University education is charged with the responsibility of providing high level human resource for national development. In addition, universities have the task of conducting research, development and dissemination of knowledge. The country had six public universities and one constituent university college as well as 19 private universities in 2005/2006. Seven of the private universities are fully chartered to offer their own degrees. According to the 2006 National Economic Survey, there were 79.735 students enrolled in public universities, a decline from 81,491 in 2004/2005. Out of that figure, there were 52,637 males and 27,098 females. In private universities, there were 10,244 students in 2005 up from 10,050 in 2004. Since mid-1990's, the public universities have been offering parallel degree programmes, which are open to working people or those who qualified but did not get admission during the regular intake due to lack of places. The parallel degree programmes have offered a window of opportunities for many people to pursue university education, acquire postgraduate qualifications, and improve their skills, and change profession or just study courses of their interest. Another mark of Kenya's higher education is the rapid expansion of private universities since the 1990's to accommodate the increasing numbers of high school leavers seeking university education.
University admission is pegged at grade C+ at the KCSE although only those with grade B+ and above get admission during the regular intake, due to limited places in the public universities. Generally it is those who are locked out during the regular admission who go for the parallel degree programmes or join the private universities. However, a trend has emerged in recent times where qualified students, who can afford, opt to go straight for parallel degree programmes or private universities because there they can choose the course they want to study and complete within a shorter period.
Kenya's university education is faced with the following challenges; few places to admit the high number of qualifiers; gender imbalances, especially in science and technology courses; inadequate teaching and learning resources; shortage of lecturers; scarcity of funds for running academic programmes and conducting research. It is notable, though, that more females than males are enrolled in private universities and as well, many pursue the parallel degree programmes at public universities. Also, the government has created a fund to support academic research, especially in universities.
There are two state corporations working in higher education. The Commission for Higher Education is responsible for registration, accreditation and quality assurance, coordination and regulation of admission to universities, among other functions. The Higher Education Loans Board is responsible for providing loans and grants to university students as well as loans recovery from past beneficiaries.