County leaders have called on the national government to bail out the cash-strapped Egerton University.
The leaders, including the governor and MPs, have already held meetings with President William Ruto and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua as they seek the intervention of the state in solving the institution's financial woes.
Some of the leaders also want an overhaul of the university's management to end labour disputes.
Those pushing for urgent intervention to save the university include Njoro lawmaker Charity Kathambi, David Gikaria (Nakuru East), Joseph Tonui (Kuresoi South), Kuria Kimani (Molo), Alfred Mutai (Kuresoi North), Paul Chebor (Rongai) and Woman Rep Liza Chelule.
“Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua held a meeting with Nakuru County elected legislators at his office where we discussed various stalled development projects. We also held talks about the struggling Egerton University,” said Ms Kathambi.
“We are holding talks with the President and his deputy about the institution so that a lasting solution can be found. We will continue to engage the government to let the President know that Egerton University staff are suffering,” said Mr Tonui.
Last year, Ms Kathambi implored the government to disband the university council after lecturers went on strike on October 17, 2022.
The dons have been advocating for the reinstatement of their full salaries after the university slashed them by 40 per cent during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The university’s 46th graduation ceremony, set to be held on February 10, hangs in the balance as the Universities Academic Staff Union (Uasu) plans a strike. The university’s Uasu members have vowed to paralyse learning at the Njoro-based campus ahead of the ceremony.
The union on January 13 issued a 21-days strike notice. In the notice, directed at council chair Hukka Wario, Uasu said the move was due to the university’s refusal to comply with a court order issued on May 30, 2022, directing the university to pay the lecturers their full salaries backdated to November 2021.
Vice-Chancellor Isaac Kibwage and eight university council members were ordered to pay a Sh100,000 fine or spend a month in jail for disobeying the court order.
On Wednesday, Prof Kibwage announced that the graduation will take place as planned.
“I want to assure students and parents that the 46 graduation ceremony will take place as planned. The graduation ceremony will be held both physically and virtually. Those students who will not be able to attend can follow the proceedings of the event online,” said Prof Kibwage.
Open to talks
He maintained that the university management is open to talks with staff to solve the stalemate.
“The government gives us Sh185 million per month, we raise through fees an average of Sh26 million in a month. This is against a payroll of Sh240 million, which is why we are unable to fully pay salaries. They need to understand the dilemma and avoid downing tools,” said the VC.
For the first time in decades, the university did not hold a graduation ceremony in December last year, in what the management termed a “clean-up exercise” of its graduation list.
By last year Egerton’s debt burden hit the Sh9 billion mark as it continued to struggle to run its operations. As of 2019, the debt was Sh6 billion, but this shot up with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The university largely depends on the exchequer to finance its operations. In the current financial year, the government allocated Sh3.7 billion against a requirement of Sh5 billion, leading to a deficit of Sh1.3 billion.
Nakuru leaders are now pinning their hopes on President Ruto saving the sinking institution.