The perennial financial crisis gripping public universities is worsening. Well into the new month, and without pay despite their individual financial needs and other commitments, the 10,000 lecturers had threatened to down tools from yesterday.
They and other staff have not received their March salaries and there is no indication as to how long they will have to wait. The Universities Academic Staff Union (Uasu) had asked its members to stay out of lecture halls until they get their salaries.
With Exchequer funding slashed, it has become a nightmare running the universities as they solely rely on the government for their operations. They are expected to train the much-needed high-level manpower but it is increasingly becoming difficult for the administrators to keep them afloat.
University of Nairobi Vice-Chancellor Stephen Kiama has confessed that it is a “near miracle that the public universities are still producing competent graduates”. Should the strike be effective, this could breed violence among the students.
Early in his tenure, Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu hinted at the government ceasing funding for universities, sparking uproar. He would later clarify that he was only challenging the institutions to explore alternative sources of funding. After all, the government is itself cash-strapped, which has necessitated the scrapping of some projects.
Although Higher Education and Research Permanent Secretary Beatrice Inyangala has assured the public universities of continued funding from the government, what is quite urgent now is to ensure that salaries are paid in full and on time lest the institutions just grind to a halt.
A strike by the lecturers would thrust the country back to the old days of frequent university closures due to strikes by teaching and non-teaching staff. The university managers should engage the government in the search for sustainable solutions to avert the looming disruption of studies.