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Union in court to block University of Nairobi reforms plan

University of Nairobi (UoN) Vice-Chancellor Stephen Kiama. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

A union has challenged a decision to restructure the University of Nairobi.

Universities Academic Staff Union (UASU), in its case filed before the Employment and Labour Relations Court, argues that the Commission for University Education (CUE) and Ministry of Education were not involved or consulted before the decision to scrap some colleges.

UASU says that its members are now facing imminent job losses despite having binding contracts.

The union further claims that some of the ongoing students have been left hanging after courses they were undertaking were merged with others or their department’s roles taken away.

“He (UoN VC) has taken away the teaching and training roles from the Institute of Development Studies, leaving the doctoral and master students with nowhere to go to. He has abolished courses without due regard to ongoing students’ studies,” Uasu claims.

At the same time, the union argues that the University Council had in March, this year, advertised for deputy vice-chancellors positions and which are yet to be filled.

It states that the changes will render the recruitment process useless as those who were interviewed are waiting for their results.

The union claims that Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha has also distanced himself from the changes since the ministry was allegedly not involved.

“The petitioner is apprehensive that the vice-chancellor is determined to see through his illegal acts since he has very low regard and observance of directives from the Ministry of Education hence can only be stopped by an order of this court,” the union argues.

According to the union, UoN Vice-Chancellor Stephen Kiama ought to have convened consultative meetings with the lecturers and university workers unions, students association, CUE, Public Service Commission, and the Ministry of Education before enforcing the changes.

At the same time, union lawyer Titus Koceyo argues that the new governing structure is not anchored on any law and is not in UoN’s charter.

“The vice-chancellor of the first respondent (UoN council) on July 14, 2021, began to implement the new governance structure without the input of the key stakeholders, including the petitioner,” the union argues.

An internal memo dated July 14 and said to be from Prof Kiama cites high expenditure and inefficiency as reasons why the institution has opted to fold its governance structure for a new vehicle.

However, Uasu argues that its members have a collective bargaining agreement on its members’ contracts with the university which it cannot walk away from without consensus.

“The petitioner (Uasu) states that the principals, directors, deans of abolished colleges, institutes and faculties have been relieved of their positions yet they have current unexpired terms of the contract. The members of the affected colleges, institutes, and faculties are equally staring at job losses,” says Koceyo.

Uasu accuses Prof Kiama of usurping the role of the council. According to its court papers, the council has been silent about the ramifications of the changes.

 According to the union, the new structure has created illegal structures adding that those who have been appointed to spearhead the new units were not competitively recruited. Uasu wants the court to bar the VC from implementing the governance reforms.

At the same time, it wants the court to declare that the reforms are against the Constitution, the UoN’s Charter, and Education Act.

Uasu has sued UoN, UoN Council, Prof Magoha, PSC, Attorney General Kihara Kariuki and CUE.

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