Machogu right: State shouldn’t fund varsities

Universities Academic Staff Union (UASU) officials when they issued a strike notice.

Universities Academic Staff Union (UASU) officials when they issued a strike notice on August 20, 2021, at the Meridian Hotel. 

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

The government funds universities just as a typical department, whereby monies are allocated to a university in a manner that is largely payroll-driven. This approach inadvertently assumes that the main purpose of the funds is to meet payroll expenses.

The situation is worsened by the fact that the funding is, in the first place, never enough to meet that payroll cost.

Universities are there, in the first instance, to provide education to those qualified for university education and wish to pursue it. Beyond that, the university has two other mandates: Research and community engagement.

To the extent that it provides education to the enrolled, it is just providing a service—and a service is one only if it is paid for.

For that reason, all that universities have been asking for is that those who join a public university to seek education should pay for the service at cost. Consequently, where the government offers to sponsor students for university education, all that is needed is that the service is paid for.

So, for every student the government sponsors in the university, the requisite fees should be duly paid. The universities should be able to organise themselves without reference to the government on funding issues.

The vice-chancellors of public universities have consistently proposed that university funding be based on the differentiated unit cost (DUC) as provided for in the Universities Act.

DUC is simply an estimate of the cost of a given degree programme at the university. Going by the current estimates, the least costly programmes are the humanities at Sh144,000 per year and the most expensive clinical medicine, estimated at Sh720,000 per year.

The VCs have further proposed that the DUC per student can be met through a cost-sharing formula involving the three entities—the government, the university and the student.

The specific proposal has been that students pay fees at a fixed rate of Sh24,000 per year, irrespective of the programme, with the university paying a sixth of the DUC and the government the rest of the cost. 

The cost distribution for humanities would be: The government 66.667 per cent, the university 16.667 per cent and the students 16.667 per cent. For the most expensive programme, it comes to the government at 80 per cent, the university at 16.667 per cent and the students at 3.333 per cent.

While the rate of the government’s contribution would increase as the programme cost increases, that of the student is a fixed figure. The contribution of the university would, of course, increase proportionately to the cost of the programme since it is taken as a percentage of the total amount.

Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu has said the government will soon stop funding public universities. The universities should seize the opportunity to engage him on how it can work.

The thrust of such talks is that the government focuses on financing the student, not the university. The financial support should be focused on providing major infrastructure. There should also be reasonable funding for research, especially for early career researchers and postgraduate students.

Prof Aduol is the vice-chancellor of The Technical University of Kenya (TUK). [email protected].