Members of Parliament now want all government-sponsored students to be enrolled in public universities as part of strategies aimed at improving the financial fortunes of the institutions.
The National Assembly Public Investments Committee on Governance and Education says the diminishing number of students sponsored by the government joining public universities has contributed to the financial burden facing the institutions.
The lawmakers pointed out that taxpayers’ money given to the Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) that pays tuition fees to students should not be taken to private universities.
The committee chairman Jack Wamboka faulted the government for ignoring public universities, leading to their current financial woes.
“We are here complaining how our public universities are suffering yet billions of shillings are channelled to private universities every financial year compared to what their public counterparts get,” Mr Wamboka said.
The MPs said private universities mainly exist to make profits while the public ones primarily offer services to the public and hence should be prioritised when it comes to funding.
“Should we allow public money to go to private universities? This committee should take bold steps and stop public money from going to private universities until they are audited. We could be seated here and money is lost,” said Embakasi West MP Mark Mwenje.
Documents tabled before the committee by Higher Education and Research Principal Secretary Beatrice Muganda, Helb chief executive Charles Ringera and Silas Owiti, assistant director, indicate that in the past five financial years — between 2017/2018-2020/2021 — the government disbursed Sh12.14 billion to private universities while public institutions only received Sh10 billion in the same period.
Lunga Lunga MP Mangale Munga said there is a ‘private’ club in the government that exists to protect the interests of private universities at the expense of public ones.
“If we want to bring back the glory of our public universities, we must prioritise placement to public universities because it is clear people are protecting certain territories through these private universities clubs. We are here to protect the interest of public, not private universities which exist to make profits,” Mr Munga said.
Isiolo Woman Rep Mumina Bonaya said: “The payments made to private universities just benefit a few entities and the rich while the majority, who are supposed to benefit, are getting a raw deal.”
Mr Ringera told MPs that they give the same amount to students admitted in public and private universities, saying they disburse money to enrolled students, not universities
He told the committee that they send Sh40, 000 directly to private universities’ accounts while they pay Sh16, 000 to public universities’ accounts and the remaining Sh24, 000 given to the student.
Mr Ringera said the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service does not place students in private universities but it is the students who choose which institutions they want to go to before even doing their KCSE.
MPs, however, dismissed the explanation, saying many students have been complaining about being placed in private universities against their wishes.
“There is no way a poor child will select USIU where fees is Sh200,000 and he is going to get only Sh40,000 from HELB and leave a public university where fees is Sh16,000 and will still get 40,000,” Mr Wamboka said.