VCs want law changed to get back powers from PSC

President Uhuru Kenyatta (centre), who was the Chancellor of Kibabii University, confers Daniel Otunga Ananda with a Doctorate Degree during the institution’s graduation ceremony in Bungoma County on November 24, 2016. Public university managers want the Universities Act (2012) amended to take back the powers of appointing vice-chancellors and their deputies

Public university managers want the Universities Act (2012) amended to take back the powers of appointing vice-chancellors and their deputies to university councils instead of the Public Service Commission (PSC).

The VCs want greater autonomy over the running of the universities.

They propose that individual institutions be allowed to set the amount of fees to be paid by students, with the Ministry of Education only determining the caps.

Additionally, the VCs have demanded that university senates have the prerogative of approving academic programmes without interference from professional bodies.

“Only prominent people with requisite expertise and experience should be appointed as chairpersons and council members to provide oversight,” reads the VCs’ proposals made during their conference in Mombasa County last month.

“Chancellors and council members should be recruited directly rather than competitively. Propose amendments to the Universities Act 2012 and re-submit to Parliament by May 2023.”

The summit was attended by the 35 public university vice-chancellors.

Last year, the National Assembly rejected an amendment bill that sought to review the Act and give the Education Cabinet Secretary sweeping powers in the hiring of university managers and council members.

Lawmakers said there had been no public participation in the matter.

Vice-chancellors of public universities were also opposed to the changes.

Higher Education and Research Principal Secretary, Beatrice Inyangala, received the proposals as she closed the two-day conference and promised to support the VCs.

“You can count on me. I will be judged on whatever you deliver, so we will work closely together. We want to transform university education in Kenya. The President will hold our hands,” Dr Inyangala said.

The proposal to amend the Universities Act, 2012 – especially on the appointment of senior university managers – is also the main concern of the Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms (PWPER).

“University councils should be appointed by the Cabinet Secretary in charge of Education on recommendation by a panel established for that purpose,” reads a PWPER interim report presented to President William Ruto last month.

Chancellors of public universities should be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the University Senate and Cabinet Secretary, it says.

“The procedure for the appointment of university top management – VCs, DVCs, principals and deputy principals of constituent colleges – should revert to university councils in consultation with the Cabinet Secretary,” it adds.

The report has, however, not yet been adopted.

The proposal by the VCs to raise the annual tuition fees from the current Sh16,000 to a minimum of Sh48,000 and maximum of Sh96,000 has been met with resistance from parents, students and other stakeholders.

President Ruto has since said that there are no immediate plans to raise university fees.

According to the VCs there should be a two-tier funding structure.

“One is base funding and the other should be based on university performance. Fees should be shared among three entities – students, universities and the national government proper allocation of the Differentiated Unit Cost,” the resolutions read.

Automate operations

The VCs at the Mombasa conference also resolved that collective bargaining agreements should be handled by university councils and not the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC).

The vice-chancellors said the commission does not fully appreciate the context of individual universities.

In the proposed interventions on key issues facing public institutions of higher learning in Kenya, the VCs said the Universities Academic Staff Union, the Kenya University Staff Union and the Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers should stop agitating for more CBAs until pending issues are resolved.

They added that universities need to leverage on technology to deliver quality education.

The university chiefs urged the Information Communication and Technology (ICT) Ministry to connect their institutions to internet in an effort to enhance virtual learning, which they added would attract more students and utilise staff effectively.

“Automate 100 per cent university operations and records and implement online and blended learning to reduce operational costs. Universities should draw on technology to enhance research to get additional funding,” the proposal says.

The Commission for University Education (CUE) was urged to enhance post-graduate training as a foundation of research.

“E-resources and the e-library should be considered as part of capital development so that funds are allocated to universities,” the VCs said in the resolutions.

“Immigration should be simplified to facilitate participation of visiting lecturers and cross border projects. Scrap taxation on donations such as for research equipment. Enhance staff retention, recognition and reward systems. Allocate funds for refurbishing and expanding laboratories in order to support research.”

They urged the National Research Fund to allocate money to universities directly so that it is disbursed to staff and address barriers for establishing partnerships.

According to the public university VCs, collaborations should not be bureaucratic.

University of Nairobi VC, Stephen Kiama, painted a grim picture of how the public institutions found themselves in a financial rut.

Prof Kiama accused the Ministry of Education of deliberately contributing to the mess.

“Some people say we are drowning in debts due to bad governance but that is not true,” Prof Kiama said.

“I have to clarify this matter. It was deliberate. CBAs were negotiated. What are we supposed to do? Do you raise salaries and continue paying higher salaries? You cannot do that.”

He criticised placing of government-sponsored students to private institutions, a move that reduced the number of learners in public institutions of higher learning.

“The students were sent to private universities to deny public institutions the required numbers. Many public universities were affected in a big way,” Prof Kiama said.

“Funding reduced. At the University of Nairobi, for instance, it fell by Sh1.7 billion. The National Treasury resisted but the Ministry of Education was adamant. It reduced

our capitation from Sh6.2 billion to Sh4.5 billion.”

Credit transfer

The university bosses also proposed credit transfer by students as well as introduction of short professional courses to generate more income.

Other options are leasing grounds, farms and buildings to raise rental income.

In a separate interview in Mombasa, Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu admitted that public universities are struggling financially but added that they would be supported by the government.

“We are funding universities. When Module II died, it left the institutions surviving on the Exchequer. Many universities are not able to attract adequate funds through research and innovation,” the minister told Higher Education.

Mr Machogu denied reports that the rising number of candidates attaining mean grade C + (plus) and above in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) test is designed to re-introduce parallel degree programmes and boost cash flows to universities.

“In 2015 and 2016, there were around 169,000 KCSE examination candidates with C+. The number reduced to 70,000 the following year. Is this a normal curve? In the 2022 national examination, some 173,000 students out of a total candidature of 881,416 scored with C+ and above, representing 19 per cent of the learners,” Mr Machogu said.

The vice-chancellors also resolved to enhance public-private partnerships for research and capital development projects.

They pledged to share infrastructure among universities to minimise costs.

A memo will be prepared by the Ministry of Education for presentation to the Cabinet by June 31, on the proposed policy changes to provide for tax waivers on eligible research grants and donations.