Parents shock as varsities plan to hike fees

University of Nairobi grandaunts celebrate during the 62nd graduation ceremony at the of University of Nairobi,on December 20, 2019. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

Parents may still bear the greatest burden of getting universities out of the financial mess as Vice- chancellors insist that increasing fees remains the number one solution.

A high-level university meeting in Mombasa heard that raising tuition fees, pushing parents to pay all fees arrears, increasing State contribution and staff rationalisation remain top priority solutions that would resuscitate the dying institutions.

Vice-chancellors hope the government supports their request to enforce full payment and increase fees since the Universities Act does not provide a roadmap for the same. The two priority solutions to ending the funding crisis now put parents at the centre of reforming university education and stabilising institutions of higher learning that are now sinking under Sh56 billion in debt.

Sources in the two-day conference told The Standard that the resolutions of the conference will hugely influence proposals to be made by Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms in their final report due in March.

The meeting brought together all Vice-chancellors of public and private universities, principals of constituent colleges, and government agencies involved in funding higher learning institutions.

The head of the Universities Fund, Higher Education Loans Board, Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Board, and top budgeting officials from the National Treasury and Planning are also attending the meeting. “The Working party report presented to the president was not immediately adopted and this conference is critical because the task force will borrow hugely from it,” said a senior government official.

Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu said universities are now sinking under Sh56 billion debt in staff pensions and statutory deductions such as Pay As You Earn and National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF).

“Many of the universities face challenges in paying staff salaries and their suppliers. The debts continue to pile by the day. This sorry state of affairs is a threat to the universities’ ability to perform their primary mandate of teaching and research,” Machogu said.

In a candid presentation during the First Biennial Universities Funding conference, Vice-chancellors of public universities laid bare what they termed as strategic options available to address the financial sustainability challenge.

“Fees for each programme should be fully paid at 100 per cent and also increasing tuition fees. Universities in Kenya cannot increase fees without the government’s support,” said Prof Geoffrey Munavu, chairperson of the Vice-chancellors committee.

If VCs have their way, parents will be asked to clear all fees arrears to boost institutions’ financial status. The VCs also insist that the State funding be increased to 80 per cent of the Differentiated Unit Cost (DUC) up from the present 48 per cent.

DUC is the annual cost of providing a particular degree program per student, taking into account staff costs, facility costs, and other institutional overhead costs.

However, fees increment and raising state funding to 80 per centare are some of the key proposals contained in the Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms, whose findings president William Ruto rejected last week. But sources said that having fees increment and raising State funding will still feature in final resolutions and that these proposals would still be part of the Working party’s recommendations.

“There is no way out of this. Fees must go up and the State must increase its funding to universities. The rest will follow,” said a top VC.

The working party proposed university fees increased from Sh16,000 to Sh52,000, a matter that has over the years drawn sharp reactions from parents and student unions.

Attempts by the previous regime to increase fees met strong resistance from parents and students through their unions.

The late former Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha calmed down the anxiety by dismissing VC’s attempts to hike fees as students poured onto the streets to protest the planned move.

During a past State House meeting, sources said that president Ruto was not keen to adopt the huge leap on State increased funding to 80 per cent. “The president questioned why this could not be done gradually, say to 52 per cent and so on and so forth. But the team failed to justify the proposal and to explain how the huge leap could be achieved,” said an insider.

In their presentations yesterday, VCs argued that to buttress their two key proposals, increasing pricing of the services universities provide such as food,  accommodation, and staff housing should also be explored.