You will need to dig deeper into your pockets to finance your education or that of your children at a public university if the announcement by Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu that government sponsorship will end comes to pass.
Such a decision has been long in coming as funding to public universities has declined over the last five years, with the shortfall rising from Sh7.8 billion in 2018/2019 to a massive Sh28 billion in the current financial year.
This has left many universities struggling to survive as they owe various suppliers and lecturers billions of shillings.
There are also stalled projects worth billions of shillings in various campuses across the country.
Other problems have been poor conditions of students’ hostels, unequipped libraries and inadequate lecture rooms.
Public universities require about Sh84.5 billion to run smoothly. However, only Sh43.9 billion has been allocated to fund undergraduate courses.
This translates to a resource gap of about Sh40.6 billion. There is no government sponsorship for postgraduate studies and research. Students with special needs are also not given extra funding despite requiring more funding than their colleagues.
Whereas the government is mandated to support universities to a tune of 80 per cent of the unit cost per student, in the 2022/2023 budget, only 48 per cent has been allocated.
If the government stops funding universities, some academic programmes will be out of reach of many needy Kenyans who rely on such funding to acquire a university education.
Courses in clinical medicine are the most expensive to study. A bachelor’s degree in clinical medicine and in dentistry are the costliest, with a maximum differentiated unit cost (DUC) of Sh720,000 per year.
Courses in basic humanities and social sciences, economics, geography are the least expensive and have been allocated a DUC of Sh144,000 per year.
The cost of academic programmes is determined by the cost of paying the lecturers, equipment needed, laboratories and learning resources, among others.
Students pay more for living expenses, whether they reside on campus or outside. This varies depending on the location of the universities, with those in cities like Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu and Nakuru paying more. There are other additional costs, such as for use of computers and buying stationery.
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Mr Machogu’s announcement appears to be a U-turn on the Kenya Kwanza Alliance campaign promise through the education charter that President William Ruto signed.
In the charter, the alliance promised to “increase current capitation for both university and technical and vocational education and training (Tvet)” education.
It is also curious that Mr Machogu made the pronouncement while the Presidential Working Party on Educational Reforms is still collecting views from the public on changes they would wish to see in the sector.
Steeped in debt
Worse, the announcement comes at a time when public universities are steeped in debt and many have been declared insolvent by the Auditor-General.
Mr Machogu’s pronouncement over the weekend has drawn mixed reactions from stakeholders.
“Please go ahead and stop funding the universities. Dissolve your ministry, because what right do you have to have a ministry for something Government of Kenya doesn't fund? Then explain to hustlers why a chicken-selling president who went to a public university doesn’t want public universities,” Dr Wandia Njoya, a lecturer at Daystar University, opined.
Tuition fees in public universities has remained at Sh16,000 per year for about 30 years, and students have resisted attempts to increase it.
There are other administrative costs that students pay for, which vary across universities. For example, government-sponsored students at the University of Nairobi currently pay an extra Sh10,000 in administrative costs.
“Tuition fees should be reviewed every four years, based on the inflation rate, to reflect the needs of universities and students. This may include targeted free tuition which will take into consideration the financial capability of individual households,” said Universities Fund CEO Geoffrey Monari.
He added that the fund will launch a biometric system of registration of students to ensure accuracy as currently there is no reliable data management system in place.
According to Mr Monari, the system is being developed at a cost of Sh48 million.