Panic has hit staff and administrators at public universities after the National Treasury Department gave strong indications of higher education reform This reinforces the recent firm decision of Education Secretary George Magoha.
The implications of the announcement by Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Henry Rotich, for higher education reforms will significantly reduce the number of these institutions as some large colleges are converted into campuses. At some universities, academic programs are taught and some courses are canceled, as others are given to institutions with a strong niche position in the respective programs.
Inspired by the University of London's practice in the UK, the California University system in the United States, and Rwanda, where all universities were merged and placed under a roof system at the University of Rwanda, the government is eager to make changes.
The need for a restructuring of the higher education sector threatens, which will also lead to job losses, as the government implements an ambitious reform plan that would lead to a serious rationalization of higher education.
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In the strongest indication that the reforms are imminent, the National Ministry of Finance, which provides funding for higher education funding, pointed to major changes indicating that reforms at this stage are more critical than ever.
"… We will take radical measures that involve the merger or closure of some universities and campuses that can not maintain their operation against the number of approved students or courses offered," Rotich said.
He said the government would review the public finance and management systems of all universities and review ongoing projects for restructuring.
The statement fits in with a reform plan set up by President Uhuru Kenyatta in 201
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Uhuru imposed a moratorium on the establishment of new colleges in Kenya on October 7, 2016, freezing all new applications for the establishment of Universities, constitutional colleges or universities for five years.
And this month, Magoha said he would oversee important reforms in higher education and instructed the Commission for Higher Education (CEE) to conduct audits and submit reports within 70 days.
By and large, Magoha said the ministry would seek to pursue sustainable funding for higher education, strengthen the TVET subsector, and oversee the establishment of the Open University of Kenya and the development of private higher education.
Part of the reforms would involve mobilizing resources for higher education, improving the quality of education, access and relevance, and strengthening research and technology transfer.
However, what causes more concern among universities is Magoha's recommendation to these institutions to consider the right and smaller staff.
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The urge to reduce the number of academic programs and close down redundant sites has been a call for high-level representatives from the Ministry of Education since 2016.
A report from the Commission for Higher Education (CUE) from 2018 supported calls for rationalization of higher education.
"In order to ensure the relevance and quality of higher education in Kenya, while maintaining the access and equity that has been achieved so far, the Commission recommends rationalizing the number of programs and setting up program-based centers of excellence," the report said.
CUE Chairman Chacha Nyaigoti and secretary Mwendwa Ntarangwi also recommended the establishment of a regional higher education system by merging universities. Most existing facilities become colleges or campuses of a limited number of major universities.
"Building these campuses from existing universities will pay attention to national development needs, the relative value of existing infrastructure and resources, and regional balance," the CUE report said.
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The CUE letter to the ministry said that in Mombasa, for example, there could be a focus on marine ecology and oceanography, and in Turkana, a focus on drylands and oil exploration, but all as colleges of a national university.
"The rest of public universities that do not fit this model will be closed," the report said. The eleven-page letter from CUE states: "Rationalizing universities and academic programs through fewer universities with a clear focus on specific academic areas will ensure a prudent use of resources, quality, relevance and sustainability."
National Treasury's firm statement last week now means that funding for some universities in the broader reform agenda may be discontinued to check quality and control expansion plans.
The universities are already in a deep financial crisis. Some institutions are unable to settle their debts and meet obligations to third parties.
In the financial year 2019/20, about 97.7 billion Sh were awarded to universities. Another 12.6 billion Sh were assigned to the Higher Education Loans Board (Helb).
According to data from the Central Placement Service (KUCCPS) of Kenyan universities and colleges, 544 of the 1,382 academic programs allowed either no or no more than nine students.
This means that some programs may no longer be approved after the students who are doing the unattractive courses have completed their studies. The courses in which there are no students may be discarded altogether, while those with few learners will opt for consolidation by transferring them to an institution.
Insiders in the government said such a move would inevitably lead to redundancies, as each course has as many faculty members as the number of units supported by the necessary support staff.
Magoha has already proposed to universities to streamline academic programs to ensure that the full potential of existing universities and colleges is exploited.
"If possible, existing universities and campuses can be consolidated for maximum utilization," said Magoha.
With the consideration of the national Ministry of Finance, the University Financing Committee (UFB) returns to the drawing board to decide which programs are financed by state resources.
"We can not have all the universities offering the same courses and the same funding. This funding model is fatal and must be stopped immediately for the university system to survive, "said Prof. Magoha during a high school event in Kenya.
This means that 27,798 university employees strive for higher wages and better perks, but also for alternative employment opportunities, as job cuts will be inevitable.
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National TreasuryPublic UniversitiesUniversity Funding Board