Why varsities, colleges funding crisis may mess semester exams

Students have just two weeks to pay fees so they can sit their final exams this semester. [iStockphoto]

Universities and colleges are still engulfed in school fees confusion as they are unable to collect tuition fees from parents because the government has yet to release students' funding categories.

It means universities cannot decide how much each parent is required to pay, two weeks before the start of end-of-semester examinations.

Vice-chancellors and college principals now say they may have to press parents to pay fees before their children can sit the examinations.

“We do not want to be seen as going against the government reforms agenda, but it has always been the norm that students must clear fees before getting examination cards,” said a VC who spoke in confidence.

He said conversations of fees are being done in low tones by university managers for fear of being seen as sabotaging the new funding plan.

They, however, said a formal position on fees is yet to be discussed and adopted through the VCs committee.

In the reviewed formula, all students listed in the five bands will get a boom of between Sh40,000 to Sh60,000, graduated based on households’ financial strength.

This is after the initial four categories - vulnerable, extremely needy, needy and less needy - as were proposed under the new formula were collapsed and expanded to five.

Collect fees

However, institutions are unable to collect fees as the categorisations of students have not been provided.

Higher Education Loans Board (Helb), last week, started disbursing Sh8.2 billion to universities.

The tranche was to benefit 96,000 learners in public universities and about 9,655 students in private universities who had applied.

Education CS Ezekiel Machogu, speaking at Kisii University last week, said they had finalised the categorisation of students.

The minister said the government would disburse Sh5.2 billion for students’ upkeep.

And by last week, nearly all students who made applications for loans and scholarships had received their upkeep money from the government.

The fact that Helb disbursed the money to students means all students have already been placed into the five bands.

Questions have, however, emerged as to why the complete lists of categories have not been shared with universities and colleges to enable them to collect fees from parents.

Vice Chancellors Committee chairman Daniel Mugendi told the Saturday Standard that the institutions will only be able to tell the category for first-year students once the scholarships and loans are released.

He said that the university heads are in oblivion on the possible change in the previous categorisation of students as announced by President William Ruto in May.

“Once we get the disbursement to our accounts, it will inform the amount students are required to pay out of pocket and this will now tell us if categorisation has changed or not,” Prof Mugendi said on Tuesday.

He said the universities were requested to wait a bit longer before receiving funds for scholarships and loans for the first-year students.

“The plan was to have students get their upkeep money first, then the tuition fees disbursed to schools this week,” said Prof Mugendi, who is also the VC of Embu University.

Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology VC Solomon Shibairo admitted delays in disbursing capitation for the 6,500 first-year students is hurting operations. 

Prof Shibairo, on Wednesday, said they had factored in the fees of the students in their budget and had hoped it would help plug the deficit. The institution was forced to adjust its budget and devise cost-cutting measures to keep going.

Natural attrition

“We have embraced technology to minimise the number of staff. We are cutting the number of staff through natural attrition. For instance, when three staff members retire, we replace one,” said the VC.

He added: “We also talk to our part-time lecturers whom we have paid in part to be patient until the capitation is received.” 

The VC said the university has been forced to stagger some of its development programmes to avoid plunging into a financial crisis. 

Shibairo, however, said the university was afloat and it is not facing any financial instability. 

And with just four weeks remaining to the close of the semester, university heads are sounding the alarm. With end-of-semester examinations looming, it means the institutions will only be able to give students some two weeks to pay their direct fees so they can sit the end-of-semester exams in a fortnight.

“That is a small window and some students will not be able to meet the deadlines; they might miss the examination,” said University of Nairobi VC Stephen Kiama.

Prof Kiama said those who might miss out on the student loans will bear a heavier burden as they will be required to pay more out of pocket.

“Different universities have put in place measures to enforce a zero-fee balance policy, including the introduction of examination cards as mandatory entry tickets to the exam rooms,” said Prof Kiama.

[Additional reporting by Benard Lusigi]