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Looming crisis as public varsities face closure over debts

By Augustine Oduor | November 7th 2018
Prof Francis Aduol during a past interview. [File]

University managers have warned that public universities will shut by end of next year due to rising debt.

The vice-chancellors said the institutions were in the grip of a financial crisis, owing various regulators more than Sh7 billion in agency fees and another Sh4 billion in salary arrears.

“As we speak, we are waiting for the shut-down because the red line was long crossed and all universities are operating in crisis,” said Francis Aduol, chairman of the vice-chancellors committee.

Prof Aduol spoke at a meeting convened by the Ministry of Education and the Commission for University Education (CUE) meant to lobby parliamentary Budget and Education and Research committees members to intervene.

Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed heard that the universities also owed State agencies third party deductions running into billions of shillings.

CUE chair Chacha Nyaigotti Chacha and his CEO Mwenda Ntarangwi, as well as secretaries of the Higher Education Loans Board, Universities Funding Board and Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service were at the meeting.

The VCs tabled a document titled Report on Public Universities Financing and Budgeting containing details of burdens the institutions shouldered.

MPs were told there were at least 30 bodies or government agencies that levied universities for various regulatory requirements. “The regulating bodies charge multiple and exorbitant fees to do traditional roles of university senates in curriculum development and delivery,” the VCs said.

The CUE, the legislators heard, seeks Sh900,000 from each university towards quality audit charges. The regulator also levies Sh320,000 for each academic programme and a similar fee towards accreditation charges for each programme.

Another Sh1,000 is levied for each student towards quality assurance charges.

The Council for Legal Education charges Sh2.1 million for various accreditation to institutions teaching law while the National Industrial Training Authority levies Sh50 for each employee every month.

The VCs also listed the Engineers Board of Kenya, Kenya National Qualifications Authority, Technical And Vocational Education and Training Authority, and the Clinical Officers Council among agencies that levied various charges from the universities.

“The immediate impact of these stringent conditions is the duplication of training programmes. This makes STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programmes expensive to launch and run, making it difficult for universities to align their core mandate to the national agenda,” the VCs said.

The university managers said salary arrears yet to be settled included Sh1.5 billion under the 2010-2013 collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and Sh2.5 billion agreed under the 2014-2017 CBA.

They further listed other reasons why they were struggling, saying a major factor was the reduced capitation disbursed by the Government for each student to train in their various programmes.

The VCs recommended a huge increase in student fees and adoption of a funding model that would take care of the cost of teaching each programme.

It was proposed that each student pays Sh48,000 up from the current Sh16,000. This funding model has been running since 1989, where all government-sponsored students are funded at a flat rate of Sh120,000 each year.

Of this, Sh86,000 is tuition fees while Sh34,000 caters for students’ personal expenses, including accommodation, food and books. 

The State pays Sh70,000 for tuition and students pay the balance. The Government is already implementing the differentiated unit cost funding model, where it releases money depending on students’ course choices.

The VCs also lamented that universities had become soft targets for Government budget cuts.

“Budgets submitted by universities undergo the largest reductions during the budgeting stage by the Ministry of Education and the National Treasury,” the VCs said.

They said even after printed estimates were released, they were not guaranteed the allocated funds. “Over the past five years development budgets have continually been slashed with the worst scenario occurring in the 2015/2016 and 2017/2018 financial years when allocations were reduced by 50 per cent and 70 per cent respectively.”

The VCs said the money the institutions generated internally had dropped sharply following a decline in number of students enrolled for Module II programmes. “The so-called Matiang’i reforms occasioned a drastic fall in student numbers qualifying to join universities. As it stands, private and public universities have more spaces than students.”

The VCs said delays in releasing capitation monies had affected smooth running of institutions. “The delays result in late payment of salaries and associated statutory deductions.”

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