Varsities face crises as they go without VCs, councils

The University of Eldoret’ s main gate

The University of Eldoret’s main gate in January this year. The university is among those that do not currently have a substantive vice-chancellor.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

More than 10 public universities are facing a leadership crisis due to lack of substantive chancellors and vice-chancellors to oversee their operations as some of the administrators have retired while others are to follow suit soon.

The public universities currently operating without substantive vice-chancellors are Technical University of Kenya (TUK), Kibabii, Kabianga, Rongo, Tom Mboya, Karatina, Jaramogi University of Science and Technology (JOOUST), Tharaka, Technical University of Mombasa, Dedan Kimathi University of Technology, Maseno, Taita Taveta, Kaimosi Friends University and Chuka.

Others are Cooperative University of Kenya, Kirinyaga, Laikipia, South Eastern Kenya, Garissa, Murang'a University of Technology, Kisii, Multimedia, Masinde Muliro, University of Embu, Alupe University, University of Eldoret and Meru University of Science and Technology.

For some, such as Maasai Mara University, the VCs will step down from June 1 and others by December.

A number of universities also do not have chancellors.

VCs are the academic and administrative heads of universities. They have overall responsibility for the direction, organisation, administration and programmes of the universities. Their absence, therefore, has a negative impact on operations.

Pwani University, for example, has been operating without a chancellor since 2018. During this period, the university held four graduation ceremonies presided over by the chairman of the council, in contravention of the law.

“The functions of the chancellor may, in the absence or incapacity of the chancellor, be performed by the chairperson of the council for a period not exceeding three months,” Section 38(5) of the Universities Act 2012 states.

In the case of University of Eldoret, the second term of the chancellor expires on July 14. The same applies to Meru University of Science and Technology.

Maasai Mara University has had the worst leadership crisis in recent times. The acting VC Joseph Chacha, is set to retire on June 1, creating a leadership vacuum at the institution. Prof Chacha was appointed to run the university in an acting capacity on January 21, 2022 after Prof Kitche Magak was forced out of office after just two years following questions over his PhD certificate. Prof Magak had taken over from Prof Mary Walingo, who was sent home in 2019 after a Citizen TV exposé implicated her in a Sh177 million corruption scandal.

The looming leadership crisis has prompted the Kenya University Staff Union (Kusu) to put pressure on the Ministry of Education to appoint a substantive VC and council.

In a statement by branch secretary Galfen Omuse over the weekend, Kusu said delays by Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu in appointing a new council was negatively affecting operations at the university.

“This university has been operating without a university council for several months now, which has brought operations to a standstill,” Kusu said. “The university has had several acting VCs and DVCs since 2019. The university has been grappling with serious leadership challenges that have brought the university to its knees.”

It added: “The current acting VC is due to retire on June 1 this year. This poses a serious risk of plunging the university into a crisis as it will have no council and no substantive VC and DVC.”

Last month, before Parliament went on recess, Deputy Majority Leader and Kilifi North MP Owen Baya raised the alarm over the crisis facing higher education institutions. Mr Baya sought a statement from the Education Committee, chaired by Tinderet MP Julius Melly, on what steps the government has taken to expedite the appointment of chancellors and vice-chancellors to ensure that degrees awarded are not challenged in court. He said that the current crisis was the result of the previous administration’s failure to appoint chancellors.

The Public Service Commission (PSC) advertised the positions of about 15 VCs and 18 DVCs in public universities. However, the positions have not yet been filled. The commission has invited applications from suitable candidates to fill the positions of VCs in Pwani, Kisii, Karatina, Machakos, South Eastern Kenya, Alupe, Tom Mboya, TUK, Kabianga and Eldoret universities. Others are Tharaka, JOOUST, Dedan Kimathi University of Technology and Chuka.

In March, Kisii University VC Prof John Akama, who is also due to retire, called on the state to reward retiring dons for a job well done.

"There are about 10 vice-chancellors who are going to retire. They are the founders of these constituent colleges. They have built these institutions, they have struggled with minimal funding and fire-fighting and sadly they are now retiring and going quietly into oblivion,” Prof Akama lamented.