The frequency of strikes in public universities is sending wrong signals to donors, the Principal Secretary for University Education and Research Simon Nabukwesi said yesterday.
Speaking at Egerton University, the PS urged academic staff to go slow on industrial action as their activities had resulted in stagnation even as he urged the government to prioritise university education.
He cited Kenyatta University, which missed out on a lucrative World Bank deal that sought to build a 10,000-student hostel due to a strike by teaching and non-teaching staff.
“Sometimes certain things are done in our institutions and we assume it is a localised thing, but they affect the rating of an institution and funding,” said Mr Nabukwesi.
He urged academic staff to appreciate the challenges in education. “As the crème de crème of the society, some of the problems in public institutions are beyond the control of the institutions and I urge you to be patient,” said the PS.
“I urge the academia to be selfless in service. Assist students to learn as much as possible and go through their programmes,” he added.
Mr Nabukwesi urged the National Treasury to increase funding for public universities, the same way it bails out other sectors, such as aviation.
“Universities have not been prioritised as much as education is a priority. There is good funding though for basic education, technical industrial vocational and entrepreneurship training program (TIVET), but at the university level, there are huge gaps.”
Data from the Universities Fund, which guides the allocation of state cash to public institutions of higher learning, shows the gap has hit Sh27 billion in the current financial year, a 107.7 per cent jump from Sh13 billion two years ago.
“The way we think determines the way we become. We need to prioritise university education the same way we bail out Kenya Airways, tea, coffee and sugarcane farmers. Let’s not forget university education as this ends up causing problems in some institutions,” said Mr Nabukwesi.
He, however, assured the stakeholders that the ministry is focused on filling the funding gaps.
“Correcting the mistakes of funding gaps is a challenge that has been there for a long time. If Uasu officials Egerton Chapter can be patient and accommodate certain weaknesses as we work on them, we will provide a solution and the university will be fine,” he added.
Financially troubled Egerton University received a Sh600 million grant from the World Bank in 2017 to research on sustainable agriculture and agri-business.
The funds were channeled towards the Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Agriculture and Agribusiness Management (Cesaam) over the next five years.
Mr Nabukwesi called for the immediate reopening of Njoro campus to enable the more than 18,000 students to continue with their studies.
The cash strapped university was shut down on November 26 last year due to a lecturers’ strike, who are demanding the full implementation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) of 2017-2021 as ordered by the High Court on January 15 last year.
“Egerton University risks losing confidence with the World Bank and other lenders who may withdraw funding running into billions of shillings due to frequent closures,” said the PS.
“It is sad that the institution was closed because University Academic Staff Union (Uasu) officials do not understand such activities affect the rating and the image of the university in the eyes of the donors like World Bank.”
Vice-Chancellor Isaac Ongubo Kibwage questioned some of the policy decisions that MPs take for the country. “There is some lack of focus in national issues in Parliament. I don’t want to criticise them as they may summon me,” he said.