Public universities in Kenya are limiting their first-year intake this year despite pressure from the president, Daniel arap Moi, to double numbers after many students in 1999 were left without places, writes Wachira Kigotho in Nairobi.
A bumper crop of 173,000 students sat the 1999 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education. Of those, 34,160 applied for admission to the six public universities and 30,666 gained the minimum university entry points.
But vice-chancellors have rejected the idea of doubling the intake of 8,899 to include students from 1999 as well as 2000. Ratemo Michieka, chairman of the universities' joint admissions board, said it was too expensive and would strain university facilities.
In the past five years, public universities have been admitting fewer than 10,000 students each year, in line with conditions set by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
In a recent address at Maseno University, President Moi warned: "If universities continue to delay university admissions, crime among the youth will rise."
The backlog of students has also arisen because of university closures caused by student riots and disturbances. This has led to public universities having several double intakes, which vice-chancellors cite as the major cause of falling academic standards.
Professor Michieka said additional lecture theatres, seminar rooms, libraries, laboratories and hostels were needed, as facilities were overstretched as a result of government budget cuts.
George Eshiwani, vice-chancellor of Kenyatta University, said: "Those ideas are still part of our agenda but will require definite strategies."
The admissions board said the University of Nairobi would admit 2,522 first-years, Kenyatta 1,677, Moi 1,794, Egerton 1,464, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology 500 and Maseno 942. Last year, the universities admitted 8,150 students, 9 per cent more than the previous year.
Harold Wackman, the World Bank representative in Nairobi, said that overcrowding, a brain drain and poor resource allocation had affected standards. "We have advised universities to limit intake and improve institutional management as the way forward towards improving the falling academic standards."
Since 1990, about 200,000 students have failed to gain admission to public universities.
Kenya's six public universities are eliminating more than 5,000 non-teaching jobs in a move to cut costs. Non-teaching jobs account for 75 per cent of the workforce at these institutions. These cuts should save about £7 million a year that can be used to improve the quality of teaching.