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Poor leadership and funding are hurting our universities

OPINION
By Agumba Ndaloh | April 13th 2021
A section of 1300 graduates celebrate after were conferred with Diplomas Bachelor's, Masters and Doctorate degrees during the virtual ceremony coordinated from the main campus at Kagochi [Kibata Kihu/Standard]

It’s a rough life being an employee of a public university.

Staff disenchantment with the goings-on in most of these institutions is at its nadir. You only need to read what the staff write about their suffering on social media platforms.

Union elections that are on course have attracted candidates promising to engage the management on the members’ woes. Unfortunately, these woes are partly a product of poor leadership in some of the institutions. 

However, the problems of public universities can’t be explained solely from a lacklustre leadership alone. These institutions are equally groaning under the weight of other ills.

Top among them is low capitation from the exchequer. Since 2003, the national government has focused on basic and technical education. This has left universities neglected. 

The government capitation only meets 60 per cent of their recurrent expenditure. Each institution is expected to meet the remaining 40 per cent; a tall order indeed.

It was easy in the days of the privately sponsored student’s programmes. Things have changed. Reforms at the national examinations body have cut the number of qualified students.

Many universities have no other sources of income apart from students’ fees. Poor leadership and lack of financial literacy, coupled with bureaucratic red tape can’t allow the institutions to broaden their income bases.

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Public universities don’t have research and extension services. Teaching quality is a pale shadow of its former self. There is little development of the infrastructure. Erudite scholars are giving varsity managerial positions a wide berth, leaving them, sadly, to apologies for scholastic adventures.

Many of these academic black horses are driven solely by greed. Public universities are weighed down by corruption and mismanagement.

Unfortunately, the State Department for University Education, which should have taken the lead in ameliorating the situation, seems to be in a deep slumber. Who will wake it up? 

Public universities are crucial in national development and it is myopic to pay attention to the other levels of learning at their expense. If the government could just channel an iota of the attention it gives to the other two levels of education to the university sector, we could have half of the woes of public varsities addressed.

Unfortunately, the government appears keen to adopt the Austrian Prince Metternich’s philosophy of “every man for himself and God for us all”.

Public universities are in dire need of a paradigm shift in their micro, meso and macro-management. They have monumental problems that require a different approach.

With the closure of universities due to Covid-19 pandemic, online teaching has become critical. But the million dollar question is if the public universities are prepared. Can such programmes be organised without investment in personnel and infrastructure? Where should the money come from?

It’s apt to blame the current woes of public universities on low capitation and poor leadership. Tackling these twin issues will bring the shine back to the institutions.

Issues such as the bloated workforce, low morale of workers due to poor terms and conditions of service, missing marks, corruption and mismanagement will easily be swept aside once the two issues are addressed.

Over to you the State Department for University Education and Research.

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