The huge drop in the number of Kenyans enrolled for postgraduate courses last year calls for a reality check.
Contrary to the trend in the last 15 years where advanced degrees have been the preoccupation after securing jobs, official data shows the number of students registering for masters and PhD courses dropped by 51.1 percent last year.
Some 32,977 students registered for Masters and PhD courses, down from 67,407 in 2016.
Why the numbers would fall by such a huge margin remains a matter of speculation but the execution of postgraduate programmes have in recent years raised a number of pertinent questions.
First, are the fees charged for postgraduate programmes justified? Do employees who register for these courses ever get value for their money? Do employers, especially those who sponsor workers to pursue advanced degrees get value for their money? Could the numbers be shrinking because students are slowly voting with their feet?
Well, the bottom-line is that the figures call for a return to the drawing board. Whether at undergraduate or post graduate levels, the ultimate mission of a university is to generate knowledge through research and teaching.
The experience is however that most institutions of higher learning design their programmes with the primary goal of attracting revenue, as opposed to matching the grand goals of a university.
Cases of overcrowded classrooms, misplaced location of university campuses, shortage of lecturers and other resources, and persistent skills gap have appeared as symptoms of a bigger problem.
The ministry and other education sector players must take this “numbers shock” opportunity to fix the post graduate learning once and for all. Granted, universities need large volumes of students to run optimally but numbers must be attracted by a high-quality input system that yields excellent output.
Otherwise, trouble is already beckoning ahead.
Just like the postgraduates, the number of self-sponsored undergraduate students has dropped sharply too. What’s more, the government which has cut its funding to public university is still under pressure to reduce its budgetary support even further.