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Let's put the blame where it belongs on costly education

By Clay Muganda | December 6th 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

If there was one thing Kenyans have perfected to get through the inadequacies of the government, and their collective failure to hold politicians accountable, it is the art of finding private solutions to public problems.

Whenever there is a problem caused by the government, and they are many, Kenyans deliberately forget — and this happens daily — that there are people elected and paid by voters to solve issues, and they start looking for their own solutions.

One sector in which they have perfected this dark art, is education where things are about to get worse, now that public universities are planning to increase tuition fees.

Problem is parents will look for private ways. They will opt to take their children to private institutions which are not any cheaper but they will feel they are getting value for their money since they have fewer disruptions in form of students and staff strikes.

The main reason vice chancellors of public universities want tuition fees increased is because they are in deep financial holes, quagmire without any wiggle room, and cannot effectively manage affairs of the universities with the funds they get from the government and what students pay.

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Our education affairs reporter yesterday wrote that public universities are experiencing unprecedented financial challenges including accruing unremitted statutory payments to Kenya Revenue Authority, pension schemes, National Hospital Insurance Fund and National Social Security Fund. They cannot even pay insurance premiums or remit employees’ Sacco contributions.

There are several reasons why things got to such levels. The government and management of the universities know them because they caused them but now want students and parents to pay for their sins of omission, commission and corruption.

This move to increase fees must be stopped. If ever there was a perfect opportunity for Kenyans to get anything done, it is now. Kenyans should push their elected officials to get down to work and stop vice chancellors and government from making university education an overly over-priced affair considering that even now, it is costly.

Kenya’s lawless — and voters have encouraged this — lawmakers will have the final say on the push by universities to increase fees. According to National Assembly Speaker, Parliament will make a decision after deliberating on a report prepared by the House Education Committee on the vice chancellors’ proposals.

Parliament is currently on recess — with the lawmakers out to spend taxpayers’ monies, the little they have earned legally and the much they have siphoned from public coffers through underhand deals — till February 8, way after the universities’ January intake.

Even then, there is no need to take chances because Kenya’s public institutions are not known for honesty. Based on past experiences, Kenyans might let this chance slip, and then start going atwitter on social media platforms how they have been shortchanged and abandoned by politicians.

When news about the intended increment was published, Kenyans online started echoing South Africa’s students with a #FeesMustFall phrase, but if the MPs are not pushed to, just this once, act in the interest of the masses, the phrase will just be another hashtag.

When South Africa’s students started the #FeesMustFall protests in October 2015, they were faced with a similar situation: a proposal to increase tuition fees by 10 per cent. They took matters into their own hands, quite literally, and also reminded the government of its promises on education. Eventually, the president ordered a freeze on tuition fees for a year. The idea of getting private solutions for public problems has made the government and elected representatives, to either dismiss people’s cries, or come up with stop gap measures, mainly handouts, for which they are branded philanthropists.

This attitude has fuelled impunity since politicians who give handouts just steal from public coffers and cannot be taken to task because, well, they are kind-hearted and always come to the rescue of suffering Kenyans. Talk about being encouraged to worship poverty.

And so, public hospitals are run down, and instead of Kenyans having a go at politicians they elected to improve their lives and protect their interests by punishing them at the ballot, they turn to private hospitals then scream about high cost of healthcare. Same with insecurity. When State agencies mandated with keeping the peace and ensuring Kenyans and their property are safe cannot meet the needs, the public hire ill-equipped private security companies.

Well, nothing wrong with hiring private security to supplement the work of the government, but in Kenya, State agencies are the ones that supplement the work of private entities. If Kenyans drop the ball on the planned university fee hike, the proposals will become a reality, and education will be out of reach for tens of millions of Kenyans.

Either #FeesMustFall or Members of Parliament fall. There is only one choice for Kenyans to make. ?

-The writer is an editor at The Standard

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