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Education CS gets back the power to appoint VCs, DVCs

By Augustine Oduor | February 27th 2021

Education CS Prof George Magoha [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

The Cabinet has approved changes to the law that will give back powers of appointment of vice chancellors to the Education Cabinet Secretary.

The move will now put to rest the present chaos that stain appointment of VCs and their deputies under the amended law that transferred the functions to the Public Service Commission (PSC).

Under the proposed law, the Cabinet Secretary in charge of education will constitute a selection panel, where the PSC will only have one representative.

“Where a vacancy occurs in the Office of the Vice Chancellor or Deputy Vice Chancellor of a public university or Principal or Deputy Principal of a constituent college, the Cabinet Secretary shall constitute a selection panel to conduct the recruitment,” reads the proposed law.

The selection panel shall include a chairperson who will be a prolific scholar with at least 10 years’ experience in leadership and management of public and/or private institutions.

Other members shall be representatives of the university council, University Education principal secretary and another person representing the private sector.

Two representatives – one man and one woman – nominated by the university senate and one person with a background in public finance management will also be in the panel.

“The selection panel shall regulate its own procedure,” reads the proposed appointment procedure.

According to the proposed law, the selection panel shall advertise for the vacancies and publicise the applicants and shortlisted candidates.

It shall conduct interviews of the shortlisted applicants, identify three qualified applicants for each vacant position and forward the names to the Cabinet Secretary.

“The Cabinet Secretary shall upon receipt of the names forwarded appoint a candidate from any of the three qualified applicants. And the selection panel shall stand dissolved after the appointment of a candidate,” reads the proposed law.

The move will settle the chaos occasioned by convenient interpretations of the present law, which has put PSC, university councils and Ministry of Education at loggerheads.

The PSC process came into force through the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendment) Act 2018, sparking a major row between the Public Service Commission and universities management.

Vice-chancellors argued then that giving roles to the PSC is tantamount to micro-managing the institutions and depriving them of autonomy.

Proponents of the law however argued that hiring VCs and DVCs through the PSC would ensure appointments to the top management use the right criteria and also de-ethnicise the process.

Under the present law, the PSC calls for applications, shortlists candidates and interviews them before forwarding names of successful candidates to the university councils.

Under Section 35 of the Universities Act, the councils are then expected to appoint VCs, their deputies, principals and deputy principals in consultation with the Cabinet Secretary.

Muddled process

Yet, Section 39 of the Universities Act also empowers the Cabinet Secretary to appoint VCs.

These two sections of the law have muddled VCs hiring process by creating a lacuna that has caused more confusion, as parties interpreted the sections conveniently.

This has created a misunderstanding between universities and office of the Cabinet Secretary, as councils and ministry officials occasionally cite sections of the Act that serve their convenience.

But this will now be put to rest if Universities (Amendment) Bill 2020 approved by the Cabinet this week is debated and passed in Parliament.

The Cabinet Secretary will also have powers to nullify appointments of council chairpersons and even transfer them.

“As the designated appointing authority, the Cabinet Secretary shall have power to revoke any appointment to, or transfer or otherwise deploy the chairperson or any member of any Council,” the Bill reads.

It says councils enjoy and exercise delegated authority from the Cabinet Secretary who reserves the right to review or vacate a council decision.

The proposed law also gives a roadmap of appointment of university chancellors.

“Where a vacancy occurs in the office of Chancellor of a public university, the Senate of that university shall, in consultation with the respective alumni association, identify three suitable persons for appointment.”

The Bill says the senate shall forward the names of the nominees to the Cabinet Secretary for onward transmission to the president, who shall select one of the persons so identified for appointment as chancellor.

The appointment of chancellor by the president shall be by a Gazette notice.

The new law also proposes that VCs will only get a second term subject to their performance.

“The Vice-Chancellor of a public university shall hold office for a term of five years and shall be eligible for a further term of five years upon satisfactory performance,” reads the Bill.

It also proposes that each university will have a maximum of three DVCs.

The Bill says when the law shall commence under the new provision, any university with more than three deputy vice-chancellors shall within six months amend its statutes to comply. “Such deputy vice-chancellors shall remain in office until the expiry of their terms of office after which appointments shall be made under this provision,” it says.

The proposed law also dashes the hopes of establishing universities in every county.

It proposes amendment of Section 26 of the Act, which says Commission for University Education (CUE) shall ensure the establishment of public universities in each of the counties, giving priority to counties that do not have universities immediately after the coming into force of the Act.

The new section now reads: “The Commission shall ensure accessibility in counties of public universities by all counties, giving priority to viability and equitability in the distribution of public universities across the country.”

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