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Thursday, August 22, 2013

How the varsities can fill 30,000-student gap

Institutions of higher learning in Tanzania are facing an epochal challenge. They are experiencing a big shift in student intake for the first time in decades.
It is a reflection of the recent accelerated pace of creating the higher education institutions.
It has always been customary for the tertiary institutions in Tanzania to receive far more applications from qualified entrants, than can be accommodated. This always left a surplus from which they could fall back to fill gaps in subsequent academic years.
This time round (2012/13), the opposite is the case. There are far fewer qualified students than the institutions need.
Tanzania Commission of Universities (TCU) statistics indicate that the varsities need well over 78,000 First Year entrants for the 2012/13 academic year.
However, the domestic market can only supply 47,175 qualified entrants, of which about 7,000 applicants are diploma holders from colleges and the remaining are direct Form VI leavers.
TCU records show that admission in institutions has grown from 35,133 students in 2008/2009 to 48,690 in 2010/2011 but started to decline in 2011/2012 to 40,773 applicants and in 2012/2013 to only 38,617 students.
The main cause linked with this burgeoning crisis, according to TCU and academics is the massive failure of Form IV students in their national exams over the past three years.
In 2012 alone Form Four failures were a record 60 percent triggering serious concerns about the state of education in the country.
With the deficiency comes a crisis that has been exacerbated by the increasing number of institutions over the years. What are the implications of the spare capacity?
On the one hand there is what scholars liken to mushrooming of varsities and colleges in the advent of privatization, from hardly three in the 1990s to about 50 todate.
But on the other comes the question of sustainability of these institutions, given the fact that they need to have the financial resources to survive.
The 64 million dollar question now is how the varsities are going to fill the student shortfall and recover the resources they need to continue to operate.
The country certainly needs to think seriously how to engage with these institutions in ensuring the investment in education is sustained as it strives to create enough high level skilled manpower to help run the economy.
The varsities also need to play their full part in mounting promotions for more qualified applicants from within and outside the country.
Tanzanian institutions need to do more promotions in foreign markets in the realm of education, just as are some of their colleagues doing by bringing education fairs into the country.
Along with that, and as a matter of managing the crisis at hand, TCU and other stakeholders can ‘embark on lay qualified students’. These are students who finished Form VI or college long time ago, but have remained reluctant to pursue further education for some reasons. There are many of these on the streets, particularly given the fact that there were fewer institutions in the past admitting students for higher education. If exploited, this class could contribute to solving the crisis.
As for long term solutions, education stakeholders need to consolidate the base of the country’s tertiary education by building the supply side.

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