Trade and Investment Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria announced recently that the government is planning to privatise some government entities, including public universities. Mr Kuria said investors from Indonesia and the US willing to make multi-million shilling investments in our public universities have been identified.
At face value, and given that Kenya’s public universities are wallowing in debt and mismanagement, the proposal appears to make sense. Reduced government funding of public universities gave rise to Module II (parallel degree courses) in universities that somehow managed to bridge the funding gap. Money raised from Module II breathed life into universities but somewhere along the line, things went wrong.
For many years, public universities have moved from one crisis to another, with a number of them incurring debts that run into billions of shillings. Yet despite this dire financial situation, the government’s reluctance to increase funding to universities is apparent. Thus, privatising public universities could turn them around, improve the quality of education and save the government a tidy sum of money. But, at what cost?
Mr CS’s argument that “investors will use the huge tracts of land universities own by putting it under agriculture and affordable housing units for students and staff” does not hold water. That can be done by technocrats in government employ in conjunction with university administrations.
Granted, our universities are struggling due to all manner of reasons, including political interference, but what needs to be done is to bail them out, not sell them off to foreigners. Bail out public universities and restore them to their rightful places in the global ranking of universities.
Public universities serve the greater good because education is subsidised, thus allowing many from humble backgrounds to access quality education. Poor students cannot afford to study in private universities. The government must not run away from its mandate of providing affordable education to all.