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Kenya announces bold plans to reach 30,000 international students

The Kenya National Qualifications Authority is developing a policy to help the country attract international students from across Africa and turn it into a regional higher education hub – a position currently held by South Africa which admits thousands of international students each year.

The KNQA said it wants to initiate measures that would make Kenya more attractive to international students. Photo: Wikimedia/ Swathi Sridharan

South Africa is currently the top international student destination in Africa with over 45K students

The KNQA wants universities in partnership with government agencies to initiate a number of measures that would make Kenya more attractive, including upgrading accommodation facilities, setting out clearly defined academic calendars, and establishing international student directorates to assist learners.

“There may be a need for [universities] to come together and market their programs”

They will also need to keep accurate records of students to ensure learners graduate and have their certificates posted to their home countries, explained KNQA director general and CEO, Eusebius Mukhwana.

“Universities must also provide decent and affordable accommodation to international students on a reliable basis and on a bigger scale,” Mukhwana told The PIE News.

“And, there may be a need for them to come together and market their programs as a group rather than do so individually. This is what we are proposing for now and we shall start with willing universities.”

South Africa is currently the top international student destination in Africa with a total of 45,142 students, compared to Kenya’s 4,782 according to UNESCO figures.

As part of an ambitious plan to get Kenya in a strong position among the top student destinations in Africa, Mukhwana said new policies including making it easier for students to acquire and renew their visas were required.

“There is a need to designate some staff at universities as quasi-immigration officers so that they can make requests for visas on behalf of students,” he noted.

“This is in contrast to the current system where students camp at immigration offices looking for an extension of their visas, with many giving up and dropping out of college,” the official added.

Other issues such as students’ security also need to be addressed if Kenya wants to become an attractive destination, he said.

Mukhwana said the plan aims to ensure that Kenya grows its international student numbers from around 5,000 to 30,000 over five years by targeting students from regional countries Somalia, South Sudan and Tanzania, among others.

To actualise the ambition, he disclosed that the KNQA was planning to assemble a joint committee of its staff, colleges, immigration authorities and security agencies to help design policies that would help accelerate the mobility plan.

He said the authority would also be more aggressive in fast-tracking recognition and equation of qualifications obtained from different countries, and in the verification of certificates to ensure that they were genuine.

“This will be aided by support from the African Qualifications Verification Network which KNQA is a member,” he added.

“This is important in helping to determine where students [can] commence their studies in Kenya after their qualifications are equated to high school certificate,  Kenyan diplomas, certificates and degrees.”

Mukhwana noted African Qualifications Verification Network was actively helping countries in recognition, equation and verification of certificates obtained within the African continent making intra-Africa mobility much easier.

He acknowledged that the task of making Kenya the regional mobility hub is not easy considering that higher education is more expensive when compared to its regional competitor Uganda, which charges nearly half that of Kenyan universities.

However, Mukhwana maintains that Kenyan qualifications attract better international value than most in the region, which he claims would mitigate against the question of cost.

“What is needed is aggressive marketing and joint branding”

Many Kenyans, he asserted, had found employment in the region’s countries including Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, Somalia, Namibia, South Africa, which Mukhwana said suggested that the region has confidence in Kenyan qualifications.

“What is needed is aggressive marketing and joint branding”, the director affirmed, adding that this would also mitigate against declining student numbers in Kenyan universities.

He said that many countries in Europe, the US and Asia were overcoming funding gaps brought about by low student numbers by aggressively marketing their programs in Africa and elsewhere and that Kenya needed to learn from them.

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