Kenya should consider size and differentiation of HE sector

Kenya should consider both size and potential for differentiation when formulating policy for establishing new institutions, campuses or academic programmes, says higher education expert Professor Gerald Ouma.

Ouma points out that unpredictability and declining public funding are not new challenges for universities. He says Kenya needs to strengthen its governance and management capabilities while avoiding pitfalls such as the ethnicisation of university leadership.

In September, the Kenya Revenue Authority had all the bank accounts of Kenyatta University frozen due to tax arrears that the university had failed to remit. Moi University, in turn, was forced to close its doors and send students home following a strike by teaching staff due to delayed payment of salaries.

These examples confirm that the income of many higher-education institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa is under pressure. A study published last year in the International Journal of Higher Education found that “the total costs of higher education are considerably higher than the available sources of financing, especially the public revenues that are the primary source of higher-education financing”.

Ouma, a senior director of institutional planning, monitoring and evaluation at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, told University World News that Kenya’s public universities should be restructured, as many of them have too many schools and positions that could be done away with. He also called for reforms to the country’s cost-sharing policy.

In the past three years, the vice-chancellors of Kenyan public universities have been pushing for incremental increases in the tuition fees paid by students to counter a cash crisis that has crippled the ability of universities to deliver on their core mandates. However, an attempt by the University of Nairobi to increase tuition fees for new students was halted by a High Court ruling last month.

Ouma called on Kenya’s universities to review their investments and to develop strategies for turning around or disposing of perennial loss-makers, to enforce consequence management for corrupt university officials and to revise existing laws and policies to limit interference in the affairs of universities by the state through Kenya’s minister of education, science and technology.

“We need to strengthen university councils for them to be able to play their governance roles properly. Some of the councils are responsible for some of the challenges at the universities through interference with tender processes and appointments,” Ouma said.

Funding higher education

He challenged public universities to strengthen their fundraising capabilities, especially for research and student bursaries. This could be done through strategic collaboration and partnerships with industry, government departments and other universities.

The universities, he added, should consider offering joint programmes so that they could share the cost of resources.

Earlier this month, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government, Dr Fred Matiang’i, challenged universities to become innovative and create new avenues for financing.

Speaking at the opening of a new conference building at Mount Kenya University, Matiang’i urged universities to “exploit resources from within to generate their own revenue” as Mount Kenya was doing.

Matiang’i, who is a former cabinet secretary for education, science and technology, said revenues generated from such facilities could be used for funding research and developing technology at universities.

“The most effective way of protecting our best brains is to create world-class universities,” he said.

Ouma warned that inadequate funding could have dire consequences, including an inability to provide quality education, to expand capacity and to increase access to education, as well as poor support for research and knowledge production and an inability to maintain existing and develop new infrastructure.

“It might also lead to a brain drain; excellent academics may leave in search of greener pastures. Overall, if [the problems are] left unaddressed, the universities will cease to exist as vibrant educational and research institutions.”

Ouma said the massification of higher education in Kenya and the reckless growth and expansion of parallel programmes has largely contributed to the cash crisis at public universities.

“When parallel programmes were thriving, universities established campuses all over the country and some outside the country without conducting feasibility studies or due diligence.

“Many of these campuses are not sustainable. The establishment of campuses was aided by the absence of national policy and coordination by the ministry of education.”

In some cases, this was done through reckless expenditure, Ouma said, citing Kenyatta University’s campuses in Kigali, Rwanda, and Arusha in Tanzania.

The former cost the institution more than KSH420 million (US$3.7 million) and the latter almost KSH100 million. These campuses, which have since closed, were established without the approval of the ministry of education, he added.

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