Studying in a foreign country is appealing to most people. This makes it difficult for most students to tell whether the appeal is education or the opportunity to visit a foreign country.
Over the past five years, the number of Kenyan students going abroad for undergraduate education has risen and then fallen. A 2011 survey by Synovate showed that 57 per cent of 1,044 respondents sampled prefer foreign universities to local ones.
The reasons behind this preference ranged from the high quality standards of education to the prestige associated with having a foreign degree. Today, the number of students leaving the country after high school is gradually declining.
The US and the UK are no longer popular destinations for undergraduate studies, although this has largely been attributed to the stringent visa requirements and the high cost of living in the two countries.
China, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Germany and South Korea are popular destinations for Kenyan students.
Many who have gone through universities in these countries have glowing things to say about their experiences. But they are also careful to warn prospective students that studying abroad may not be the best choice for many of them – especially for undergraduate studies.
Carol Kendi, who graduated from Pangani Girls High School in 2008, applied for and won a scholarship to study aeronautical engineering at Northwestern University in China. She graduated in 2014 and began her master’s degree this year. Looking back, Ms Kendi says the main reason she went to study abroad, apart from the scholarship, is that the course she wanted to study was not locally available at the time.
“Frankly, I see no point of pursuing undergraduate studies in China if the same course is available in Kenya. Also, going to another country when one has just left high school may not be the wisest choice,” she says.
Jesse Muhia preaches a message not so different from Kendi’s. He studied Graphic Design at Limkokwing University of Creative Technology in Malaysia and also graduated in 2014.
Though he left high school in 2007, Mr Muhia said he was not sure what he wanted to pursue in college.
“Initially, I thought I wanted to study computer science. I went to a local college and even got a diploma, but then I realised I didn’t like computer science,” he says.
This, he adds, would have been a disaster if he had gone abroad to study a course he wasn’t even sure he wanted. So he advises caution and prudence before pursuing an undergraduate education out of the country.
“I would advise students to make such decisions when they are much older. Take your time,” he says.
Others who have studied in Canada, New Zealand, Germany and South Korea give the same advice from their experiences.
But for those who are sure about where they are headed as far as education is concerned, these countries continue to be popular destinations for Kenyan students.
The exposure to diverse cultures, high standard of education and an intensely practical approach to learning have made these countries not only preferred destinations for learning about one’s career, but also growing as a person.