Tuesday, May 28, 2024

East Africa suffers world’s lowest university enrollment

Only 4.2 percent of the 18-to-25 age bracket in the East Africa region have access to university education, while 6.4 percent are enrolled in non-university training institutions, meaning the region has the world’s lowest rate of university enrollment.

“These enrolment rates are not only the lowest in Africa, but [the lowest] in the world,” Professor Mayunga Nkunya, executive secretary of the Inter-University Council of East Africa (IUCEA), told Anadolu Agency in an
exclusive interview in Arusha, seat of the East African Community Secretariat.

The region comprises Tanzania, Kenya, Burundi, Uganda and Rwanda, and has an estimated population of 130 million – sixty percent of which are young people, figures from reports by IUCEA, East Africa Community (EAC) and East Africa Business Council (EABC) showed.

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It boasts a total of 720,000 students enrolled in 178 different universities, the reports said.

“According to current figures, the region has… 112 higher learning institutions and mid-level colleges, with a total of 343,939 students,” Nkunya said.

These figures put the total number of students in the region’s universities, higher learning institutions and mid-level colleges at 1,063,939.

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“These figures may look nice to some people, but the truth is that we have the lowest higher education enrolment in the world. Education [officials] and stakeholders, as well as policymakers, must address this crisis,” the professor said.

He said that one reason for the low enrolment was failure by the universities and higher learning institutions to draw enough candidates.

“Although there has been fast growth of the universities and other institutions of higher learning in the region in recent years, many of them were operating below capacity because they could not get the required number of qualified candidates,” he explained.

“The soaring fees, largely affecting candidates in Kenya and Uganda, are other reasons for the dropout [rate] in East Africa region universities,” said Nkunya, a former don at Tanzania’s University of Dar es Salaam.

He put university dropout rates in Kenya and Uganda in recent years at 25 and 19 percent respectively.


The professor went on to call for harmonizing the education system across East Africa and revamping it to meet the demands of the labor market.

He regretted that each country is currently using its own system, making it difficult for students from one country to enroll in a school or college in a neighboring country.

“To date, secondary school leavers [graduates] in Kenya are being denied entry into universities in Tanzania and Uganda because of Kenya’s 8-4-4 system, under which there are only four years of secondary education, unlike six in the two other states,” Professor Nkunya said.

He added that the quality of university training was another serious problem facing the region’s higher education sector – one that his IUCEA cannot
tackle without the full support of regional governments.

He said many graduates from East African universities lacked the skills and competence required by the labor market.

“The qualifications framework being developed will link
with the national qualifications frameworks in the five partner states,” Professor Nkunya said.

Recently, EAC Deputy Secretary-General Jean-Claude Nsengiyumva told a stakeholders’ forum – held to discuss the draft East African Qualifications in Framework for Higher Education in Entebe, Uganda – that the EAC Secretariat would work to see the framework adopted by next year.

“This will mark a milestone in achieving our goal in facilitating free movement of labor envisioned in the Common Market protocol, as it will streamline mutual recognition of qualifications among EAC partner states,” he said.

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