Thousands of university students could be in for a shocker following proposals by the government to stop funding courses that are not considered crucial to national development.
The proposed reforms will also extend to students in private institutions where consideration will be given to universities that have the sole capacity to offer prescribed programmes.
The new changes being pushed by vice chancellors and the Universities Fund would see universities only receive State-sponsored students in niche courses.
The Universities Fund is a government agency established under the Universities Act and mandated to finance universities.
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The details are contained in a document titled Reforms on the University Sector and Research.
One proposal is that students who apply to universities with strong foundations in science, agriculture or technology, for example, will only receive funding if they are admitted to study those courses.
"Universities should be categorised in major thematic areas such as universities of science and technology, research, sports and creative arts, and generalised universities,” reads the document.
Universities Fund acting Chief Executive Officer Milton Njuki said under the proposed model, centres of excellence will be created for special needs education targeting visually impaired and deaf students.
The elephant in the room, however, is the proposal by VCs that the government should prioritise its resources to fund only students it wishes to support.
Vice Chancellors Committee chairperson Geoffrey Muluvi yesterday said the proposals were floated by university managers due to a drop in funding over the years.
"The resources cannot reach all students and funding should be based on available resources,” said Muluvi.
The VCs argue that funding should not necessarily be extended to every student that the university wishes to admit on the basis of attaining the minimum entry grade.
"Students who qualify with C+ and above but have not been qualified for government support to pursue degree programmes should then be free to either join TVET programmes, where they would be sponsored by government, or join universities as privately sponsored students, whether as Module II or in private universities,” the VCs said.
But there are dissenters within the ranks with some institution managers saying the priority approach was contentious "because all courses are important in their own right".
The Commission for University Education (CUE) has listed strategic sectors that constitute priority areas for the government and which will be funded if proposed amendments are passed.
CUE Chief Executive Officer Mwenda Ntarangwi yesterday said universities must align their courses with the strategic sectors that address national development priorities.
"Universities can identify priority programmes by looking at key directions taken by the nation, including Vision 2030, geared towards making Kenya a middle-income country," Ntarangwi said.
Vision 2030 has three key pillars — economic, social, and political — that universities can fulfill through specific programmes, research and community service, according to the proposals.
"They also need to look at the UN's sustainable development goal number four on accessible, relevant and equitable education, and the Big Four agenda that zeroed in on manufacturing, affordable and universal health care, food security and nutrition, and affordable housing,” said Ntarangwi.
Courses that would be funded under the social pillar include health, education, environment, water and sanitation, population, housing and urbanisation, gender, youth, sports, arts and culture.
Tourism, agriculture, manufacturing, trade, business process outsourcing, financial services, oil and other mineral explorations, public service delivery, governance and the rule of law, security, peace building and conflict management are other priority sectors.
Infrastructure, information and communication technology, science, technology and innovation, and energy complete the short list of strategic sectors under the Vision 2030 pillars.
The CUE has also listed programmes relevant to the attainment of the Big Four agenda.
Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Board (KUCCPS) Chief Executive Officer John Muraguri yesterday said the board considers all courses to be priority because they are vetted by the CUE before they are made available to students.
Muraguri said the board only places students in courses approved by the agency.
“The CUE is the custodian of standards and quality of all courses offered in universities. Once they have approved the courses, they send them to us and we make them available to students to select,” he said.
Section 56(1)(b) of the Universities Act mandates the KUCCPS to "disseminate information on available programmes, their costs, and the areas of study prioritised by the Government".
The Universities Fund has proposed a raft of amendments to the funding formula known as the Differentiated Unit Cost (DUC).
The DUC is the amount of money required by an institution to teach one academic programme per year per student. The revised DUC will focus on funding courses mounted towards government priority-training areas.
The Fund argues that universities that mount critical programmes will have more money in their accounts.
The Fund also wants the government to pay full tuition fees for all special needs university students.
The proposed amendments also want all post-graduate students, who are presently not beneficiaries under the DUC, to be funded at one per cent of the total universities' budget.
On research, the Fund wants two per cent of the available budget allocated with a proposal that all newly created universities be funded at a minimum of Sh300 million.
The proposed amendments by the Fund supports the VCs' report that says government capitation under the DUC formula as presently implemented falls short by 60 per cent of the expected funding.
Universities will also be expected to initiate income-generating projects to shore up their revenue streams to plug funding gaps.