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CBC review team must seek ways of promoting sustainable funding of universities

The move by President William Ruto to set up a Presidential Working Party on Educational Reform in the country is certainly well thought out.

One of the areas that the team must clearly look at is the current poor funding situation of universities that threatens effective teaching and research.

As at June this year, public and private universities had collectively amassed a debt of Sh56 billion owed to lecturers and parastatals such as Kenya Revenue Authority and National Social Security Fund.

The situation will worsen if quick and well-thought-out solutions are not found in good time. Universities are stuck in the rut partly due to their own shortfalls and circumstances beyond their control.

Since the introduction of the 100 per cent transition policy by the national government in 2018, enrolment of learners at universities has risen considerably. Sadly, the admission rate has not been commensurate with the amount of funding.

The transition policy dictates that all learners who attain a grade of C+ and above are entitled to be placed to universities by the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS).

The Universities Fund is legally mandated to, among other functions, apportion funds to public universities. The Fund thus developed a criterion for allocation of funds and issuing of conditional grants.

As per the Differentiated Unit Cost (DUC), the government is required to fund 80 percent of the unit cost of programmes pursued by government-sponsored students. But this has not been the case due to insufficient funds disbursed by the Exchequer.

Based on statistics from the 2018-2019 financial year, the DUC allocation started at 66 percent to the current 48 percent set aside in the 2022-2023 financial year.

Currently, a meager Sh47 billion has been reserved to cater for the 434,631 students in both public and private institutions against a recommended budget of Sh87 billion. This leaves a deficit of Sh39 billion.

Poor funding has been the bane that is gradually eroding gains made in the higher education sector. Nevertheless, we must explore ways we can bank on to pull institutions out of the pit.

As the Universities Fund, we support and champion for urgent and effective financing interventions.

To start with, we must target national priority areas envisioned in Kenya’s development blueprint Vision 2030. This will enable universities to become centres of excellence. Hence, they will be able to receive funding from industries that operate within the area of focus.

Further, targeting priority programmes such as agriculture will boost job creation and make graduates employable.

Secondly, we should get it right on data. Data is important in informing the allocations to students. We are working on acquiring a data centre that will be linked to KUCCPS to enable us map universities, get accurate information on student transition rates and the programmes they are pursing. 

For the future to be bright, universities must critically look into equality in funding grants so that only the neediest students get funding. Discussions are underway to have the model operational by next year.

Under the model, the Fund proposes that middle and upper-income households, which are able to cater for their children’s education, do so, thereby reducing the number of grant beneficiaries.

The model will also improve institutions’ financial well-being by ensuring students pay fees directly to their institutions.

This is preferable compared to increasing fees, which is untenable in the prevailing economic situation.

Additionally, there is need for universities to work more with industries so that they get the required support. Such synergy should be created and the funds that come from it can be channeled to the universities, boosting their accounts.

The Fund has embarked on resource mobilisation activities to look for alternative funding to support universities. This is essential because it helps institutions to move away from dependency on the Exchequer by complementing their income. We are engaging donors who will support sector-specific programmes such as mining and agribusiness.

We must address the funding problems beleaguering our institutions so that we restore them to centres of excellence and innovation.

The writer is the CEO, Universities Fund ([email protected])