KENYA: University funding could go down, research up

Kenya could cut subsidies to public universities for the coming financial year, which begins in July, potentially putting at risk several projects meant to boost access to higher education. But spending on research and innovation is to more than double.

The country's seven state universities and their 13 constituent colleges will receive much less than they did in the current financial year, when they received a windfall, as Kenya battles financial strain.

A government paper, which will guide the annual allocation when East Africa's biggest economy reads its 2011-12 fiscal year budget next month, shows that universities will receive KSh44 billion (US$523.8 million).

This is compared to Sh48 billion ($640 million) in the current fiscal year, which saw Kenya nearly double its subsidies to universities from Sh28 billion the previous year. Funding for the schools sector is to increase.

Research and innovation is likely to receive Sh17.3 billion (US$203 billion), up from Sh7 billion. This sector is seen as crucial to the long-term economic blueprint, Vision 2030, which plans to make Kenya a middle-income economy in two decades. The money will fund research in medicine, industry, agriculture, forestry, sugar and crime, among other areas.

"The sector faces various challenges that affect smooth implementation of programmes including funding constraints, slow and low adoption of innovations and technologies and implementation of research findings, brain circulation and protection of intellectual property rights and cyber insecurity among others," said the treasury in its Research, Innovation and Technology Sectoral Report 2011. The report proposes a capital venture fund, a national research trust fund, and coordination of partnerships aimed at optimising resource allocations.

The treasury said that while higher education funding levels have been improving over the years, the sector would still have inadequate funds for a planned open university, for 22 new university colleges and to support a double-intake plan to increase admissions.

The double-intake plan aims to raise university admissions by at least 40,000 students annually, to meet growing demand for higher education and to clear a backlog that requires state-funded students to wait for a year or two after leaving school before they can secure a university place (while privately-funded students can enroll straight away).

The indications are that government might not be able to fund the project. The backlog of student places has grown since 1982, when universities were closed because of strikes following a failed coup, and worsened during further strikes in the early 1990s.

Higher education enrolments have been rising by around 40% annually for the past five years, while subsidies have increased by 4% to 5% over the period. According to government figures, the number of students in public universities was 143,000 last year, up from 101,000 the previous year.

Educationalists have warned that absorbing a much larger number of students would backfire if not accompanied by a commensurate rise in funding to enable institutions to expand educational and boarding infrastructure and hire extra tutors.

Public universities rely heavily on state funding. Failure to increase funding in line with rising enrolments has undermined their expansion plans, including construction of new campuses, at a time when classes are overflowing.

Lack of funding could also deal a blow to other plans. For example the National Strategy for University Education, to be implemented by 2015, wants universities to set up campuses in strategic rural areas, which will specialise in assigned fields.

Efforts to increase access are also to be supported by investment in digital and distance learning that will enable more students to pursue degrees through online learning.

For years, Kenya's government has been weighed down by a budget deficit that hit US$2 billion this year, 22% of the country's budget. Below-target government revenues in a challenging economic environment have only made matters worse.

I agree with the comments of the educationists regarding the need to have more tutors. At DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) Nairobi, we have always been in the front line of developing university teaching staff. It is unfortunate that, as much as we develop able Kenyans, not many opportunities are being offered to teach and yet there is a demand for teaching staff. This has come about due to the increasing need for higher education and the expansion of the universities.

Bonface Nyagah[/]b]
DAAD Africa