Auditor raises queries over funding of public varsities

Auditor General Nancy Gathungu. [File, Standard]

The Ministry of Education has been accused of frustrating the Universities Fund which is mandated to disburse funds to the institutions of higher learning in Kenya.

Auditor General Nancy Gathungu, in a report, also questioned whether the Fund has been discharging its duty as stipulated under section 53 of the Universities Act.

Ms Gathungu further accused the State Department of University Education of directly financing universities contrary to the law that requires the money to go through the Universities Fund.

“The Fund has only been advising the State Department for University Education on how to allocate and disburse the funds to the public universities,” she said.

The report came amid claims that what universities get is dependent on lobbying by their managements.

Vice-chancellors who spoke to The Standard claimed some universities get bigger allocations from the Ministry based on their lobbying.

The Universities Act, 2012, established the Fund and mandated it to finance universities.

Section 54 (4) spells out the functions of the Fund which include apportioning funds to public universities and issuance of conditional grants to private universities.

The Fund is also mandated to, in consultation with the Cabinet Secretary, develop transparent and fair criteria for allocation of funds to universities and issue conditional grants to private universities.

The Fund is also mandated to mobilise and receive funds for purposes from the government and donors as well as any other source.

Further, the Fund is expected to establish the minimum discipline differentiated remuneration for academic staff of universities, which shall be fair and globally competitive, and advise the government accordingly.

In her report, Gathungu expressed concern that the Fund is not discharging its mandate as stipulated by law.

“In the circumstances, it has not been possible to confirm whether the Fund has been carrying out its mandate as required by the Universities Act, 2012,” said Gathungu.

The Fund adopted the Differentiated Unit Cost (DUC) criteria for allocating funds to universities in 2016 as provided for in the Act and which has been operational since the financial year 2017/2018. The formula is used to allocate funds to universities.

In the report, Gathungu said a review of records showed the Fund has not been allocating funds to universities as provided for in the law.

The DUC is the amount of money required by an institution to teach one academic programme per year per student. DUC has lumped specific costs of programmes into clusters of 18, ranging from the lowest which is Sh144,000 for humanities, and the highest being Sh720,000 for dentistry.

Eliminate large disparity

Universities have for the last four years been calling for a revision of the DUC to eliminate the large disparity between public and private universities.

The report comes months after a high-level meeting of universities’ top management and researchers proposed merging of three funds to create one huge financial pool.

The meeting proposed that Universities Fund, National Research Fund (NRF), and the Technical and Vocation Education Fund be collapsed into one fund. The meeting that brought together top Ministry of Education officials, vice-chancellors, and chief executives of the semi-autonomous government agencies agreed that the operational documents establishing the three funds should be reviewed.

Science technology innovation

“The three-funding bodies provided for under the Science Technology and Innovation (STI) Act, Universities and TVET be strengthened to ensure adequate resources for the sector,” reads the resolution made during a three-day STI conference convened by National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (Nacosti).

The Technical and Vocation Education Fund is yet to be operationalised. However, NRF and UFB are functioning.

The meeting heard that the merger would pave the way for enhanced lobbying for better funding and push for increased allocation of resources to the sector.

Prof David Some, who chaired the task force on higher education science and technology that proposed far-reaching reforms to set up the Funds, told the meeting that the merger is necessary.

Prof Some said the merger would be followed by a major campaign to the government to increase funding to two per cent of the Gross Domestic Product as envisaged in the law.

The STI Act, under section 32(2)(a), provides for a sum of money amounting to two per cent of the country’s GDP to be provided by the Treasury every financial year.

According to the Act, the object of the Fund shall be to facilitate research for the advancement of science, technology, and innovation.

Research and Development (R&D) activities allow scientists and researchers to develop new knowledge, technologies, and innovations that spur economic growth.