Private universities and colleges could soon lose billions of shillings from government capitation if a Bill by Azimio la Umoja One Kenya boss Raila Odinga’s ally, Khwisero MP Christopher Aseka, sails through.
The Bill, which is currently at the House Business Committee awaiting prioritization, is seeking to block the government from funding private institutions because they are ‘private entities’.
In the Bill, Mr Aseka also seeks to amend the Universities Act, No. 42, 2012 to stop Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS) from placing students in private universities in a bid to safeguard public funds from misuse by the private entities.
“The object of the Bill is to safeguard public funds from misuse by private entities which have not been brought under the regulatory framework of the Public Finance Management Act 2015 and the regulations thereunder,” Mr Aseka said in his memorandum of objection.
And on Monday, the Khwisero legislator told the Nation that: “It’s to stop the government from funding private universities as it's against the public finance management act. Stop placement of students in private universities so that we can utilize capacity in public universities.”
The government in 2016 introduced a plan where State-sponsored students are also admitted to private universities and colleges in a move to address congestion in public institutions of higher learning such as the University of Nairobi, Kenyatta and Moi Universities among others.
The shift was expected to be a big win for private universities and colleges that had for years complained that the admission agency denied them the opportunity to get top students to their institutions.
The funding gap for government-sponsored students in private universities was Sh24.38 billion in the year ended June 2021 and is expected to widen as new students enroll in September.
The government pays an average of Sh44,000 per year for every State-sponsored student in private universities.
Already all the 173,345 who scored C+ and above in last year's Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination have been assured admission to public universities.
KUCCPS Chief Executive Officer Agnes Mercy Wahome said there is enough space for everyone who passed KCSE.
"I know there are a lot of concerns about whether we have enough space for students who are qualified to join universities. No student will be locked out and there should be no cause for alarm," Dr Wahome said recently while in Embu County.
And some of the areas in the Universities Act targeted for amendment by the lawmaker include Clause 2 and 3 where he intends the Bill to change sections 53(4) (b), 54 (4) (b) and (c) of the principal Act to abolish issuance of conditional grants to private universities.
The Amendment Bill also seeks to delete section 53(4)(b) of the Act by deleting the paragraph that reads: “any expenditure approved by the Trustees for conditional grants and loans to private universities" and substituting with “in consultation with the Cabinet Secretary, develop a fair criterion for allocation of funds to public universities.”
Further, the MP also seeks to amend Section 54(4)(c) of the Act which states: “in consultation with the Cabinet Secretary, develop a transparent and fair criterion for allocation of funds to public universities and issue conditional grants to private universities” and replace it with “in consultation with the cabinet secretary, develop a transparent and fair criterion for allocating funds to public universities”.
To ensure that government funding goes to public universities only and that the private ones fail to qualify for any allocation from the taxpayers, the second term MP also seeks to delete section 54(4) (c) which reads; “apportion funds to public universities and issuance of conditional grants to private universities in accordance with criteria established” and replace it with; “apportion funds to public universities”.
Clause 4 of the Bill proposes to amend 56(1)(a) of the principal Act to bar the KUCCPS from placement of students to private universities by deleting paragraph (a) which reads, “co-ordinate the placement of the government-sponsored students to universities and colleges” by inserting the word “public” immediately after the word 'university'.
In his argument, the legislator states that Paragraph 16 of Part 1 of the Fourth Schedule to the constitution provides that universities, tertiary educational institutions, and other institutions of research and high learning are a function of the national government.
“In view of this, the bill does not concern county governments in terms of Article 110(1)(a) of the Constitution as it does not affect the functions and powers of county governments recognised in the Fourth Schedule to the Constitution, and is therefore not a bill concerning county governments,” he stated.
In December, private universities threatened to stop admitting government-sponsored students in the wake of under-funding from the Treasury that has since deepened cash flow hitches in the institutions.
Vice-chancellors of the private universities say that the current funding formula has unfairly cut the amount of money the institutions get for every government-funded student, forcing them to incur extra costs compared to their public counterparts.
The vice-chancellors through their lobby, National Association of Private Universities in Kenya (Napuk), said they have been forced to heavily subsidise tuition fees for government-sponsored students, worsening their financial woes.
“There is a glaring discrimination in the implementation of the differentiated unit cost (DUC) by University Funding (UF) where government-sponsored students in private universities receive less than half of the DUC received by government-sponsored students in public universities,” Napuk Secretary-General Vincent Gaitho said in a statement then.
“The cost of supporting university education funding for government-sponsored students in private universities has occasioned some to opt out and may cause more to follow suit,” Dr Gaitho added.
Recent data from UF shows the State currently pays for 20.79 percent of the unit costs for government-sponsored students in private universities and 48.11 percent of those in public universities.
The United States International University stopped admitting government-sponsored students due to underfunding.
Strathmore University is the other high-profile private university that balked at admitting State-sponsored students.
Mount Kenya University, Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA) and Daystar University are among the private universities that admit government-sponsored students.
Kenya has 19 chartered private universities and four constituent colleges and UF, the State agency that guides the allocation of State funds to private public universities, recently sounded the alarm over the continued decline in capitation.