This article first appeared in my weekly column in the Business Daily on February 8, 2015
In the past week there has been a buzz around institutes of higher education allegedly handing out dubious academic accreditations for a fee.
Beyond the surprise and outrage, this reality in Kenya speaks to the larger question of how poor and fraudulent education is killing economic development.
It is an absolute outrage that given the skills gap Kenya already has, institutions and ‘students’ are willing to collude in a manner that augur ill for the youth, who are the main victims of the alleged misdemeanours, and for the economy in general.
As it stands, most employers are dissatisfied with the quality of graduates being churned out even by reputable institutions of higher education.
Employers are often struggling to fill vacancies yet hundreds of thousands of unemployed graduates exist, a situation that points to the extent of the mismatch.
In fact, in a survey among experts in 36 African countries on the major challenges youth face in the labour market, 54 per cent found a mismatch between what job seekers have to offer and what employers require.
So when the duplicity enters the sphere of education, and inauthentic students ‘graduate’, the effect is the creation of a young population with no true marketable skills and therefore limited economic promise.
The seriousness of the situation is underpinned by the fact that educated youths are seen to be the engine that would drive Kenya into economic prosperity.
Therefore, when institutions collude with ‘students’ in such a manner, it compromises the quality of the skills base on which current and future growth is predicated.
The problematic elements of tertiary education do not end there. Even when authentic degrees are earned, the composition of the same is a problem.
If Kenya is like many other African countries, there exists an imbalance with a shortage of those with degrees in technical areas such as the extractive, logistics, chemical and pharmaceutical industries as well as a surplus of workers in audits, administration, sales and communication positions.
But this is not without cause: Kenya does not produce many nuclear scientists, for example, partly because it lacks facilities but also because young people do not view such jobs as vendible in the local labour market.
This results in an imbalance that feeds into an inability of the country to build on technical skills sets that drive efficiency, technological innovation and productivity, creating positive disruptions that boost economic growth.
It is, therefore, crucial that not only fraudulent institutions of higher education are deregistered, but also a stronger connection be built between employers and the academia.
This means relevance of education will be improved, reducing the skills mismatch.
In addition, technical and vocational skills development should be promoted as it offers the youth additional applied skills and better chances in the labour market.
Further, training should go beyond hard skills and train students in soft skills — behavioural skills — because these can have a significant positive impact on employment and earnings of young Kenyans.
Ms Were is a development economist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @anzetse