Advertisements for VCs and DVCs kick up a storm ahead of reforms

Raphael Munavu

Presidential Working Party on Education Reform Chairperson Raphael Munavu addressing journalists during public hearings. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The Public Service Commission (PSC) has advertised senior management positions in 10 universities but stakeholders are opposed to the recruitment criteria.

The adverts come when it is widely expected that PSC will be stripped off the role of hiring university managers once the Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms (PWPER) tables its report this month.

Recommendations from the PWPER seen by Higher Education seek to take back the role of recruitment of vice-chancellors and deputy vice-chancellors back to university councils.

The team argues that such a move would be in line with international practices.

The commission has declared vacancies for VC at the Dedan Kimathi University of Technology, Technical University of Kenya, the University of Eldoret, South Eastern Kenya University, Pwani University, Kisii University, Machakos University, University of Kabianga, Alupe University and Karatina University.

The PSC has also called for applications for positions of deputy VC in several universities.

The commission retracted an earlier advert for Dedan Kimathi VC following protests by the University Academic Staff Union (Uasu).

The advert had specified the disciplines the candidate must have specialised in.

Uasu argued that VCs are managers and that a professor from any field of study can be one.

“Following the advertisement, the union has received complaints from members who have found themselves disenfranchised and discriminated, owing to the myopic narrowing of the eligibility criteria for application for the position of the VC,” reads the protest letter by Dedan Kimathi University Uasu Chapter Secretary-General Mutuiri A. M.

“The union and its membership are offended by clause one of the minimum qualifications in as far as it stipulates that only academics from engineering, ICT or applied science can apply for the position.”

The PWPER report compares the recruitment of VCs in Kenya with top universities around the world.

“Chancellors and chairpersons of councils play a vital role in governance of universities. In many countries, composition and appointment of councils, chancellors and vice-chancellors is participatory for internal and external stakeholders,” the report by the Prof Raphael Munavu-working team reads.

“Kenyan is remarkably different, making it difficult for universities to uphold traditions and ethos.”

The working committee recommends that university councils, in consultation with the Cabinet Secretary for Education, be conferred with full mandate to recruit VCs instead of the Public Service Commission.

The PWPER report further makes recommendations for the appointment of members of university councils, reducing the influence of the Education minister.

“University councils should be appointed by the Cabinet Secretary in charge of Education on recommendation by a panel established for that purpose,” the document reads.

The appointment VCs and DVCs has also attracted the attention of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC), which criticised the conduct of recruitment.

The commission made its recommendations for reforms in universities during a meeting with senior Ministry of Education officials and some members of the PWPER in Naivasha, Nakuru County.

“Some university councils have a conflict of interest on the recruitment of VCs. The recruitment specifications provided by some councils, seem to be tailored to specific individuals. The advertisements for these roles end up not attracting the required pool for interviews and therefore non-responsive,” reads the document seen by Higher Education.

The SRC recommended that the ministry develops standard recruitment specifications that apply to all public universities.

It makes a case for the recruitment to remain with the Public Service Commission.

A senior lecturer at a public university, who requested anonymity, supported the retention of the hiring with the PSC.

“Councils are highly compromised and influenced by sitting vice-chancellors to ringfence jobs for particular individuals. Some of their members have no clue on what it takes to run an academic institution,” the lecturer said.

“The VC position is administrative. Vice-chancellors do not teach. Even professorship is overrated in management. Academics should be in teaching and research.”

Last month, Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu had to intervene in a management conflict at Meru University of Science and Technology when the outgoing council turned down an application for renewal of contract for the VC Romanus Odhiambo.

The council went to the extent of sending Prof Odhiambo on terminal leave, prompting protests from students and staff.

The minister ordered the immediate reinstatement of Prof Odhiambo.

A week later, he named a new council as the tenure of the previous one had expired.

The new council is chaired by Jane Kiringai.

Last year, the National Assembly rejected proposed amendments introduced by the government to the Universities Act (2012) that sought to give the Education CS immense powers in the appointment of councils, VCs, DVCs and principals of university colleges.

The lawmakers said there had been no public participation.

The chairperson of the Public Universities Vice-Chancellors Committee and outgoing South Eastern University chief, Geoffrey Muluvi, opposed the amendment proposals.

 “Should Parliament pass the proposed law, the autonomy and oversight authority of university councils vested by the charters will be in jeopardy,” Prof Muluvi said then.

The PWPER also noted that 28 universities do not have chancellors following the expiry of the incumbents’ terms or in case of those established recently.

“Public university chancellors should be appointed by the President on recommendation of the university senate and the Cabinet Secretary in charge of Education,” the report reads.

The working party also has recommendations for the composition of university councils after making comparisons with other institutions around the world.

It also notes that management structures in public universities are bloated and need to be rationalised.

Prof Munavu and his team, however, do not make recommendations on changes to the structures.