Court tussle over fee increase as varsities fear losing billions

UASU officials during a previous press conference on January 17, 2020. [Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

Public universities will not get money from the government to run undergraduate programmes if court orders last year freezing fees increase is not lifted.

Universities Fund has now raised the red flag, saying the High Court order will cripple universities.

In its case before the Court of Appeal, seeking to unfreeze the orders, the Universities Fund argues that although the orders were essentially central to University of Nairobi’s fees increase, the effect dogs all the universities in the country.

In its urgent application filed before the Court of Appeal, the board faults High Court judge Anthony Mrima for issuing orders whose aftermath, it argues, is that all universities cannot get their funds.

Thande Kuria, the board’s lawyer, said Justice Mrima last year invalidated the maximum differential unit costs (MDUC), the basic formula that public universities use to determine funding for undergraduate programmes.

According to Mr Kuria, the formula is not applied to postgraduate programmes, for which University of Nairobi intended to increase fees.

“The learned judge erred in law by purporting to nullify the maximum differential unit cost without regard to the fact that the formula is applicable in determining funding for all public universities in undergraduate programmes and not masters and doctorate programmes,” argued Thande.

MDUC is used to allocate funds to universities on the basis of the number of government-sponsored students placed by Kenya Universities and Colleges Placement Services (KUCCPS) to purse different courses.

Justice Mrima invalidated the formula over lack of public participation. He also quashed University of Nairobi’s fees structure.

In the case, Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) sued the UoN and the board, arguing that it was against the right to affordable healthcare to increase the fees.

The union argued that UoN unilaterally increased the fees, three times what the students are currently paying. UoN hiked fees for arts Master’s courses to at least Sh600,000 for a two-year program from an average of Sh275,000.

At the same time, the fee for medical students is Sh3.8 million for the five-year course, up from Sh2.35 million.

A Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery will cost Sh600,000 annually, while human anatomy, pharmacy, and medical physiology are the cheapest in the medicine cluster, as students will pay Sh450,000.

A veterinary medicine student will pay Sh468,000. “The annual academic fees for all programmes in clusters one, two, and four have been revised upwards, threefold,” the union claims.

“The first respondent’s handbook does not provide written reasons for the threefold increment in academic fees,” the union argues.

A fee schedule attached by the union indicates that undergraduate students will pay at least Sh27,000 for administrative services.

Masters students will pay Sh70,000 for similar services while those pursuing PhD will pay at least Sh86,000.

Meanwhile, those interested in higher doctorate degrees will pay Sh496,000, which includes Sh80,000 for graduation gown.

A media practitioner will pay Sh240,000 annually, while Bachelor of Commerce, Economics, and Law attract Sh216,000. A bachelor of Education will also cost the same amount.

The union argues that the fees set for Medicine students will not be sustainable for the country. KMPDU lamented that UoN was likely to implement the changes despite the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic.

“In addition to the contravention of constitutional tenets and principles set out above, the threefold increment is against Kenya’s Vision 2030, which is the long-term development blueprint for the country and is motivated by a collective aspiration for a better society by the year 2030,” Davji Bhimnji, the secretary-general of the union, said in an affidavit.

Dr Bhimnji said the schedule limits opportunities for medical students to advance their education in a public institution.

According to him, students were not informed why the fees had been increased nor were stakeholders involved throughout the process.

According to the union official, the structure does not promote an equitable society as the threefold increment does not consider marginalised groups.

He added: “The first respondent’s handbook violates Article 47(2) of the Constitution that requires that if a right or fundamental freedom of a person has been or is likely to be adversely affected by administrative action, the person has the right to be given written reasons for the action.”

KMPDU argues that if the orders are lifted, students will be forced to top up the fees difference. [email protected]