Fresh row looms as universities plot to raise fees

Nairobi University Vice Chancellor Peter Mbithi and Wilson Kipngeno of Kabianga University. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Universities have pitched a strong case to increase fees to Sh48,000 from September this year even as the Ministry of Education rolled over the push with far-reaching cost cutting counter-measures.

If passed, all the 90,744 students who attained a mean grade of C+ and above and are currently revising degree courses will be the first group to pay the new rates.

But in a presentation to top management of public and private universities, the ministry wants the institutions of higher learning to shed off some staff and chop off redundant management positions to cut costs.

Business ventures

The ministry also wants universities to mount viable market-driven programmes, admit students to manageable capacities and establish businesses ventures that would generate funds to finance their operations.

SEE ALSO :State sets aside Sh1b to build and equip technical institutes

The details emerged during a state of university education meeting organised by the National Assembly Education Committee chaired by Julius Melly.

The one-day conference brought together top officials of public and private universities.

Commission for University Education (CUE), Higher Education Loans Board (Helb), Universities Funding Board (UFB) and Kenya Universities and Colleges Placement Service (KUCCPS) officials were present. 

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Higher Education PS Collette Suda, representing Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed, said it is time for universities to make painful decisions and rationalise their operations.

“Time has come when we must rationalise, downsize, consolidate and not proliferate,” Prof Suda said during the meeting.

Under the proposal, universities may be required to reduce the number of top managers such as deputy vice chancellors, which in some institutions are occupied by up to four senior persons.

The meeting heard that some of the DVC’s functions would be merged and staff rationalised to cut costs.

Suda challenged universities to adopt innovative ways of income generation to support the funding gaps.

“Set up income generating projects. Think outside the box to confront the current challenges,” she said.

A strong call was also made to merge some universities, making the rest campuses of the mother institutions.

This means that universities will be turned into specialist institutions as some courses would be merged and others taught out to avoid duplication.

But even with these proposals, the VCs maintained student fees must be increased to match the prevailing economic times. All government-sponsored students are currently funded at a flat rate of Sh120, 000 per year based on a formula developed in 1989.

Under the old formula, the government committed to pay Sh70,000, with students’ fees pegged at Sh16,000 per year.

The government also funds students’ needs such as books at Sh9,000, food at Sh18,000 and accommodation at Sh7,000.

The VCs told MPs that they can no longer charge Sh16,000, saying it is unsustainable.

“The fees must be effected in September,” said Daniel Mugendi, Vice Chancellor Embu University, speaking on behalf of all the public universities VCs.

Melly however said that the fees increment must be subjected to public debate.

“We cannot rush to increase fees. We must have a long debate and seek stakeholders agreement on this,” said the MPs’ committee chair.

Melly said it is the responsibility of the universities management to generate funds to supplement government capitation.

He said MPs will do what it takes to facilitate smooth running of the universities, including increased funding even as he called for prudent management of the available resources.

Prior to the conference, Saturday Standard established that public universities VCs held two meetings – one last Sunday and another on Thursday – when fees increment was extensively discussed.

Sources in the meeting revealed that the increment was unanimously endorsed during the meeting.

Vice Chancellors Committee Chairperson Francis Aduol told MPs that fees increment “must be considered urgently”.

“University students have been paying Sh16,000 for the last 30 years, yet even TVET students studying diploma pay Sh26,000. We must find a strategy of dealing with this,” said Prof Aduol.

Universities admitted that to bridge funding gaps, they cut corners, including increasing student numbers and mounting cheap programmes.

Research funding

Suda said the current funding level of only 60 per cent is inadequate and asked MPs to help increase funding of universities to 100 per cent.

She also also asked MPs to help increase the research funding to at least one per cent.

“If we cannot make it to two per cent, can we even do one per cent?” said Suda.

In a detailed presentation, VCs listed reasons why they are running broke.

They said module II (privately sponsored0 students have drastically declined, affecting universities income.

The VCs said capitation from the government has remained constant or declined from year to year and cited effects of implementing Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) which includes payment of salary arrears and pension components.

They also said under funding of constituent colleges has impacted their funds, arguing that colleges set up between 2007-2012 received about Sh250 million while those set up after 2016 now get as low as Sh20 million.

Delay in releasing capitation money has also affected operation of the universities.
“We are subjected to surcharges for failure to remit these monies in time and these affect universities greatly. Penalties are normally huge,” said Prof Njiru.

Universities also decried accreditation charged levied by various regulatory bodies.

They said that CUE seeks Sh900,000 from each university towards quality audit charges and Sh320,000 for each academic programme.

CUE also charges another Sh1,000 per student towards quality assurance charges.

Council for Legal Education charges Sh2.1 million for various accreditation to institutions that teach law while the National Industrial Training Authority levies Sh50 for each employee every month.

The VCs also listed the Engineers Board of Kenya, Kenya National Qualifications Authority, Technical And Vocational Education and Training Authority, and the Clinical Officers Council among agencies that levied various charges from the universities.

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HelbCommission for University Education