Cabinet Secretary (CS) for Education Ezekiel Machogu was over the weekend quoted in the press as saying that soon, the government would stop funding public universities and that universities should start generating their own funds to sustain their operations.
I think the CS hit the nail on the head. For a long time, some of us in the public university system have argued that the way public universities are funded by government has largely led to the financial difficulties that the institutions are experiencing.
The government currently funds universities just like a typical government department whereby monies are allocated to them in a manner that is largely payroll-driven. This approach inadvertently assumes that the main function of the funds being allocated to the university is to meet payroll expenses.
The situation is made worse by the fact that even as payroll is the main factor of consideration, the funding that goes to the university is in the first instance never enough for the payroll.
Universities are there in the first instance to provide education to those qualified for university education and wish to take such education. Beyond this, of course, the university has the two other mandates; research and community engagement. To the extent that universities provide education to those enrolled for such education, they are just providing a service. A service is only one if it is paid for.
Since the universities just provide a service, all they have been asking for is that those who join public universities, should pay for the service. Consequently, where the government offers to sponsor students for education to university, all that is needed is for that service to be paid for. In that case, for every student the government offers to sponsor, the requisite fees should be duly paid. With this, universities should be able to organise themselves and move on without further reference to government on funding.
The vice-chancellors of public universities have consistently proposed that university funding be based on the Differentiated Unit Cost (DUC) as provided for in the Universities Act. DUC is simply an estimate of the cost of a given degree programme at university. The current estimates are that the least costly programmes are the humanities at Sh144,000 per year while the most expensive programmes are those of clinical medicine, which are estimated at Sh720,000 per year.
Vice-chancellors have further proposed that the DUC per student can be met through a cost-sharing formula involving the three entities of government, university, and the student. The proposal has been that students should pay fees at a fixed rate of Sh24,000 per year irrespective of the programme, the university should pay at one-sixth of the DUC and the government should meet the rest of the cost.
With this, it is noted that the cost distribution for the programmes in humanities will be, government 66.667 per cent, university 16.667 per cent and the student 16.667 per cent. For the most expensive programmes, this comes to government 80 per cent, University 16.667 per cent and student – 3.333 per cent.
From this proposal, it is noted that while the rate of contribution of the government would be increasing as the cost of programme increases, that of the student would be going down, since it would stay at the fixed figure of Sh24,000. The contribution of the university of course would increase proportionately to the cost of the programme since it is taken as a percentage of the programme cost.
With this very noble proposal from the Cabinet Secretary, the public universities should seize this opportunity to engage him on exactly how this could be made to work. The thrust of such discussions should be that the government should focus on funding the student rather than funding the university.
Beyond this, the government’s financial support to universities should focus on providing major infrastructure. There should also be some reasonable level of funding for research, especially for early career researchers and postgraduate students.
-Prof Aduol is the Vice-Chancellor, Technical University of Kenya