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Kenyan universities: We’re broke, send us what you owe

Universities are facing an acute financial crisis due to inadequate funding from the government, a situation that could lead to mass layoffs when the institutions open in January.

Already, several universities, among them the University of Nairobi, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Kisii University, Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology, Egerton University and Kabianga University have written to the National Treasury requesting for additional funding. The universities have cumulatively requested Sh20 billion additional funding to get them out of their financial woes as well as cushion them from debt.

The Covid-19 pandemic, which lead to closure of all learning institutions in the country worsened the financial situation in the universities – the Public Universities Vice-Chancellors Committee chair, Prof Geoffrey Muluvi, said that since March, universities have been fairing badly due to little payment of tuition and related fees.

The universities want the government to support them and help them recover from the financial effects of the pandemic. The total statutory deductions debt owed by universities by September 2020 is about Sh37.3 billion.

Inadequate manpower

The most affected institutions are the University of Nairobi, Moi University, Egerton University, Technical University of Kenya, and Kenyatta University. Maseno University and Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology too have nothing to celebrate.

The principal secretary of the National Treasury, Julius Muia, said that currently, some universities have inadequate manpower, especially the teaching staff, while some have bloated administrative staff. He said that reorganising the human resources at these universities will require extra funding for downsizing, with Egerton University requesting to be allocated Sh1.5 billion for retrenchment of staff.

With the declining internally generated revenues triggered by a reduction in the intake of Module II students and the adverse effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, universities’ debts are likely to increase.

The PS noted that at the moment, the government is not financing any university projects, bearing in mind that the institutions currently require Sh52.8 billion to complete all the ongoing projects.

“The allocation for development has declined from Sh8.4 billion to Sh3.4 billion from 2018/19 to the 2020/21 financial year,” he said.

Prof Muluvi said that a special fund should be established to revamp physical facilities in public universities since this would ensure that learning facilities are brought up to standards adequate for learning at university level.

Full salary

He noted that newly established universities should receive a standard funding of Sh300 million and above to take care of various start up projects, including infrastructure and human resource capacity. This funding, he added should be offered for up to five years.

Vice chancellors further want the Treasury to fully fund the collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) with unions to ensure that staff receive their full salary.

Currently, he noted, most universities are not paying salaries as negotiated by unions.

Pension for staff has also not been factored in. From the current 2017-2021 Sh8.8 Billion CBA, the government has only provided Sh6.6 billion. The balance of Sh2.2 billion is yet to be paid, meaning that most universities are unable to pay full salaries.

Sh55 billion

The disbursement to universities during the 2018-2019 financial to 2020/21 financial year was Sh44 billion compared to the Sh55 billion for 2018/19 and 2019/20 financial years. For the 2020/2021 financial year, the Exchequer release for the first quarter was Sh16.02 billion.

During the same period, private universities received Sh1.976 billion and Sh2.5 billion respectively for students who opted to learn in the institutions, an amount vice chancellors want increased to help the institutions support government-sponsored students.

Private Universities Vice Chancellors’ Committee chair, Prof Kisau Mumo, noted that the average funding per student in private institutions by the government is Sh28, 978, while those in public universities receive Sh139,891 as capitation.

The principal secretary for Higher Education and Research, Simon Nabukwesi, weighed in on the matter, saying that the Ministry of Education will urge universities to prioritise critical non-discretionary expenditures such as statutory deductions in their budgeting.

“The Ministry of Education will also develop policy measures to ensure that all the income generated by universities is fully accounted for by the various universities, sealing all revenue leakages,” he assured.