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Why deferring your university course should worry you

By Augustine Oduor | February 13th 2021
Chief Executive Officer and Secretary to the Universities Fund Geoffrey Monari. [Courtesy]

The government has stopped the release of Sh5.5 billion to fund 32,000 university students who have delayed in completing their courses, pending an audit.

A new report reveals that some of these students may have manoeuvered around the universities’ internal systems to overstay in the colleges, while others deferred courses for various reasons.

And now, the government has rejected a proposal by public universities’ management to have the students funded to complete their courses until the numbers are verified and individual cases justified.

This is after it emerged that the information provided by the universities on the students numbers may not be accurate, as there exists no proper mechanism to verify the data.

Each of the 27 universities with cases of courses extension separately presented their data for funding but the Universities Fund (UF), mandated to apportion funds to universities, now wants the numbers scrutinised before the money is spent.

The details emerged during a two-day consultative meeting between National Assembly Education Committee, National Treasury, Ministry of Education and vice chancellors in Mombasa.

The Saturday Standard has established that the Universities Fund, which is also mandated to develop transparent and fair criterion for allocation of funds to universities, has blocked plans to spend Sh5.5 billion to fund these students, to allow cleaning of the data.

Presenting the report to VCs in Mombasa, Fund chief executive Geoffrey Monari said the absence of a proper data management system for universities has made it difficult to verify the information presented by institutions.

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“The data we are relying on have been generated manually and they could be inaccurate, and if public fund will be spent then we must be accurate on the numbers we are using to spend public resources,” Monari said.

Vice Chancellors Committee chair Geoffrey Muluvi yesterday downplayed the matter, declining to comment on the report.

“The best person to talk to is the Chief Executive Officer of the Universities Fund,” said Muluvi.

Vice chancellors who spoke yesterday said there is no policy direction on funding students who repeat, and called for an extensive discussion on the matter.

A report tabled in the meeting by the Universities Fund shows that Kenyatta University has the biggest number of students who have extended their course duration. The university has 10,529 students who will require Sh1.8 billion to fund.

University of Nairobi has 5,607 students who have also delayed completing their courses and will require Sh958 million to fund.

Moi and Egerton universities each has about 4,000 students who will need a cumulative amount of Sh1.4 billion.

“The data are from the last two years. We do not know what may have happened before but we must now do things right and it starts with proper clean data,” Monari told MPs. He said a proper data management system will make it easier for the government to plan and make some savings to plug deficits.

Data management in public universities has been a major challenge, with reports indicating that numbers presented by universities most of the time are not consistent.

During the meeting, MPs heard that over the years, the government may have been funding ghost learners, as there has never been a proper data management system to generate clean students and staff numbers.

The MPs heard that students’ data presented by universities to the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS), Commission for University Education (CUE) and Ministry of Education have always been incoherent.

The meeting also heard that data presented to the National Treasury and those at the Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) also have huge disparities.

And even on staff data, MPs heard that completely different sets of numbers are presented by universities for capitation funding and Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiations. Committee chair Florence Mutua chaired the meeting.

In another meeting late last year, Mutua questioned the set of data used to allocate universities money.

“Universities have data, Universities Fund has data and the Ministry of Education has data. We do not make allocations as the Treasury to individual universities, we take allocations as given by the ministry,” said Treasury Director of Planning Samuel Kiiru.

Making a firm pitch for a clean reliable system, Monari told MPs that a credible data management system must be put in place to detect fraud, enhance accountability and boost proper planning in university sector.

Verifiable data

“Universities Data Management Information System will enable effective and efficient implementation of the performance based Differentiated Unit Cost. This system will link all the relevant stakeholders and provide clean verifiable data for all staff and students,” he said.

Monari said the Fund needs Sh81 million to roll out a clean data management system for the university sector that will sort out all the data mess in the public institutions.

“For now we have advised against funding these students who have overstayed in universities because we are unable to verify their details. We also fear that some needy students may have been left out in the process,” he said.

The audit means some students who will have overstayed without merit would be discontinued. It also means students who extended their course completion will have to justify that decision.

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