Enhancing student choice and institutional efficiency in higher education: the prospects for educational vouchers in Kenya
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The transformation of Kenyan higher education, though notable from the late1980s, still grapples with several inhibitions. One of these, the rigidity of admission policies within an equally regimented financing framework, was the focus of this study. The major purpose was to explore perceptions of stakeholders on the viability of vouchers in higher education in Kenya, while the problem of investigation was: how do student characteristics (application for change of programmes, institutional affiliation and gender) affect their support for vouchers in higher education? This task was accomplished by administering questionnaires to 1,221 students in three public universities: Nairobi, Kenyatta and Egerton and interviews with 21 respondents from: the Ministry of Education, Commission for Higher Education, Higher Education Loans Board, Joint Admissions Board and Informed Specialists in private and public sector. Findings demostrate an overall high rate of support for educational vouchers (81% among students and 85% for non-student respondents). This support is not dependent on the success or failure to transfer from one institution/programme to another ( =5.081, df=2, p > 0.05) and neither is it affected by gender (Variance =0.000596 [SD =0.0244], phi/Cramer's V and C = 0.065, ns) but is positively influenced by institutional affiliation and location, with students in the fringe, rural locations registering higher level of support for vouchers than those in the more urban settings (=66.879, p <0.05). Principal reasons for supporting vouchers conjugate on enabling students join institutions and programmes of choice, while the prime reason for opposition is the likely congestion consequent on students scramming to the popular institutions and programmes. Most respondents opine that a voucher design should be weighed by study area and socio-economic background and gender, while others vouch for a uniform model. On this basis, a hybrid, discriminant model is proposed for adoption, in tandem with legal and institutional reforms, rigorous means testing and, a differentiated unit cost structure. Noting that reform and innovation are inescapable if higher education institutions are to adequately confront the emergent (and extant) challenges of the 21st century, the study recommends adoption of vouchers as one of the possible stimuli to reform. Efforts should also be made to equalize opportunity of access to higher education as the current system exhibits congenital inequities. Targeted vouchers could facilitate reconfigurations in the funding regime to realize this goal. Other measures relate to enacting a strong regulatory body to oversee the provision of higher education in an increasingly liberalizing landscape, incorporating private sector players in higher education management than has hitherto been the case, and crucially, studying the implementation of the informal sector voucher training programme as it provides vital lessons for replication in education.