Prof Magoha and the unfinished business in public universities

When Dr Fred Matiang’i left the education portfolio, he left some unfinished business. One of them being the chaotic state of affairs in public universities.

Outgoing Education CS Amina Mohamed, a diplomat, was a clear “misfit” for the docket. Leadership squabbles, irregular curriculums, financial misuse by managers and other messes have gone on unabated, or even worsened in those institutions over the past one year.

Major issues that I would like the Education CS nominee George Magoha to address include misappropriation of funds, neglect of learning facilities, tribalism in employment, mode of appointing vice chancellors and deputy vice chancellors and lack of clear mission by a number of institutions.

It is easy for one to argue that universities are autonomous; therefore the minister should leave them alone.

However, for years now, officials in the universities have used the autonomy clauses of university charters to shield themselves from scrutiny, even as they make blunders.

Luckily, Prof Magoha, having been a vice chancellor at the University of Nairobi for 10 years, understands the terrain of the academic towers, hence best placed to restore the glory of the universities and to prop up the recently established ones.

What should be brought to his attention this early is that a public university in North Rift region has not paid its part time lecturers, who offered services in regular and parallel programmes for over three years.

Financial votes

Testimonies abound how some cash-starved lecturers resort to unorthodox means of “helping” their students, which include giving them marks that they do not deserve.

Some very average students have ended up with first class honours in a scam that could rival the one that Dr Matiang’i busted at the Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec) offices over two years ago.

The failure to pay lecturers on time by that university and many others has been attributed, by insiders, to persistent misappropriation of financial votes.

Many university managers flout the financial votes with impunity, and it is common to find tuition vote that is meant to pay lecturers being redirected to construction, or to the purchase of items such as motor vehicles.

I know of a public university that currently has mere 60 functional computers for a student population of 12,000. This translates to ratio of 200 students to one desktop computer.

The university has an IT department with nearly 800 degree and diploma students. Hundreds of computers lie in unserviceable conditions in the IT labs. It is unthinkable how the institution can claim to be training computer scientists and IT specialists under such conditions.

Frequent interference with the student leadership bodies has been used to muzzle dissent and airing of grievances while university managers sleep on the job.

A common excuse by the managers is that the facilities are in deplorable state due to budget cutbacks by the Government.

Constant promises to staff and students that things will improve in the subsequent budget cycle have remained just that: promises.

Affirmative action

Magoha should be aware that public universities have adopted a curious affirmative action that is frequently touted as a means of ensuring a sizeable portion of the university staff hail from their respective locales. Truly, every university should provide job opportunities to the locals.

However, if you ask insiders in these universities, you would be surprised that affirmative action is a euphemism for outright nepotism and tribalism.

An indicting study on the same issued by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission in 2017 has hardly changed the skewed idea of the university leaders on the question of inclusiveness.

Perhaps time is ripe to engage the university managers on the need for reviewing their human resource policy.

Kenyans may still recall the demonstrations that hit Eldoret and Moi universities at different times in 2017 where students and locals called for rejection of the vice chancellors, largely on grounds of their not being ‘indigenous’ persons of that region.

Many university workers look up to Magoha to dissect the tertiary institutions to diagnose the maladies of inefficiency, misgovernance and lethargy.

He may realize that some schools are under the grip of cartels of different nature while others are one-person shows.

With 40 plus universities and still counting, 10 polytechnics and scores of colleges, the expansion of higher education has been phenomenal. As the focus now turns from quantity to quality, we can count on Magoha to make that happen.

Mr Kihu is a journalist and [email protected]

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Education CS nominee George MagohaKenyan universities