Let universities seek solutions to society problems

New students report to Kenyatta University on September 06, 2023. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

The Vice-Chancellors Committee has offered a relief to parents and new students getting into public universities by clarifying that they need not pay tuition fees upfront. There was confusion when at least five public universities demanded up to seven per cent of tuition fees from freshers, joining the institutions this month.

This was despite a directive by Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu to the effect that the universities wait until the Higher Education Loans Board (HELB) and the University Fund categorises the students according to their needs. The process is ongoing even as freshers join university and majority of them will need loans and scholarships for tuition, accommodation and even upkeep.

CS Machogu, in a circular dated August 24, had asked all public universities to admit all new students and ensure no one is locked out for lack of fees. But as they reported this week, several of them were turned away for not paying the demanded tuition fees.

The CS also directed the VCs to give a month reprieve for the government to process payments for each student. Under the new funding formula, the learners will be classified in four categories of vulnerable, extremely needy, needy and less needy.

Those under vulnerable and extremely needy levels will get 100 per cent support from the government, hence will not pay a coin to access university education. The others will pay different amounts according to their abilities.

The new funding model is supposed to ensure 100 per cent transition to institutions of higher learning for all qualified students. This is expected to level the playing ground for Kenyan youth and reduce poverty.

For a long time, university education had been a preserve of the rich and middle-income families, but the new model is aimed at making it accessible to all eligible students. While a new system is bound to face challenges, we urge the public universities, HELB, Universities Fund, Ministry of Education, parents and other stakeholders to collaborate and work seamlessly to make the new model a success.

In most developed countries, university education is almost free, which enables them to tap into the best brains. With the new model here, Kenya can take the right direction and within a few years, universities could start generating enough income from research and projects to fully fund all students.

The universities could also become innovation hubs and provide solutions to challenges facing the country. Agriculture innovation centres could form part of university research and come up with climate smart farming practices and even inputs. This would solve food insecurity.

Technology and science centres could come up with financially viable inventions that could earn universities millions of shillings and solve most of modern society problems. This way, the universities will become solution providers rather than just churning out so-called half-baked graduates who only become job seekers rather than job creators.