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Uasu, Kusu oppose move to privatise public universities

 The Universities Academic Staff Union (UASU) National Secretary General, Dr Constantine Wasonga (centre) addressing the media yesterday in Nairobi. [Nathan Ochunge, Standard]

University lecturers and staff have opposed a proposal by the government to privatise universities, describing it as ill-advised.

The Universities Academic Staff Union (Uasu) and Kenya Universities Staff Union (Kusu) said the institutions were started using public funds and therefore cannot be privatised unless key stakeholders have been consulted and are in agreement.

On Monday, Trade and Investment Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria said that the government had already identified investors from Indonesia and the US who were ready to make multi-million shilling investments in public universities that are currently saddled with huge debts.

“We are already in talks with some investors to partially buy some of the universities. Universities are not a going concern anymore but are now riddled with mismanagement and debts. We will market Kenyan universities as centres of education excellence internationally so that the institutions don’t become a wasted investment,” Mr Kuria said.

Kuria added: “The investors will run the universities profitably. They will also put to use the huge tracts of land universities have that are not in use by putting it under agriculture and affordable housing units for students and staff. Those in management have reached the end of their thinking capacity. We are bringing investors to turn the assets they have into money.”

But Uasu National Secretary General Constantine Wasonga said that education is a public good and the minister could not purport to have powers to privatise public universities.

Dr Wasonga told Kuria to come out clearly on which public universities the government wants privatised. The CS, he added, should make the names of the foreign investors public, including country of origin, the terms of privatisation and the impact the move will have on the universities' workforce.

“Earlier in 2020, we saw this coming by the government taking government-sponsored students to private universities. Having done that, and Kenyans never resisted, they now want to buy public universities and make them private entities,” said Wasonga  

He went on: “When you see Kuria saying that they got investors from Indonesia, don’t be cheated. They are the ones who are the ‘investors’ and are targeting a particular university to buy and make it a personal property. We will resist the move by our blood the way we resisted merger of universities.”

Wasonga said if universities are privatised, the cost of education will rise because investors will charge fees "the way they want" thus denying many Kenyans access to higher education.

Kusu Secretary General Charles Mukhwaya said they would not support the privatisation bid, arguing that this would "spell the end of the country."

“Kenya is struggling to be a developed country and requires serious, highly qualified human resources. The moment you shift education into private hands, it means only very rich people will afford to get that education,” said Dr Mukhwaya.

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