USIU to lay off 70 staff amid declining enrolment numbers

USIU-Africa vice chancellor Prof Paul Tiyambe Zeleza

Prof Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, USIU-Africa's vice-chancellor.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

About 70 members of staff at the United States International University – Africa (USIU-Africa) are set to lose their jobs in what the management terms a “staff rationalisation exercise”. This comes at a time when the institution is grappling with lower student enrolment and tough economic conditions.

In a memo to staff dated January 25, 2021, the Vice-Chancellor, Prof Paul T. Zeleza, says that dwindling student numbers over the last three years, coupled with the effects of Covid-19, have forced the university into cost-cutting measures, with the impending staff layoff being one of them.

“We are currently in the process of consulting with all internal stakeholders, specifically staff and faculty members, on the processes and procedures as set out by the law,” the VC told the Nation.

Prof Zeleza said that details of the affected staff are being worked on and will be communicated directly to those affected. 

The university has an enrolment of over 4,000 students and is one of Kenya's top private universities.

“Since the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, the university had to take several measures to contain costs and ensure financial sustainability, key of which included renegotiation of service contracts, a complete freeze on projects, sending non-essential employees on paid leave, as well as termination of all short-term employment contracts. The university continued to pay full salaries to all its employees from March to August, 2020,” the VC said.

Difficult position

Even before Covid-19 struck, private universities have found themselves in difficult financial situations due to fewer students qualifying for university admission since the government cracked down on rampant cheating in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination in 2016. 

Over the last three years, public universities have been admitting all qualified KCSE candidates with only a few enrolling in private universities. However, some students are also placed in private universities with the government meeting part of their tuition fees.

“The student full time equivalent numbers have been dwindling in the last three years and the Covid-19 pandemic significantly affected the university’s gradual recovery plans from a difficult period. Its impact on the university budget September 2020/August 2021 was estimated to be an annual deficit of approximately Sh313 million,” Prof Zeleza said.

After learning institutions were closed in March to control the spread of Covid-19, USIU-Africa was one of the universities that quickly adopted virtual learning. The VC said it is forced to review its expenditure on the headcount.

“The university will, therefore, embark on a restructuring exercise, which shall include rationalisation of its staff establishment. It is anticipated that this may result, but not limited to, outsourcing some of the support services, total abolishment or reduction in number of some roles, which may result in about 70 positions being declared redundant in a phased process,” the memo reads.

The VC said that in executing the plan, the university will be guided by existing labour laws, human resource procedures and compliance with any court directives.