Kenyan institutions of higher learning, have predominantly relied on state subsidies to oversee their daily operations and management aspects. [iStockphoto]

Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu recently said the government was considering not funding universities. While he backtracked and clarified the context of his remarks, they are an eye-opener to the higher education sector.

A study in the UK, by Emerge Education and sponsored by Group GTI, revealed that the largest, rather biggest existential threat faced by universities is financial sustainability.

Kenyan institutions of higher learning, have predominantly relied on state subsidies to oversee their daily operations and management aspects. This dependence on a single financing source has brought financial stability.

Currently, public institutions bear the brunt of significant budget disruptions. The financial subsidy from the government is reducing day by day, post-graduate programmes are no longer financially beneficial as they should be, well-wishers and donors are making conditions for funding more stringent.

The institutions are at cross-roads as they can no longer increase fees, without making the sacrifice on occupancy.

In the face of these uncertainties, and their bleak effect on these institutions, they also form the basis upon which new strategic directions can be undertaken.

On introspect, I find the CS comments a blessing in disguise. Fundamentally, this portends a strategic turning point for universities in Kenya. There is indeed great potential, that if properly harnessed, the tertiary institutions are bound to reap the benefits of greater autonomy and flexible funding.

Institutions need to explore the option of building professional partnerships with corporate and government training divisions, as a way of reducing the burden of training on them. This can be done by setting up an active professional education team whose sole aim is to build and sustain partnerships with entities.

The institutions of higher learning must be at the forefront in responding to challenges in society, developing new ways of meeting societal needs, and bridging the gaps between human needs and human ability. They can engage leading entities on mutually beneficial projects while raising revenue for all stakeholders.

The institutions have facilities that can be of service to either a target group or the general society. Some facilities are under-utilised by students. Facilities such as sports complexes can be opened up for use through seasonal sports camps, with the institution retaining a share of the revenue.

Conferences can be hosted by universities and other institutions of higher learning. In institutions that offer practical courses such as event planning, and culinary arts among others, such activities that utilise their assets also provide a platform for the students to learn while working. The potential revenue returns that asset utilization needs to be fully tapped.

It is also important to highlight that aside from the revenue aspects, institutions of higher learning, through this lever, can build and forge business relationships with entities that will, undoubtedly, prove to be beneficial to them.

An example is told of the University of Pennsylvania which initiated a co-branded card in partnership with the Bank of America in 1997. This card has numerous benefits including cash back on certain purchases. The university, vide a revenue-sharing agreement, is entitled to a percentage of the funds for every account opened by students, and for every purchase made by the co-branded card.

-The writer comments on topical issues