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New government must come up with rescue plans for public varsities

News that Egerton University is facing closure just months after its reopening is sad. The academic staff are threatening to go on strike accusing the management of failing to honour their Return-to-work agreement.

The situation is not unique to Egerton, but the country’s public universities are broke and cannot meet the most basic financial obligations. And the situation can only get worse unless the government intervenes as a matter of urgency following reports that it failed to allocate Sh74 billion to stabilise the institutions.

Documents tabled in Parliament by University Education PS Simon Nabukwesi showed that of the Sh167.8 billion requested, only Sh72.3 billion was allocated. Last year, Moi and Egerton universities admitted they had accrued more than Sh5 billion in debt each.

The situation was the same for Kenyatta University which said it owed Kenya Revenue Authority and suppliers more than Sh5.6 billion. In addition, the university said it was running on a deficit of Sh1.3 billion. The situation at Kenyatta University was so dire that KRA froze its accounts over Sh2 billion in unpaid taxes.

The crisis in universities was precipitated last year by huge funding gaps of about Sh54 billion. In the 2021-22 financial year, universities required Sh149 billion but were only allocated Sh95 billion (inclusive of Sh4.3 billion in infrastructure funds). In 2022-23, the gap goes up to Sh74 billion, signaling tough times for the institutions of higher learning.

President-elect William Ruto acknowledged the dire situation in the public universities which have been getting 52 per cent capitation. He promised to have a strategy on a rescue plan once he is sworn in.