Enrolment for postgraduate courses in public universities dropped to its lowest in eight years amid a tight job market that has narrowed opportunities for master’s and PhD graduates.
Data from the Ministry of Education shows that the number of students pursuing master’s and PhD in the institutions dropped to 28,539 in the period ended June, reflecting a 36.09 percent fall from 44,657 last year and 67,407 in 2017.
This is the lowest enrolment since June 2013 when 24,417 students were pursuing postgraduate courses, a drop that has further hurt the finances of cash-strapped public universities even as the Treasury cuts funding to Kenya’s universities.
Experts link the drop to reduced employment opportunities in an economy beset with layoffs in the wake of Covid-19 economic hardships.
PhD and Master’s are considered as a ticket to promotions but stagnant pay in corporate Kenya seeking to keep a lid on costs has derailed pursuit of postgraduate qualifications.
The drop — the second highest in the eight years — comes on the back of a rise in tuition fees as universities seek additional resources to plug their funding deficit.
“The three key factors behind the drops are the high cost of the programmes, lack of government support for masters and PhD students and lack of employment opportunities for those who graduate,” Universities Fund CEO Geoffrey Monari told Business Daily.
Kenya has struggled to create adequate jobs and Covid-19 has worsened the employment market.
The number of formal jobs in Kenya last year contracted for the first time in two decades, reflecting the struggle of the economy that also shrank for the first time since 1992 on the back of coronavirus-induced shutdowns and restrictions.
The annual economic data released by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) on Thursday showed the economy shed 187,300 formal jobs in the year ended June 2020, marking the first time since 2001 when some 18,300 salaried workers were struck off payrolls.
The loss of formal jobs was more pronounced in the private sector, which laid off some 206,700 workers in a period businesses faced a tough operating environment, including reduced operating hours as a result of nighttime curfew and travel restrictions to contain the death-threatening pandemic.
The Covid-19 economic hardships also saw average earnings grow at the slowest pace in a decade.
Official data show that companies raised average monthly pay by 3.82 percent to Sh67,490 in the year ended June 2020, a drop from the 8.16 percent raise to Sh65,006 the year before.
This marked the slowest rise in earnings since 2011 when firms raised average pay by 3.48 percent, and nearly half the average 7.41 percent in a decade before last year, reducing the motivation for workers to further their studies in the search for promotions that come with increased pay.
The drop in enrolment numbers for master’s and PhD has further hurt efforts by the public varsities to raise more cash amid a fall in the number of students pursuing parallel degree programmes and a drop in allocations from the Treasury.
The funding deficit for public universities grew to Sh27 billion in the year to June from Sh20 billion, reflecting the cash flow crisis at the institutions.
University of Nairobi (UoN), for instance, increased the fees to ease its biting cash crunch.
UoN raised fees for students pursuing master’s in courses like communication and business administration (MBA) to Sh680,000 for a two-year programme from an average of Sh275,000, reflecting an increase of 147 percent.
The data shows that Maseno University posted the highest drop in postgraduate enrolment as the numbers plunged to 500 in the year to June, an 85 percent fall from 3,337 in the period to June last year.
The University of Eldoret and the Kenyatta University posted drops of 51 percent and 40 percent respectively to 1,199 and 8,964 in the year ended June.
Egerton University and the University of Nairobi posted growths of 310 percent and one percent in postgraduate enrolment to close the year ended June with 1,026 and 10,114 students respectively.
UoN and Kenyatta University dipped into a combined Sh4.3 billion financial deficit, underlining the cash flow problems at the institutions that have prompted the increment of tuition fees.
Documents tabled in Parliament show that UoN had a deficit of Sh2.17 billion in the year to June, up from Sh1.62 billion a year earlier while KU’s deficit grew to Sh2.13 from Sh1.3 billion in the period.
Debt for public universities stood at Sh60 billion in the year ended June highlighting the dire financial state of the institutions.
Some of the public varsities led by the UoN, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Kisii University, Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology, Egerton University and Kabianga University have approached the Treasury for bailouts.
Kenya has come under increasing pressure from the International Monetary Fund to merge struggling public universities in an effort to keep them afloat.