Tight immigration rules and high tuition fees are eroding the ability of US and British universities to attract Kenyan students, the latest official statistics indicate.
The number of Kenyan students enrolling in the UK universities fell 8.2 per cent to 1,125 in 2012 compared to 1,226 student visas issued in 2007, according to data from the British High Commission in Nairobi.
Enrolment in American colleges almost halved to 3,898 in 2011 compared to 6,559 in 2006 as Washington tightened student visa rules, forcing many prospective Kenyan students to drop their dreams of studying in the world’s richest nation.
“It is getting harder to access the US ever since September 11 attacks and the subsequent review of entry regulations,” said Dr X.N. Iraki, the MBA co-ordinator at the University of Nairobi’s School of Business.
“Cost is also a big factor that is forcing many students opt for the much cheaper local colleges.”
The decline in enrolment numbers in foreign colleges has translated into a tripling of student population in local colleges to 240,551 in a span of five years.
“The US embassy has been very strict in requiring applicants to present original bank statements in their own name showing they can fully meet tuition and living expenses,” said Pari Lalani, the director of Unilink, a university placement agency.
“The global appeal of US and UK degrees remains attractive to many Kenyan students but most find the costs, especially housing and personal upkeep, too high.”
Applicants for US student visa go through a rigorous vetting process that requires proof of ability to pay tuition fees and for upkeep, which averages Sh3.9 million ($45,000) a year.
Foreign undergraduates pay an average of Sh1.4 million (£10,700) per year for arts courses in the UK and Sh1.6 million (£11,800) per annum for science disciplines.
It costs a tenth of these figures to pursue university education in Kenya under the parallel degree programmes that also offer students access to the Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) loans.
Uniserv Education, a firm that offers placement services for people seeking study opportunities abroad, said recent changes to immigration rules have made the process longer and more expensive.
As a result, students are choosing to study in Kenya or seek opportunities in other countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Germany, South Korea and China.
Those seeking to study in the US pay $250 for the Form I-20, which confirms that one has been accepted by a university, $200 to book an interview and $160 in visa fees. Prospective students to the UK pay Sh11,200 visa application fees to attend an interview.
“The interview focuses on the applicant’s reasons for coming to the UK; this is known as a credibility interview,” says the UK Border Agency in a statement posted on its website.
Despite the high cost of studies in the two destinations, many Kenyans have kept faith in the value of foreign papers considering that more than half of total visa applications are rejected.
“The UK has a worldwide reputation for providing quality education to overseas students. Britain is, rightly, the destination of choice for many people wishing to study abroad,” the British High Commission in Nairobi said in a statement to Business Daily.
The most popular courses for those seeking British and American degrees are business studies, law, engineering and medicine, all of which are available in local universities.
Sustained appetite for foreign degrees signals growing doubts on the quality of education offered by Kenyan universities that have in the past decade eased access to higher education through parallel programmes, distance learning, evening and part-time courses.
“The issue of quality is mainly at postgraduate level due to lack of sufficient supervisors that result in weak programmes and delayed completion of studies,” said Prof James Ole Kiyiapi, a former Education PS.
“We need to invest in infrastructure for research and produce more high-calibre lecturers with PhDs.”
British universities offer one year fulltime Master’s degree programmes while PhD programmes take three years to complete, making them popular with international students.
The stringent study-abroad requirements have been a boon for Kenyan universities, which have recently registered an annual average 20 per cent growth in enrolment numbers.
Kenya has a total of 67 universities; 22 public universities, nine public university constituent colleges, 17 chartered private universities, five private university constituent colleges, 12 universities with letters of interim authority and two registered private universities.
This follows the upgrading of 15 public university colleges to full-fledged public university status.
Local universities have adopted technology that makes it convenient for students, particularly the working ones, to finish and submit certain aspects of learning such as assignments without a physical presence on campus.
“Parallel degree programmes have opened extra opportunities,” said Dr Iraki, adding that most learners in the past went abroad after missing out on admissions to public universities.
Furthermore, the delinking of admissions to public universities from bed space has opened up more higher education opportunities.
The number of students admitted by the (Joint Admissions Board) JAB has more than doubled in the past three years to 53,010 this year compared to 24,221 in 2010.
Neighbouring Uganda has also been a cheaper alternative for Kenyan students searching for higher education opportunities.
The rankings of local institutions such as the University of Nairobi, Strathmore and Kenyatta have gone up, growing Kenyans’ confidence in local universities.