We should avoid short-termism in varsity reforms

Education CS Ezekiel Machogu. [File, Standard]

The government is rationalising the funding of public universities. Last year, expenditure on tertiary education as a share of total government expenditure on education was about 20.4 per cent.

This was one of the highest rates on record. Student enrollment in public universities has grown from just under 40,000 in 1990 to 480,399 as of 2022. Private universities, some which take public funding, have another 113,584 students.

These changes in student enrollment are straining the education budget at a time when there is still a lot of unmet demand for quality basic education.

Most reasonable people would agree there is a need to rationalise the higher education sector. Our academic institutions are underperforming on the research front. They do not appear to be doing a good job producing well-rounded graduates that can be good people, citizens and workers.

Many are routinely exposed to be dens of corruption, nepotism and crass ethnic politics. In short, we could better. Given the complexity of the problems facing the higher education sector, the reforms should not be unidimensional. How do we ensure our universities provide students with a liberal arts education, civic training, and preparation for the job market?

How can we promote high-quality research and writing at our universities with a view of general knowledge production as well as providing solutions to many of the problems we currently face?

These are the questions we should be asking when thinking about reforming the higher education sector. Unfortunately for everyone involved, President William Ruto's administration appears to only be interested in budget cuts and not much more. It is time the government took a more rational approach. First, we must accept that universities are supposed to do a lot more than train workers.

They are also fountains of knowledge and cultural production that help us make sense of our place in the world. For that reason, they are worth funding for their own sake.

Second, we must ensure universities become centres of excellence with regard to research and teaching - even if it means focusing on the original public universities to begin with.

Finally, the government should think outside the box about funding into the future. Options include establishing endowments, fundraising from abroad, collaboration with foreign universities, and investing in research that generates commercially viable companies and patents.

-The writer is an Associate Professor at Georgetown University