Public universities are not only wallowing in a financial crisis, with ballooning debts but also grappling with monumental management challenges. Yet these are the institutions expected to train the high-calibre manpower the country needs for its development.
It is hard to imagine just how these cash-strapped institutions, which owe various agencies almost Sh60 billion, stay afloat. Some can hardly pay the salaries of lecturers and support staff.
They owe Kenya Revenue Authority Sh13.7 billion, pension schemes Sh18.6 million, NHIF Sh2 million, NSSF Sh139 million, suppliers Sh4.9 billion and contractors Sh1.5 billion.
It has now emerged that more than 10 of the universities are in a deep leadership quagmire as they operate without chancellors and vice-chancellors, as well as councils, to oversee their operations in line with the regulations. Some of the administrators have retired and others will exit soon.
The VCs are the academic and administrative heads of the universities, whose overall responsibility includes direction, organisation and administration of academic programmes. Their absence simply means that the institutions cannot function as envisaged.
One university has been without a chancellor, the titular head of the institution, since 2018. This is a sick joke that should never be entertained in an orderly system.
Its graduations during this time have contravened the law. The chancellor’s functions can, in his or her absence or incapacity, be performed by the chairperson but not for a period exceeding three months. The Public Service Commission (PSC) has advertised 15 VC and 18 Deputy Vice-Chancellor positions but they have not yet been filled.
The institutions need proper leadership at a time when the government is introducing a new university funding programme for students. The vice-chancellors have since last year been pushing for a fee increase to ease cash flow woes.
Universities are important institutions that should be efficiently managed as they produce the skilled labour and experts required for the country’s development. The Education authorities should quickly and seriously address the crisis.