Reform public varsities

Reports that lecturers, especially part-time ones, at public universities are going for months on end without salaries are disheartening. This trend has spawned a whole lot of unethical practices with claims that delayed salaries are partly to blame for the age-old scandal of missing marks and new ones such as lecturers having to bribe finance officers to have their pay released.

Quite apart from the disconcerting failure to remit the academic staff’s statutory deductions and other financial alarm bells, it must worry everyone that these are the same institutions that are expected to curate the skills, competences and attitudes the country needs to actualise the Kenya Vision 2030 and other national aspirations. And that is to say nothing of the need to keep the country’s workforce competitive in an increasingly integrated world.

It need not be said here that, if university lecturers are grappling with rent arrears, they obviously lack the social and financial wherewithal to carry out research, which should be the lifeblood of these ostensible citadels of intellectual and technological innovation. Which is where the task force, led by Prof Raphael Munavu, which was recently unveiled by President William Ruto, and whose mandate is to look into the issues bedevilling the wider education sector, comes in.

The task force should ensure that not only are the salaries and allowances of university academic staff fair but also that there are standardised systems to govern resource use and ensure that the quality of learning is always up to scratch.

It should also look into socio-cultural issues such as claims that some institutions of higher learning have been reduced to cauldrons of ethnic chauvinism. It must ensure that employment and promotion of staff is premised on sound considerations like gender parity, merit and ethnic diversity.

Clearly, the Munavu task force has its work cut out for it.

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