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Nairobi starts varsities radical surgery amid fears of job losses

Aerial view of University of Nairobi (UoN), November 16, 2018. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Panic has gripped staff at the country’s public universities as the government begins to implement a restructuring programme aimed at making them economically viable and independent of State funding but which will result in massive job losses.

Staff at the University of Nairobi will be the first to be affected by the reforms with senior dons set to go back to class after the council yesterday abolished five offices of deputy vice-chancellors, replacing them with two associate vice-chancellors.

In a shocking move, the university’s council has also abolished its six colleges and condensed all 35 faculties to 11 to avoid duplication and functional overreach.

The closure of the colleges and consolidation of faculties will mean some non-academic staff too will be affected as their services will no longer be required.

The bitter pill introduced by the UoN perfectly fits into the proposal by International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the long term design by government’s plan to merge universities but which has in the past met resistance.

As the axe started falling on UON staff, a similar fate is waiting their colleagues at Moi, Kenyatta and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, which have also been listed by the National Treasury as loss-making entities.

The universities are part of the 18 State corporations flagged for deep reforms after it emerged that they are unprofitable or loss-making entities.

Structural reforms

Yesterday, UoN council’s chair Prof Julia Ojiambo announced abolition of all positions of  Principals and Deputy Principals and their roles re-organised under new positions of Executive and Associate Deans.

According to Ojiambo, the governance and structural reforms will result to aligning resources to the faculties where teaching and learning take place as well as breaking down bureaucracy for the benefit of our stakeholders.

“Abolishing all unnecessary layers of reporting and eliminating “forwarding offices” and instead replacing them with re-imagined functional offices will lead to effective conclusion of tasks and resolution of queries at the lowest functional unit,” said the council’s chair.

The abolished colleges include agriculture and veterinary sciences, architecture and engineering, education and external studies, health sciences, biological and physical sciences, humanities and social sciences.

However, the council spared 14 research institutes such as Kenya Aids Vaccine Initiative, Wangari Mathai Institute and Institute of Development Studies to continue generating knowledge for transformation of communities.

“To keep the boat afloat, the administrative support services will be consolidated under various functions and respective professional heads all reporting to a chief operating officer who directly answers to the vice-chancellor,” she added.

The changes are intended to reduce the university’s operation costs as well as improve academic effectiveness. The scrapping of the five deputy vice chancellors’ responsibilities will see the university save expenditure incurred as salary for each DVC.

According to the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, a professor earns over Sh280,000 as basic salary and by doubling up as an administrative manager, they get extra Sh547,000 or monthly pay for the five year contractual term of the DVC. A principal heading a college earns extra Sh490,000 basic salary exclusive of allowances.

“The people serving as DVCs and principals are professors in the first instance. Cutting five DVCs to two deputising the vice-chancellor will see them align to the core mandate. While one handles academics, the other one deals with research. Students’ affairs are academic issues,” explained Professor Stephen Kiama, the vice-chancellor.

Financial strain

Kiama noted that the budgetary allocations for running the institutions run into millions of shillings, adding in the financial year 2019/2020 the university spent over Sh129 million to run the College of Health Sciences which has 10 faculties.

“After merging the offices, the unit cannot use the same amount they were using to run several faculties," he said. “The more administrative units you have, the more support staff you require. You’ll find that all the structural offices will require messengers, secretaries, drivers, administrators and the university was experiencing financial strain."

Kiama said the administrative staff will realigned with the condensed faculties adding that the duplication of staff in the faculties adds to bureaucracy hence complicating achieving key mandate of the university that has 4,000 employees.

“Our mandate is teaching, learning and research and we are measured as such but we have put so many structures and some of them make the core mandate to be lost. We are returning the accountability and prominence where the work is done at faculty level,” said the VC.

According to the five-member council, the reforms will address the challenge of declining capitation from the traditional sources, eliminate duplication of functions and redundancies, as well as enhance accountability and utilise excess capacity to generate more resources.

The reforms as provided in the university’s Senate Approved Vice Chancellor’s Reform Agenda 2020 are part of the university’s broader Strategic Plan for 2019-2024.

The VC added: “Going forward, new hiring will be aligned to the skills of what we require now and more technology savvy people.”

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