Varsity reforms: Parents, students face tough times

education reforms task force

Attendees draw the attention of Prof David Some who chaired a meeting of the education reforms task force held at Uasin Gishu High School in Eldoret town on November 11, 2022.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

Radical reforms intended to save broke public universities will hit staff, students and parents hard, even as President William Ruto yesterday said the government has no “immediate plans” to increase tuition fees.

The President yesterday sought to downplay a recent resolution to raise tuition fees for public universities from Sh16,000 to Sh48,000 — beginning with the students joining in September — by a high-level conference attended by vice-chancellors and ministry officials. Among the measures planned to revamp the higher learning institutions are scrapping unattractive courses, closing satellite campuses, possible mergers and rationalisation of staff to cut costs.

Also on the cards is a reduction in the number of government-sponsored students, which will see families dig deeper to take their children through university. Placement in universities for the more than 173,000 qualified students in the 2022 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exam has been delayed as the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS) awaits clear directions on the funding and declared programmes.

An audit of universities by the regulator ahead of student placement in 2019 saw 133 courses rejected and the subsequent placement had 98 university programmes without students, either because none qualified or they were placed in other choices and a dozen without any expression of interest at all.

It prompted then Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha to challenge vice-chancellors to redeploy or lay off staff whose academic programmes “were no longer relevant.”

Satellite campuses

On the closure of mushrooming satellite campuses, Prof Magoha questioned the wisdom of having four to five universities within a radius of 30 to 40 square kilometres. His push to axe unattractive courses and satellite campuses however was derailed by vested interests, but with the institutions now broke, the new government has brought the unpopular option back on the table.

On Tuesday, Higher Education and Research Principal Secretary Beatrice Inyangala told MPs the ministry has met with vice-chancellors on the measures they need to put in place within one year in order to turn around their fortunes.

Dr Inyangala told the National Assembly Committee on Public Investments on Governance and Education chaired by Bumula MP Jack Wamboka that universities should scrap degree courses that do not attract many students and close unviable satellite campuses. She cited Moi University, which closed some of its satellite campuses but retained staff who continue to earn a salary. Closure of the satellite campuses will affect the students enrolled there as they might have to transfer to the main campuses while the staff will lose jobs.

Last month, President Ruto received an interim report from the Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms (PWPER), which mainly centred on higher education. The Head of State was reportedly unimpressed and sent the team back to the drawing board.

The PWPER is expected to present its final report at the end of this month. A senior member of the team told Nation the reforms on degree programmes and staff rationalisation have been discussed but will be implemented by universities “at the individual level”.

On the rationalisation of staff, Dr Inyangala said the process will be done in an orderly manner and those affected will be properly informed.

“In the event, staff have to be laid off, we will have a proper conversation on how it should be done,” Dr Inyangala said.

On Tuesday, Egerton University scrapped eight-degree programmes, putting the jobs of 200 employees on the line. The vice-chancellor, Prof Isaac Ongubo Kibwage, further said redundancies will be declared in some departments.

Egerton University

Egerton University lecturers during their special Annual General Meeting at Nakuru Athletics Club on January 12, 2023. Egerton University scrapped eight-degree programmes, putting the jobs of 200 employees on the line. The vice-chancellor, Prof Isaac Ongubo Kibwage, further said redundancies will be declared in some departments.

Photo credit: Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

In 2021, the University of Nairobi reduced its programmes from 500 to 325, the most affected being postgraduate. Undergraduate courses at the university are currently 56 from 72.

“The content of those programmes was used to enrich other courses because no knowledge is useless,” Vice-Chancellor Stephen Kiama told Nation yesterday. The university has also closed all the satellite campuses it used to operate.

Dr Inyangala told MPs that facilitating lecturers to go and teach in satellite campuses that only have a few students is expensive and unsustainable. She challenged public universities to be more aggressive in sourcing donor funds in order to meet their financial obligations.

Research capacity

The PS challenged public universities to increase their research capacity as a means of raising funds and leverage technology to offer some of their programmes and operations.

Public universities in close proximity were told to consider sharing critical infrastructure such as laboratories, a move the PS said will minimise costs.

Dr Inyangala said public universities will benefit from involvement in government projects by getting at least 30 per cent of the local and international consultancies under the Access to Government Procurement Opportunities (AGPO).

“After one year, we will review to what extent the universities have met the targets. We have been having meetings with the vice-chancellors and have tasked them to come up with ways of raising funds,” she added.

Assistant Director on Grants Management at the Universities Fund, Mr Sillas Owiti, supported the government’s initiative, saying, the plans were jointly developed and agreed upon by vice-chancellors.

“They can’t rely on capitation from the government. They should also act from their side and see what it is that they can raise,” Mr Owiti said.

The University Funding Board (UFB) is currently financing 35 public universities and four constituent colleges through the Differentiated Unit Cost (DUC) model, whereby funding is based on the cost of mounting a degree programme.

According to the model, the government should meet 80 per cent of the cost while universities and students shoulder 20 per cent. The model has been used to apportion funds to public universities and constituent colleges since the financial year 2017/2018, although the government has not been able to fully meet its obligation.

From 2017/2018 to 2021/2022, the government allocated Sh21.29 as development grants to public universities. MPs called on the government to extend more grants to public universities the same way it does to their private counterparts.

In addition, MPs want all government-sponsored students enrolled in public universities so that the Higher Education Loans Board can channel their capitation to the accounts of public universities.

The committee said it does not make sense for public universities to continue wallowing in financial doldrums while public money is used to finance private universities, which, it said, only exist to make profits.