Public universities are experiencing dire financial straits. They seem to have been neglected for years. What had cushioned them was money from privately-sponsored students.
Universities’ fortunes took a nose-dive with massive reforms in the education sector, which closed doors to malpractices that had become a way of our life as a country. The reforms were laudable in many respects, including the integrity of examinations.
Unfortunately, they closed the halcyon days for public universities. Coupled with poor leadership, mismanagement, corruption and over-establishment, today public universities are to say the least, insolvent.
Urgent intervention is needed to enable these institutions contribute to the country’s development.
Twice, this newspaper, in a feature article and an editorial in less than a fortnight ago, brought the plight of these institutions to the public limelight. Nothing captures the point on the plight of these institutions than the editorial piece of February 20, 2022 which aptly stated in the opening paragraph thus....“It is sad that Egerton University is in the red. It is sadder that Egerton is not alone in this predicament. Things are rough for nearly every public university, all of which are grappling with a financial crisis that threatens to disrupt higher learning in Kenya.”
This is true. Public universities are undergoing difficulties. Soon, they will be candidates of morticians. The sad bit is that the government appears to be flat-footed on how to address the problem. What is more worrying is that it seems the institutions have been left on their own.
Nobody, from the politicians on the campaign trail to the government, seems to be bothered by the dry financial spell engulfing higher institutions. Measures instituted by the government so far may not adequately address the problem. Who thus will come to the aid of public universities before the morticians come calling?
Poor financial health
The major problem facing them today is poor financial health. This has majorly been caused by dwindling financial support from the exchequer. For years, capitation has been reducing.
This has greatly affected the quality of services and morale of the staff. Varsity leadership has raised this issue with the Ministry of Education but it seems, little if any assistance is forthcoming. The government appears contended with the churning out of graduates from the conveyor belt that public universities have become. Little heed or none at all is directed to the quality of the products being produced.
Efforts to address the problem facing public universities such as implementation of the much talked about reforms, restructuring through expenditure rationalisation, scaling up revenue generation efforts and sealing of revenue leakages and addressing the bloated workforce are laudable but these will not remove the public universities in the financial mire they are in.
These measures will only bear fruit in the long term. In the interim, the government should support the institutions financially so that they can off-set the insurmountable debt presently chocking them. The debt is estimated at nearly Sh50 billion.
Once the debt has been addressed, the government needs to carry out a forensic survey to establish the number of staff in all the public universities and the other requirements of each institution. This should be followed by pegging the capitation to the unique needs of each institution.
To avoid putting a square peg to a round hole, it is prudent for the government to thoroughly re-examine the quality of leadership in all the public universities. This is urgent if we are to address some of the issues brought to the fore by the Auditor General on financial management of public universities. Some of the problems facing the institutions, if we are to follow the reports, have been occasioned by corruption and mismanagement by those entrusted with managing them. It is time the government cracked the whip on those found culpable to this mal-practice.
Otherwise if the institutions are to be bailed out and nothing done to seal the revenue leakages, then the efforts being made to address the problem will be fruitless.
Unfortunately, taking that route will bring the demise of our public universities. Stern action should be taken against those found to have pilfered public funds or those whose acts or omission have made state universities to lose funds.
At least if the two issues can be addressed, we shall nearly have gone half-way with breathing a new lease of life to state universities. The other measures will now find a smooth path upon which they can ebb and flow.
The truth is that a drastic intervention is required to address the crisis facing State universities. This is urgent and should be guided by openness and precision. As things stand today, failure to intervene will compound the crisis. Let’s sacrifice to bring back the shine to public universities.