Pull public varsities back from the brink of collapse

Graduands during Kabarak University's 18th graduation ceremony on December 16, 2022. [Kennedy Gachuhi, Standard].

Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu says public universities have debts amounting to Sh56 billion in pension and statutory deductions. He has also admitted that the government is unable to provide 80 per cent funding for every student who joins public universities.

This partly explains students who sat Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination in 2022 and qualified to join university are yet to do so. The delay is occasioned by lack of funds to sponsor students  under the Higher Education Loans Board.

Moi, Egerton, Kenyatta and Nairobi universities are hardest hit by financial woes. These debts have been occasioned by, among other things, low funding by the national government, ambitious expansion programmes, bloated workforces of non-teaching staff, and a reduction in students numbers.

The low ranking of Kenyan universities internationally can be attributed to these problems, which means the government must act fast to remedy the situation. Mr Machogu has asked universities to lay off some staff members and mobilise funds through other means, like leasing out their land. These are short term measures that, in truth, will not yield much. The government bears the greatest responsibility in ensuring that public universities find their footing and places in international rankings.

The government has a duty to devise ways of funding public universities because it has the machinery and wherewithal to do so. One way of doing this is by increasing funding to public universities, especially for research purposes; raising Higher Education Loans Board allocations to needy students.

There isn't much that chancellors can do except pass the financial burden to students and parents, under the current economic situation that is not tenable. Already, a proposal by the Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms to raise university fee from Sh16000 to Sh52000 has drawn public ire. The reason for that is simple; raising fees will lock out students from poor families, which is contrary to the government's pledge to make education affordable and accessible to all.