The University of Nairobi main campus.

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Key varsity reforms open fresh Magoha-Kiama battlefront

There’s mild tension at the University of Nairobi amid a clash of ideas that threatens to derail its academic programmes.

Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha and the vice-chancellor, Prof Stephen Kiama, are yet again caught in the middle of an administrative impasse that could affect operations.

The two professors last week issued conflicting statements on managerial changes at the institution that left its top organs in confusion.

This comes barely a year after a fierce legal battle for the VC’s position almost paralysed the nation’s foremost institution of higher learning.

In their latest tiff, a furious Prof Magoha stopped administrative reforms that Prof Kiama had initiated with the support of the chair of the council, Prof Julia Ojiambo, to improve performance.

The management had announced a restructuring process to cut costs and increase efficiency after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) identified it as one of the public bodies earmarked for reforms due to its poor financial standing.

Sources at the National Treasury said reforms are also expected at Kenyatta University, Moi University and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.

The institutions face serious financial challenges and are “operating below cost recovery”. No guidelines have, however, been given on how they should go about it and that’s where the problem is.

The UoN council announced a raft of changes, key among them the scrapping of the five deputy vice-chancellor positions. The DVCs are in charge of finance and planning, human resource, student affairs, academic affairs and research and innovation. In the proposed model, they will be replaced by two associate vice-chancellors.

In other radical changes, all the colleges were disbanded and their operations reorganised within 11 faculties, down from 35, led by executive deans and associate deans in place of principals and deputy principals.

Prof Ojiambo said the changes were necessitated by the need to eliminate duplication of functions and improve efficiency.

“We had to do this to improve efficiency. The new structure will lead to quick decision-making and greater financial discipline. The changes are meant to enhance accountability and utilise excess capacity to generate more resources,” she said.

Prof Kiama said no staff would lose their job in the reorganisation, adding that those affected would be integrated into the new structure.

Prof Magoha, however, saw it differently and immediately stopped the changes. Interestingly, the law appears to be on his side as the University Act (2012) has elaborate guidelines on the appointment of DVCs, but has no provision for associate VCs.

“Proposed reviews that necessitate abolishing or establishing positions in the governance and administrative structures of a public university or constituent college, especially those not envisaged in the Universities Act, 2012, must comply with the necessary legal framework governing such changes and be forwarded to the ministry through the Commission for University Education,” Prof Magoha stated.

He argued that such changes needed amendments to the charters or legal notices of constituent colleges, forwarded to the ministry through CUE before gazettement in line with Section 20(3), 21, 22(4), and/or 22A(5) of the Universities Act 2012.

Prof Ojiambo and Prof Kiama did not do this.

In his public spat with the varsity council last year, Prof Magoha had complained that the body had side-stepped him – and by extension, President Uhuru Kenyatta – in the appointment of Prof Kiama as VC by not consulting them.

However, the Universities Act (2012) has no provision for such and the CS was forced to eat humble pie. Outwitted, he reversed his orders revoking Prof Kiama’s appointment after a court battle that shocked the nation.

This time, Prof Kiama not only has to contend with the disappointment of the CS nullifying his appointments as the students have vowed to demonstrate on the streets every Wednesday until he reverses a decision to increase tuition fees for postgraduate and self-sponsored students.

They staged the first demonstration last week, on the day he announced the changes.

Three student leaders were on Wednesday arrested and briefly detained at Central Police Station in Nairobi on allegations of causing disturbance after the demonstrations.

“This fight is one that we are in for the long haul. Every Wednesday, we shall go to the streets until our demands are met. The university must be open to dialogue. We gave them a 48-hour ultimatum on Monday but they did not respond. Once there is no response, the only way we can handle this is to take to the streets,” said Mr Eddie Mwendwa Mutua, the University of Nairobi Students Association (Unsa) president.

Fees for a master’s degree course in liberal arts was raised from Sh275,000 to Sh600,000. Tuition fees for degree courses like commerce, economics and law under the self-sponsored programme were increased by up to 70 per cent and will cost about Sh1 million.

According to Prof Kiama, continuing students will not be affected as the new fees will apply to those joining the university from this July.

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