenya, 1965, 1988, 1997). The development of education in Kenya was founded on the philosophy of African Socialism as spelt out in the Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965 and its application to planning in Kenya. The paper indicates that, to tackle poverty, ignorance and poor health, the government had to provide free education and health services to all citizens (Government of Kenya, 1965).

In its quest to realize this, the government provided free primary, secondary and university education until the year 1972 when cost sharing policy in education was adopted (Kithinji, 2009). This was as a result of diminishing state resources compounded by challenges of population growth that made the government unable to continue providing free education at any level. Consequently, the state introduced fees in high schools and universities, though the cost of education at these levels was highly subsidized (Kithinji, 2009).

Bloom et al. (2005) observes that during the 1990s, African higher education begun to suffer from neglect. This was as a result of financial and political crises in many African countries, including Kenya. The universities could not be adequately financed to cater for the ever-increasing student enrolment. Consequently, there was an emerging trend to prioritize basic education; partly because many international donors and funding agencies placed more emphasis on basic and secondary education in developing countries to the detriment of higher education. The argument was that the economic returns from the former were far greater than from the latter. For instance, the World Bank reduced the proportion of funds allocated to higher education from 17 percent between 1985 and 1989 to a mere 7 percent between the year 1995 and 1999 (Goolam 2008).

In Kenya, for the last thirty years, the education sector has been reviewed by special commissions and working parties established by the government from time to time in order to enhance quality and maintain standards. These include the Ominde Commission of 1964, Gachathi Report of 1976, the Presidential working Party on the Establishment of Public University of 1971, the Presidential Working Party on Education and Manpower Training of 1988 and, most recently, the report of University Inspectorate Board (Kinyanjui, 2007). The reviews were prompted by the need to uphold quality education in Kenya. In particular, the latter initiative was a response to arrest the crises of massification that was looming large at Kenyan public universities. …