Aduol: Let’s resolve issue of varsity funding

Francis Aduol

Technical University of Kenya VC Francis Aduol.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

Technical University of Kenya VC Francis Aduol has been involved in university administration for years. Prof Aduol has contributed his ideas on how universities should be funded. He shared his views with Senior Writer David Muchunguh.

What’s your view on merging The Higher Education Loans Board (Helb), the Universities Fund and the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (Tvet) Fund?

It is an agenda we have we have supported but I can’t promise that it will work efficiently for I don’t know how it will pan out. People think money can be channeled in the same pocket and managed in the same way. We support bringing the money in one basket but there are question marks.

It is difficult to predict the outcome as it might turn out to be a giant institution with many difficulties. It appers neat on paper but implementation will be a challenge. Helb handles a lot of money and has a tradition of doing certain things.

The Universities Fund is at its nascent stage of development and Tvet Fund hasn’t even started. Helb is relatively sophisticated because it has been around for decades. How sure are we that they are going to work in the predicted way? I have no immediate answer but I’m concerned.

What’s DUC and is it used elsewhere in the world?

The DUC is used in virtually all the established universities in the world as a cost of a particular programme. That informs how universities charge fees. It is called DUC because it is a unit cost of a programme. The cost differs from course to course.

It started in early 1990s when World Bank came to support the university system in Kenya and set up a secretariat at Anniversary Towers, which was headed by University of Nairobi DVC (Administration and Finance) Shem Wandiga.

The World Bank asked the universities three questions. The first was; how do you know the number of staff to teach in a particular programme or department?

The universities had no formula. People determined the number of staff, based on the persuasive powers of a dean or head of department. The answer to that is full time staff equivalent (FTSE).

The University of Nairobi started some work on FTSE. Unfortunately, the formula was not very clear. People were not clear on how to use it or it was not giving the right results. When the UoN did the FTSE for all departments, there was hue and cry because the results did not make sense.


Small departments ended up with recommendation for large staff and vice-versa.

As a head of department, I was unhappy with what what happening. I studied the formula and told them I thought I knew where the problem lay and volunteered to find a better way.

We calculated the staff establishment for the entire university. By 1994, the UoN implemented my formula, never mind if they are applying it correctly or not.

The next question the World Bank asked was: How do you determine the cost of a programme? The third was: Where are your strategic plans?

There was an attempt by a committee under the direction of the Commission for Higher Education to do some work on this. But I think the formula it came up with was probably too complicated, and did work well. So again, I was asked to do something on the unit cost for a programme.

Because it was going to differ from programme to programme, we call it differentiated unit cost or DUC.

We started work for the UoN and then the Commission for University Education (CUE) got involved. The commission wanted that report too because part of its mandate was to work out DUCs for various programmes.

Why has DUC implementation faced challenges?

We made a presentation to the Ministry of Education in December 2004, and the Permanent Secretary, Prof Karega Mutahi, gave comments which we responded to and gave him a final version in January the following year. The challenge was always that every minister and PS who came in did not want to try DUC because the costs were higher than what they were paying for a university student.

It was always interpreted that when you implement DUC, fees would go up, but that is not the same thing. The DUC is equal to what the student and everybody else is paying.

DUC is made up of the government, the university and the student. It is what the government pays, what the university pays, and what the student pays. If you are a privately-sponsored student, the government will pay zero for you. The university might decide to pay a component. If the university pays zero, you settle the full cost.

Vice-chancellors recommended that at the very minimum, a student should pay Sh24,000 from Sh16,000 which learners have been paying since 1990.

We are convinced that if students are talked to well, there is no reason they cannot accept an increase of Sh8,000 then let the university pay a sixth of the cost. Universities generate income and write proposals which bring money.

That money can only be used on the student. The the government will then do the difference.

With a constant Sh24,000 fee by the student, the government will pay more for the most expensive programmes like dentistry. This makes sense because the government is putting more money in programmes it considers critical to development.

The more expensive a programme is, the more strategic it is also for national development.

Our problem is that the money is coming from the government side. What do you expect a university to do?

The university cannot give the expected quality education. It cannot employ qualified staff. So we rely on part-timers to keep universities afloat, hoping we can pay them.

Why is government funding not enough?

The mistake the government is making with universities is funding them for recurrent expenditure. The state wants to treat the university as a simple government department where funding is driven first by payroll. We are not here to do payroll.

Our work can be quantified very easily. It depends on how many students you have, the hours of learning and the type of programme (FTSE).

The type of course is measured in terms of student staff-ratio. For some programmes like dentistry and medicine, you need six to nine students for every teacher.

Money should come to the university by the name of a student. The government will have a right to demand results.

When the student passes, the government pays for Year Two but if the learner fails, he or she pays for the repeated course. That will be a game-changer.

The students will be diligent. When the student passes, the university will inform the government to release funding for the following year.

Many students are proceeding on to the next year of study without results, putting vice-chancellors in a mess.

The government will now put VCs to task. Without students’ results, the y don’t get funding. That is accountability.

I am happy about the concept that students should pay the same fees, irrespective of their background. People are selling the idea that the government shouldn’t support them for university education but there is a problem with that. If you start doing that, people will start cheating about their background.

Helb loans should be enhanced and given to deserving students. We also need to enhance scholarships. Those who come to university with distinction should get sponsorship.