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Kenyatta University students warn against proposed fees increase

The main entrance to Kenyatta University. [Samson Wire, Standard]

Kenyatta University student leaders have rejected a proposal to increase tuition fees in institutions of higher learning.

Vice-chancellors in public universities have proposed to increase fees from the current Sh16,000 per semester effective September, next year. 

And the proposal has received the backing of the government with Higher Education Principal Secretary Simon Nabukwesi disclosing to Parliament that a technical committee has notified the Cabinet about the fee increase. 

“In our very simplistic way, we thought that it is necessary to increase the contribution by individual students so that funding is adequate for every university,” Nabukwesi told the National Assembly Committee on Education.

Kenyatta University students have called on the Universities Fund Board (UFB) Chief Executive Officer Geoffrey Monari to reject the proposal.

Kenya Universities’ Students Organisation (Kuso) President Antony Muchui said the fees increase will deny many poor students access to education.

"Children from poor families have a higher probability of dropping out of school than their counterparts from rich backgrounds," Muchui said.

He spoke as it emerged that university administrators spearheaded the fees review during a meeting held in Mombasa last month.

‘‘The university officials had earlier proposed that tuition fees be increased to Sh48,000, up from the current Sh16,000 for fresh students which was literally tripling the fees," claimed the KUSO boss. 

Muchui further noted that the push for revision of fees comes at a time when universities are experiencing a sharp decrease in enrolment for self-sponsored programmes. 

‘‘From the aforementioned, pursuant to Article 37 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 which provides the right to petition public authorities, we humbly pray that your honourable office considers this petition and further rejects and dismisses in its entirety with prejudice the Vice Chancellors’ petition to increase tuition fees in public universities," he said in a protest letter to UFB.

The university board is pushing the government to increase tuition funds to HELB. According to the board's boss, it will cost government about Sh870.8 million per year and Sh3.5 billion in four years. 

“The University Fund has continuously received appeals from universities indicating that they are unable to meet their running costs and statutory obligations. This is, therefore, to appeal to Parliament to increase funding to the universities,” said Monari.

HELB Chief Executive Officer Charles Ringera said any fees increment would impact on loans allocation per student.

Currently, HELB sends directly to universities half of the Sh16,000 fees currently paid by students to cater for their tuition.

“We send Sh8,000 directly to public universities and this means that if fees are increased by whatever amount, we shall still require financial support to pay half of that fees directly to the universities,” Ringera said.

A survey conducted by HELB shows that under the present economic situation, a student requires approximately Sh200,000 annually for university education.

Presently, all government-sponsored students are funded at a flat rate of Sh120,000 per year based on a formula developed in 1989.

Of this, Sh86,000 is tuition fees while Sh34,000 caters for a student’s personal expenses including accommodation, food and learning materials.

The government pays Sh70,000 of the tuition money, with students left to pay Sh16,000.

HELB, however, says a student needs Sh69,000 annually to cater for meals.

Accommodation needs are rated at Sh14,000, transport Sh11,500, clothing Sh12,500 and grooming Sh11,500.

According to Muchui, most students are straining financially as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and any fee increment would push them out of school.

In October, last year, public universities were dealt a blow after the High Court in Nairobi barred institutions from increasing tuition fees.

The Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union had challenged a decision by the University of Nairobi (UoN) to effect new charges on students.

Delivering his ruling, Justice Anthony Mrima ruled that the differentiated unit cost, the formula the university had relied on to make the changes, was unconstitutional as it was not subject to public consultation at the time of implementation.

“A declaration is hereby issued that the implementation of the maximum differentiated unit cost criteria by the first respondent [the University of Nairobi] through the handbook of fees payment is unconstitutional and null and void ab initio,” said Mrima.