Fund reforms for universities to produce job creators not seekers

While presenting the Budget estimates to Parliament last Thursday, Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich gave the strongest indication yet of radical changes in the institutions of high learning, specifically public funded universities.

According to Rotich, the number of universities will be reduced in a move which will downscale some to mere campuses. Some courses too are poised to be scrapped.

The government plans to implement the far-reaching measures that will lead to merger or closure of some universities and campuses that cannot sustain their operations against the number of students admitted or degree courses offered.

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Since 2016, the government has been speaking of such changes and has frozen expansion of universities. Consequently, the Ministry of Education has put on hold any new applications for establishment of universities, constituent colleges or campuses for five years.

Understandably, the envisaged reforms will lead to job losses and will ultimately affect the economy as some of the urban centres which owe their existence to the affected universities will feel the effects.

Although this is a bitter pill to swallow for the workers whose jobs will be lost, the reforms have been anticipated for a long time. A number of reports compiled after analysing the way these institutions operate have all been consistent in predicting these changes.

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If handled well and with the full participation of the stakeholders -- so that those affected will be treated humanely -- the negative effects will in the long run be outweighed by the gains.

The reforms should be a wake-up call for the universities to rediscover their true calling. For a long time, most have been criticised for concentrating in mass production of graduates at the expense of quality.

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Some have spent millions of shillings in funding projects such as buying buildings instead of concentrating on research. It is no secret that thousands of projects conducted by students which could hold the key to the country’s development challenges are gathering dust in dark archives. 

Stashed away too are research studies, which have the potential of generating income for the universities and the country if they are commercialised. Some universities have departed from their cardinal duty of generating and nurturing knowledge at the altar of short term gains as they compete to produce as many graduates as possible.

This has placed the country in a difficult place, where it is churning out thousands of graduates each year who have been socialised to believe that they are only suited to be employed. At this time of soul-searching, universities should rediscover their calling of sharpening graduates’ minds by arming them with knowledge that will propel national development and the betterment of humanity.

The universities should consider concentrating on innovations and research which offer practical solutions to the prevailing challenges, and anticipate future hurdles that could face humanity so that Kenya too can contribute to the generation of knowledge.

But even as the government targets the universities for reforms, the technocrats should also walk the talk. Many noble projects have died prematurely because they are poorly funded and implemented. To safeguard the country’s space in the competitive world of science and technology, the government should invest heavily in universities for knowledge-creation, and development does not come cheap.

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The government should change its mindset and compliment the universities by encouraging them to cultivate partnerships with private sector so that the knowledge generated is put to commercial use for the good of all. Ultimately, Kenya will start producing graduates who, with support of both the government and the private sector, can create jobs instead of wallowing in joblessness after completing their studies.?

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Henry RotichPublic universitiesUnemployment