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Fee hike: More talks after varsity students protests

By Augustine Oduor | January 11th 2021 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Graduands at Maseno University during the 18th graduation on December 21,2018. [Denish Ochieng/ Standard]

The government is back to the drawing board over university fees increment proposals after a section of students staged protests late last year to oppose the plan.

The Standard has established that the Ministry of Education has now scheduled an internal meeting this week to craft a new strategy ahead of a major stakeholders’ retreat.

Sources at the ministry told The Standard that the students’ strike threat called for a new strategy even as universities continue to pile pressure on the funding crisis that has crippled their operations.

MPs have also piled pressure on the ministry to fast track the process after the National Treasury gave a green light to the fees increment and advised industry leaders to present a Cabinet paper for consideration.

Florence Mutua, the National Assembly Education Committee chair, yesterday said MPs are concerned about the strike threats and called for proper consultation and implementation strategy that would allow reason to prevail.

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“Yes, we are concerned by the students protests and we must have this discussion held properly and thoroughly because fees increment is necessary to help universities run smoothly,” Mutua said.

She said a meeting held late last year with Ministry of Education, National Treasury and vice chancellors agreed that a retreat be convened mid January to fine-tune the increment plan.

“We agreed that the heavy issues on the table (fees raise) cannot be discussed in a one-hour meeting, hence we are planning a retreat to discuss this very critical matter and come up with a way forward as a committee,” she said.

The legislator added the ministry was to present a Cabinet memo to the National Treasury for review and subsequent forward to the Cabinet.

“The PS (Treasury) talked about having it tabled as a Cabinet paper so that it can be discussed and refined. So, to this level we have not known what has been presented since MPs are in recess and committees are not meeting yet,” Mutua said.

Appearing before the Education Committee, National Treasury PS Julius Muia approved the fee increment proposal and asked the Ministry of Education to present a Cabinet memo.

Dr Muia told MPs they were ready to pitch the case for universities financing plan by submitting a Cabinet paper that contains fees hikes as early as next month.

Kenyatta University Chancellor Dr. Benson Wairegi (C) at the 48th Graduation Ceremony which was held virtually at the main campus in 2020. [John Muchucha]

“But this must start from the Ministry of Education forwarding to us a well thought-out and all-encompassing Cabinet Memorandum that we shall look through at the Treasury and forward to the Cabinet for discussion,” he said.

Vice chancellors who spoke yesterday, however, said the ministry officials seem to have developed cold feet, with reports that they have opted to wait for a word from President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Expect delays

“There is fear from ministry officials that the president needs to give direction on this and so we expect some delays in fast tracking the process as was agreed late last year during a meeting with MPs,” said a VC who is not authorised to speak on behalf of the VCs committee.

This is after Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha said in December last year that the Executive arm of the government is yet to sit, consider and debate the fees matter and decide that universities should charge higher fees.

Speaking days after the National Treasury endorsed the fees hike plan, Prof Magoha said university fees is a weighty matter that requires proper consultations.

“The government does not just wake up one morning and hike fees. The discussions started in Parliament and the matter will still be subjected to further consultations,” he said.

University Education PS Simon Nabukwesi yesterday said a meeting has already been scheduled to start wide consultations.

“We have an internal retreat this coming week to prepare for the main and all-inclusive retreat whose dates we shall communicate in due course,” Nabukwesi said.

A section of university student leaders rejected a proposal to increase fees to Sh48,000 from the present Sh16,000 and threatened to call a nationwide strike this year if the new fees plan is implemented.

The student leaders under the Universities Presidents Council of Kenya (UPC) instead called for proper funding of the Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) and asked the government to protect the interests of learners through deep consultations.

The student leaders also demanded to be part of the conversation to hike fees if such a plan must be adopted.

“The government should be consulting with student leaders and allow us to be part of the conversation. They should be tripling Helb loans to give us better access to education financing,” said Abdulahi Somo, UPC treasurer.

Mbogo Mukami, the UPC deputy chair, called for proper funding of Helb.

“The money being spent on BBI should be taken towards our school fees. Education is our right and you are taking it away from us,” Mukami said.

Hot topic

The fees increment has been a hot topic, being dropped midway each time it is fronted and students stage protests.

This is not the first time the idea has been mooted, as the calls to double or triple fees have been on the table for the last three years.

But this time, VCs are keen to have this implemented as one of the key strategies to bail the institutions out of a financial crisis.

It emerged that public universities are already sinking in Sh40 billion debt, frustrating their efforts to sustain operations and offer quality education.

The institutions are unable to sustain their bloated staff, remit billions of shillings towards statutory deductions and streamline their academic programmes.

The public universities also need another Sh52.8 billion to complete stalled projects.

Geoffrey Muluvi, the VCs committee chair said  fees increment is not an option, adding that the present rates have been overtaken by the times and reviewing them is long overdue

National Treasury President Uhuru Kenyatta University Education
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