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Varsities: Govt plans ethnic balance

By Peter Opiyo | May 10th 2012


The government would embark on a major reshuffle of the public universities’ top management as it strives to address the problem of ethnicity that has dogged the institutions of higher learning.

The move is informed by ethnic composition audits that returned worrying verdicts describing the universities as incubators of ethnicity. The audits were conducted by the Ministry of Higher Education and the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, but it is only the latter that has been made public.

Appearing before the Parliamentary Committee on Equal Opportunity the institutions’ representatives and the Ministry of Higher Education acknowledged that indeed the institutions have a problem that must be addressed.

Higher Education Assistant Minister Dr Kilemi Mwiria told the Mohamed Affey-led committee that the government would reshuffle the Universities Councils, the bodies that run the universities, as it begins to address the problem of ethnicity.

“The ministry shall reshuffle the current council members to reflect ethnic balance and ensure all communities are represented on university councils,” said Dr Mwiria.

He said the exercise will be completed in three years and annual monitoring mechanisms put in place to ensure staff and student compositions reflect the face of Kenya. Current appointments of the council members would also have a national outlook. Mr Affey urged the government to also reshuffle the Vice Chancellors in the move to address the problem.

Dr Mwiria also said incentives would be offered to university dons who choose to teach in disadvantaged institutions as the government seeks to address the ethnic balance.

“The ministry would provide tax incentives for University dons who choose to offer services at disadvantaged institutions,” said Mwiria.

The NCIC’s audit released in March revealed that the institutions have become incubators of ethnicity and are in total violation of the Constitution that demands ethnic and gender balance for all public appointments.

According to the audit conducted in six public universities and nine constituent colleges, majority of staff either come from the same ethnic group as the Vice-Chancellor, the principal or the locality of the institution.

Maseno University did not respond as the Vice Chancellor was yet to settle in his new job. Rongo and Chuka colleges were also left out, as they had not been gazetted at the time of the audit.

Yesterday, Dr Mwiria said the ministry and the universities are concerned about the problem and has recommended some mechanisms to help address the problem with Mr Affey suggesting that the universities headhunt qualified officers from marginalised communities to ensure ethnic balance.

But Chairman of the Universities’ Chancellor Prof Onesimus Mutungi warned against compromising merit as the universities embark on rectifying the problem.

“Universities must maintain standards. Let’s agree to solve the imbalances progressively. So let’s focus on merit when looking for solutions because you can’t include somebody who doesn’t exist,” said Prof Mutungi.

Moi University Vice Chancellor Prof Richard Mibey said some universities have embarked on programmes aimed at addressing the problem by making university education accessible to all Kenyans. He said ethnic balance can also be achieved through staff development programmes initiated by the universities.

“Sometimes we don’t get people who qualify for the jobs we advertise. But Universities should use their staff development programmes to address the matter,” said Prof Mibey.

Prof Esther Murugi of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology said a survey needs to be conducted in all the country’s ethnic communities to see how many people are available for employment in the universities. Through this, she said, it would be easier to address the problem.

Committee member and Samburu East MP, Raphael Letimalo said it is worrying that most of the universities have majority of their staff coming from the same ethnic group as the Vice Chancellors.

In the NCIC report out of the 15 universities audited, 10 had the majority of their employees coming from the same ethnic group as the vice chancellor/principal.

"The remaining five institutions whose majority employees were not from the same ethnic group as the institution’s chief executive drew the majority of their employees from the Kikuyu community," the audit pointed out.

Kenyatta University, with a Kikuyu Vice Chancellor, has 38 per cent of staff from her tribe, as is University of Nairobi, interestingly headed by a Luo.

Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology, with a VC from the Luhya tribe also has a higher number of Kikuyu on its staff at 49.7 per cent. Egerton University led by a Kalenjin VC, has 25.9 per cent of staff from the Kikuyu community, while Moi University, also with a Kalenjin as the VC, has 55 per cent of the staff from his tribe. At Masinde Muliro University, headed by a Luhya, 68.9 per cent of the staff is Luhya.

Out of the 14,996 workers in the institutions surveyed Kikuyu, Luhya, Kalenjin, Luo and Kisii dominate the institutions of higher learning. Kikuyu are the majority at 4,133 (27.6 per cent), Luhya 2,544 (17.0 per cent), Kalenjin 2,133 (14.2), Luo 2,086 (13.9 per cent) and Kisii 1,253 (8.4 per cent).

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