Give ailing public universities new lease of life, Mr President

President William Ruto. [Denish ochieng, Standard]

So far, it is evident that President William Ruto's heart is more in agriculture than other sectors. That said, it was expected that he would talk about the country's premier agricultural institution - Egerton University - during his first Mashujaa Day speech. Dr Ruto's approximately 6,849-words address detailed his government's plan to set Kenya on its elusive prosperity path.

However, he only dedicated four sentences (121 words) to education matters. The president en passant talked about launching "the Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms to review all aspects of education in Kenya."

He said, "Its findings and recommendations shall inform subsequent necessary intervention to ensure that Kenya delivers the calibre of education, skills and training needed to successfully pursue sustainable development."

The closest of the four sentences in his speech, which were dedicated to education matters, was, "High-quality and relevant education is vital in imparting the necessary skills and competencies to learners from pre-primary to the tertiary level."

This leaves us with the question of whether President Ruto was ready to solve the higher education crisis in the country. It is undeniable that the Jubilee government completely ignored public universities. The government did not offer any solution to this crisis or advice for alternative approaches to financing public institutions of higher learning.

Although the crisis should challenge public universities to have alternative ways of generating revenue, the current situation must be arrested. It was also expected, given his campaign energy and promises, that he would isolate the Ministry for Higher Education from the bigger Ministry of Education whose impacts are only felt at primary and secondary levels.

On September 4, during a tour of Nakuru, when he was still awaiting the Supreme Court decision, Dr Ruto promised that he would address challenges of higher education once elected.

He further pledged to increase the amount of Helb loans and even make them interest-free. However, his silence on higher education matters from the day he was sworn in is deafening.

As we speak, Egerton University, my alma mater, is closed. Students are living in squalor as they have exhausted their loans. Their future is blinking as they have been in the current academic year for years.

During his vetting, Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu expressed his awareness of the crisis in Moi and Egerton universities. He promised to find a solution in his first month of office through engagement with the National Treasury and the National Assembly. As such, he must deal with this matter urgently to assure the country that he cares about higher education.

As Dr Ruto's government plans to dig into the Treasury's pockets to salvage universities from the crisis, what will happen to the mismanagement of higher education institutions? A 2020 report showed that the institutions' problems are a product of fraud, incompetence, and mismanagement.

Our public universities are in a crisis, and it was hoped that the president would breathe new life into them once elected. He had promised to salvage the situation. But, instead, student Helb loans are delayed-student use the little money to pay rent only for the rent to go to waste due to erratic academic calendars.

Kenyans want to see whether Dr Ruto is commited to fulfil his campaign promises. But we all know that setting a regime is not easy-promises are easier made than implemented. It is true that we must give the president time to set up his administration.

However, we expect him to speak to matters that are urgent. The matter of higher education is one such. That is why he needs to speak to public university workers and by extension assure the young scholars that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Dr Ndonye is a senior lecturer in the School of Music and Media at Kabarak University