Arts vs Science Education in Kenya

There has always existed some tension in public support for public arts education vs science education. Some developed economies (read UK,US ) got to a point where they started questioning the utility of supporting arts education as opposed to science education and even reviewed public funding for universities based on this.

Closer home, the education minister Matiang’i recently lamented that over 80% of degrees were on social sciences leading to an undesirable situation where there were a lot more “people without jobs and jobs without people”. Without going through the merits or otherwise of Matiangi’s arguments (there are a lot of similar opinions here) we look at job records for sciences and arts courses over the years. The data used in this analysis is HELB loans records up to January 2016.

Are 80% of all degrees on social sciences?

Looking at historical job records for publicly funded sciences and arts degree courses (HELB beneficiaries) you get a slightly different picture from what Matiangi suggests. For instance, there have been a total of 154333 Arts degrees funded through HELB against a total 236720 degrees. This represents about 65. This figure has been changing over the years.

The chart below shows the percentage of publicly funded degree programs that were arts in Kenyan university from 1970’s to 2015.


The chart shows that the percentage of public funded art degrees are not near Matiangi’s figure of 80% they do represent more than half of all degrees funded through HELB. However, this percentage has been dropping progressively from around 1995. There were a total of 1771 degree courses in Kenyan universities as of December 2015. Out of these only 35.7% (632 courses) are arts course. It would appear that there has been growth of science based degrees compared to arts degrees over the years.

Are there more Arts graduate still job hunting?

There are two ways to look at Matiangi’s other argument; that because there are more arts degrees, there are a lot more people without jobs and lots of jobs without people. One view could be that most unemployed people are arts graduates. And the other could be that Arts graduates tend to job hunt longer compared to science graduates. The corollary is that science graduates get employed soon after graduation.

If Matiangi’s argument is true, then you would expect that on average Arts graduates take a longer time job hunting compared to science graduates. Additionally, you would see that the ratio of science graduates employed every year to Arts graduates employed every year should be increasing. I.e increasing gap between the number of science graduates employed and Arts graduates employed.

Here the answer could be a little less straight forward. The data from years 1997 on-wards, there seems to indicate that the average wait time before employment for Arts graduates has been shorter compared to the job hunting period for Science graduates. This has been the trend except for a short period between the year 1996 to about 2000.


The chart further shows a widening gap between the hunting period between Arts graduates and Science graduates. Science graduates are having to wait longer and longer for employment compared to their Arts counterparts even though there is an overall decrease of job hunting period.

But this trend exists even at the university levels; even in universities considered to be mostly science oriented. In University of Nairobi for instance, Science students are employed about two months after those from Arts.



In the short term, it would appear that Arts students are performing better, if not at anything else, at start repaying their HELB obligations sooner.


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