The trouble with our universities

Public universities

Public universities are unable to run their operations smoothly and pay salaries.

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Public universities are struggling to stay afloat due to shrinking funding from the government, a situation that has caused lecturers in most institutions to down their tools.

The financial crunch is not sitting well with the universities as they are unable to run their operations smoothly and pay salaries.

Among the factors that have contributed to the financial crisis in the institutions include, diminishing capitation from the government, high cost of managing universities, the collapsing of the self-sponsored students programmes popularly known as module two programme and the current Covid 19 pandemic.

There has been a debate on whether the government should stop funding students placed to join private universities as critics argue that the government should draw its focus to fully fund public universities to stop them from collapsing.

Since 2017, the government funding per student has been going down. In 2017/2018 the government funded each student at a flat rate of Sh163,660.12, in 2018/2019, Sh170,861.63, in 2019/2020, Sh154,395.85 while in 2021/2022, the funding per student has gone down to Sh135,244.88 annually.

Government severely constrained

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha said universities need to appreciate that government resources are severely constrained.

He asked universities to expand internal income generating initiatives for sustaining routine operations.

“That universities are experiencing financial challenges is not in doubt, even with financial constraints, our priority should be ensuring that academic standards are not compromised,” said Prof Magoha on Friday at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT).

The Vice Chancellors’ Committee, in a report signed by the chairperson, Prof Geoffrey Muluvi, revealed that currently, public universities are unable to pay salaries.

In the report before the parliamentary Education and Research committee, a total of 22 universities are currently not paying their staff their full salaries as their financial flow is not enough.

“The monthly capitation provided through recurrent grants is not adequate to meet pay requirements for the majority of public universities,” reads the report by the vice chancellors.

University of Nairobi

The entrance to the University of Nairobi. 

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group
Kenyatta University

Kenyatta University students at their main gate in 2020. The university is facing a serious cash crisis. 


Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The University of Nairobi, Kenyatta University, Rongo University, JKUAT and Cooperative University are the most affected.

For instance, every month, the University of Nairobi incurs a debt of Sh436 million, which is a 50 percent deficit.

The monthly payroll at the university is Sh870 million, however, it receives a monthly capitation of Sh434 million.

Kenyatta University is unable to pay a total of Sh233 million to its staff. The monthly payroll debt is 47.1 percent. The university receives a monthly capitation of Sh262 million as salaries to staff against a monthly payroll of Sh495 million.

Maseno University receives Sh135 million as its monthly capitation against a payroll of Sh220 million, leaving the university to accrue a debt of Sh85 million monthly.

Moi University accrues a debt of Sh105 million monthly, Egerton (Sh,75 million), Kisii (Sh44 million), Multimedia (Sh32 million), Taita Taveta (Sh11 million), Technical University of Kenya (Sh60 million), Kirinyaga (Sh11 million), Technical University of Mombasa (Sh25 million), Dedan Kimathi University of Technology (Sh16 million), Kababii University (Sh12 million) and Laikipia University (Sh11 million).

Other universities such as Muranga University accrue a monthly payroll debt of (Sh7 million), Embu (Sh7 million), Pwani (Sh10 million), South Eastern Kenya University (Sh11 million), Garissa (Sh12 million) while Machakos University accrues a monthly payroll debt of (Sh3 million). 

Accrued debt

The VC’s report also shows that public universities’ accrued debt stood at Sh37.3 billion by the end of last year. 

The accrued funds are unremitted statutory payments to KRA, pension scheme dues, insurance premiums, sacco deductions, National Insurance Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) and National Social Security Fund (NSSF) deductions. Most of the debt is due to KRA.

The accrued pension arrears from 2010 to 2017 are totaling to Sh3 billion.  

“There is need to set up a special fund to bail out public universities to clear accumulated statutory deductions and provide adequate resources going forward to meet payroll demands, operations and maintenance costs,” reads the report.

The vice chancellors have since recommended that the government adopts a differentiated unit cost (DUC) when funding public universities to enable them address the financial challenges they are facing.

The Ministry of Education has since called on universities to come up with innovative ideas to address the crisis.

When he appeared in Parliament three weeks ago, the principal secretary, University Education and Research, Mr Simon Nabukwesi, revealed that the government funding to public universities stands at Sh46.8 billion annually against the Sh3.2 billion allocated to private universities for the government-sponsored students.

More funding is given to the public universities for salaries and other administrative expenses. The government allocates a total of Sh97 billion in the budget to run the universities.

The PS said government funds students in public universities to the tune of Sh153,751.20 annually, while those placed to join private universities are funded at a rate of Sh64,461.42 per student.

“It is worth noting that Sh50 billion of the universities capitation budget, private universities get Sh3.2 billion while the rest is expended in public universities,” said Mr Nabukwesi.

The PS said the ministry, through the universities’ funding board, is working with the institutions and other stakeholders in developing an effective differentiated unit cost funding framework to address the funding challenges.

To address the sustainable university funding in public universities, the ministry has maintained that they must right-size their staff and incorporate some austerity measures that seek to address unnecessary spending.

In the university fund draft report, the board is proposing the government to use the Differentiated Unit Cost with programmes supporting national priority sectors in the country to receive more funding.

The programmes that will be considered in the national priority areas include medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, pharmacy, architecture, and engineering, agriculture, sports science, food science and courses in the Natural science sector.

The vice chancellors said the courses are the most expensive to train, with dentistry topping the list. The report shows that it costs Sh720,000 to train a dentist, followed by medicine at Sh648,000, while veterinary medicine costs Sh576,000 to complete.  

Also to benefit will be postgraduate students as the board proposed to start funding masters and doctorate students.

Current, the government is funding students at a flat rate.

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