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University reforms loom: Potential job cuts, mergers on the horizon

Radical plan

However, the team has resolved to move forward with this radical plan, which will undoubtedly deliver a significant blow to the institutions.

Universities heavily reliant on these courses to bolster their revenue streams will face exposure as the substantial income generated from these programs will be withdrawn.

Under the proposed reforms, diploma and certificate programmes would be exclusively offered in technical and mid-level colleges, while universities would primarily focus on providing degree and post-graduate qualifications.

According to Section 20 (1) (e) of the Universities Act, universities are generally permitted to offer degrees, diplomas, and certificates.

The reform team aims to entirely remove Sections 20 (1) (e) (ii) and (iii) to prohibit universities from teaching diplomas, postgraduate diplomas, and certificates.

In its analysis, the reform team acknowledges that including diploma and certificate programmes has led to intense competition between universities and colleges as they offer similar services.

Insiders within the task force have argued that the competition for admitting the same pool of students has weakened the colleges' ability to attract prospective students.

As a result, the mandate of universities tends to overlap with that of technical colleges. Furthermore, the team highlights that this situation has led to duplication, ambiguity, efficiency constraints, and a weak connection between universities and technical colleges.

If the proposed plan is adopted and implemented, it would mean that within three years, numerous teaching staff members responsible for diploma and certificate courses in universities, who lack the qualifications to teach degree programs, will face termination.

The law stipulates that those teaching undergraduate university programmes must hold a minimum doctorate qualification.

The development pressures universities, which are already grappling with financial challenges following the depletion of revenue from privately-sponsored students. As a result, universities have turned to diploma and certificate courses to attract more students.

Severely affected

Since 2016, numerous campuses nationwide have been forced to close due to a decline in student enrollment caused by the lower entry-grade requirement. This decrease significantly impacted the lucrative parallel degree programmes.

Universities have been severely affected by the sharp decline in the number of Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) candidates achieving the C+ and above grade required for university admission, further exacerbating their financial difficulties.

Nevertheless, there is some positive news for universities as a pathway has been established for diploma graduates to progress to universities.

The reforms team has proposed that institutions establish a seamless transition process for individuals seeking to upgrade their qualifications from diploma to undergraduate degrees or even from certificate to diploma.

Currently, certain institutions disregard the diploma qualification when a student applies to join a university. Under the proposed reforms, if a student has completed a diploma course, they will now have the opportunity to progress to university and have some units exempted based on their previous diploma studies.

This adjustment would effectively reduce the duration required for the student to complete their degree programme. The same principle would apply to those wishing to pursue a diploma program after completing certificate courses.

The reforms team suggested that the Commission for University Education develop a Higher Education Qualification Framework to equate and allow learners to bridge any deficits in specific disciplines, enabling them to meet the admission requirements for university-level education.

The proposal is a lifeline to universities that may suffer the low number of students following the scrapping of the diploma and certificate courses.

If the proposals put forth by the reforms team are adopted, top university managers may also be reassigned to teaching positions.

As per the team's recommendations, institutions would face limitations on the number of top managerial positions they can have, including Deputy Vice Chancellors, registrars, directors, deans, and departmental heads.

Reduce positions

If implemented, institutions with a significant number of administrative staff would be required to reduce certain positions. The reforms team highlights the need for universities to streamline their administrative roles, emphasizing that this will allow for a review and enhancement of internal financial management systems, ultimately promoting sustainability.

"The rationalisation of senior administrative positions and the strengthening of internal financial management systems are vital measures for cost containment and long-term sustainability," proposed the reforms team.

The reforms team argues that this objective will be achieved by developing guidelines for the financial management of universities and technical and vocational education and training institutions (TVETs).

Certain public universities have recently faced criticism for having an excessively large administrative structure. In 2018, the University of Nairobi, for instance, drew attention for having four Deputy Vice Chancellor positions.

In 2019, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Nairobi, Prof. Stephen Kiama, announced a comprehensive restructuring of the institution's management to address overlapping roles and positions that had become obsolete over the years.

As part of the changes, the university council abolished 24 colleges, reducing the number from 35 to 11 to eliminate duplication and functional overlap. Furthermore, the council discontinued five Deputy Vice-Chancellor offices and replaced them with two positions of Associate Vice Chancellors.

According to the latest data, there are 8,294 teaching staff members in all public universities affiliated with the Universities Academic Staff Union, while the Kenya Universities Staff Union has 11,292 members.

Executing the merger

Regarding university mergers, the reforms team has proposed that the government establish guidelines for amalgamation. The team argues that these guidelines will assist in executing the merger of universities that are considered non-viable.

In addition to mergers, the guidelines will also accommodate the possibility of converting some institutions into roles that are deemed more suitable. This proposal revives an earlier debate initiated by the former Education Cabinet Secretary, the late Prof. George Magoha, who advocated for university mergers to address recurring financial challenges.

In 2018, Prof. Magoha suggested merging universities to optimise their full potential, a suggestion that faced strong opposition from the institutions.

However, the lack of guidelines and relevant laws to guide the implementation prevented the proposals from being realised. The impact of these proposals is anticipated to include job losses due to the merger of universities and campuses and the review of academic courses.

Another radical proposal that could reduce teaching staff is the recommendation to progressively transfer academic services from universities upgraded from TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) institutions. Under this proposal, academic staff who do not possess the required qualifications to teach in universities would either be dismissed or reassigned to institutions where their qualifications are suitable.

The good news is that the reforms team has proposed that all the seven national polytechnics be elevated to technical universities. The team proposes that the existing technical universities be rechartered to align them with providing technical training.

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