Threat to stop funding universities worrying

University education is expensive but it is a worthy social investment to enable the training of the high-level manpower the country needs for its development.

This is precisely why a pronouncement by new Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu that the government will soon stop funding universities has caused a stir.

Especially worrying is his assertion that the government is on the verge of withdrawing its financial support.

In response to what they see as a unilateral roadside policy declaration, some university lecturers have called for wide consultations.

While public universities are deep in debt, they continue to provide a vital service thanks to the annual financial allocations from the National Treasury.

According to the University Fund, they owe Sh56 billion in debts and unremitted statutory deductions, including pension contributions.

The CS’s statement raises queries over whether this is the official government position or personal opinion or he was misquoted. The CSs were appointed recently and it is highly unlikely that he could have been articulating an official position.

One of the government’s cardinal policies is enabling access to education for all Kenyans from nursery school to the highest level, which is university.

A decision that would hamper access to education, especially for the majority poor Kenyans, is bound to erode the gains made over the years. Without the government’s substantive subsidies to higher education, only a few Kenyans would afford it.

Indeed, the private universities simply complement the government’s efforts to ensure the citizens are educated to the highest level possible.

As the CS stated, education takes up almost 26 per cent of the Budget, which is a huge burden to taxpayers.

Public universities thus ought to get alternative sources of revenue by creating income-generating initiatives to ease pressure on the government. They can, for instance, monetise research, innovation, technology and other ventures in their areas of expertise.

However, it is highly unlikely that these initiatives will earn enough money to sustain the universities as this is, certainly, not their core business. Exchequer funding is still crucial.