Members of Parliament yesterday began a push to stop the government from sending students to private universities, a move that could spell doom to 34 private universities benefiting from the programme for financial sustainability.
The members of the Public Accounts Committee challenged Ministry of Education Principal Secretary in charge of research and university education, Mr Simon Nabukwesi, to explain why billions of shillings are being allocated to the private universities when public universities are closing down their satellite campuses due to financial constraints.
“KUCCPS (Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service) must explain the criteria they use when placing students to both public and private universities, we cannot have public universities close down because they have no students yet billions are being sent to private universities,” said Garissa Township MP Aden Duale.
The MPs said institutions such as the University of Nairobi, Moi University, Kenyatta, Garissa, Maseno, and Murang’a are all struggling to survive as they do not receive enough funding due to the low number of students.
“There seems to be a collusion with these private universities and I am going to suggest that the Universities Amendment Act of (2013), which allowed government to start sending students to the private institutions, be amended,” said Mr Duale.
Mr Nabukwesi, however, said the ministry does not support the allocation of students to private universities as majority of public universities do not fill their declared capacities.
“I raised the concern because many students were placed in private universities when many public universities did not receive enough students,” said Mr Nabukwesi.
The PS said in a move to ensure that public universities get more students, the ministry asked the student placement agency to open the inter-transfer portal for willing students to apply and transfer to public universities.
“When I enquired from KUCCPS, they said they place students based on their choices and that they cannot go against the wish of applicants,” said the PS.
The MPs said they will not pass the Universities Amendment Bill (2020) because it allows private universities to continue receiving funds from the government. The MPs said the Bill also wants powers to recruit vice chancellors restored to councils, but they want it to remain with the Public Service Commission.
Public Accounts Committee Chairperson James Wandayi said it was against the rule of law for the government to continue funding private universities when public universities have no funds.
“We need a forensic audit of all the funds that have been given to private universities and going forward, this anomaly has to be corrected,” he said.
Universities Fund Board CEO Geoffrey Monari told the MPs that the government pays Sh157,000 on average to students in public universities while private university students receive Sh67,000 each on average.
“We use the differentiated unit cost to fund students depending on the course they are pursuing,” said Mr Monari.
Mr Monari explained that the funding to private universities has been increasing annually.
“In the 2021/2022 private universities were allocated Sh3.3 billion, in 2020/2021 they were allocated Sh2.7 billion, in 2019/2020 they were allocated Sh1.9 billion,” he said.
The PS said the allocation is despite the Ministry of Education submitting budget estimates to the Parliamentary Education Committee excluding the allocation for private universities.
“We were surprised when the MPs in the Education Committee went ahead to allocate funds to the private universities,” said Mr Nabukwesi.
In the 2021 placement, public universities were unable to fill their declared capacities, with some unable to meet half of the students they expected.
The universities include Turkana University, which had declared a total of 1,130 slots and only received 518 students or 45.84 percent, Grate Lakes University of Kisumu, which had declared 2,550 slots but has only received 224 students representing 8 percent, while Taita Taveta University, which had declared 1,795 slots received only 524 students representing 29 percent.
The MPs said the government must step in to protect public universities and start placing all students under government sponsorship to the institutions to save them from collapsing.
In the 2021 universities placement, private universities received a total 28,063 students, higher than the 27,447 placed to the universities in the previous year.
The top five private universities that received the highest number of students are Mount Kenya University (5,489), Catholic University of East Africa (2,691), KCA University (2,724), Kabarak University (2,157) and Zetech University (1,673).
The government began placing students in private universities in September 2016.