Spending boost of 30% to finance new universities

Kenya has increased funding for higher education by 30% for the financial year beginning in July, as it seeks to bankroll 15 new public universities. But institutions say even this boost is way below financial needs – and election promises made by Kenya’s new president could disrupt the sector’s plans.

The Ministry of Finance, in its spending plan to be announced during the June budget, said funding to the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology would increased from KSh61 billion (US$717 million) during the current year to KSh80 billion (US$941 million) in the coming year.

Universities will see funding go up from this year’s KSh46 billion to KSh60 billion, while the rest will finance supporting institutions under the ministry.

But the funding hike is still lagging behind the annual 40% rise in enrolments of the past six years, signalling that universities will continue to find it hard to match student demand for facilities and teaching.

The extra funding, the Treasury said, is to be pumped into 15 former constituent colleges of universities that have been upgraded into fully fledged universities over the past three months, allowing them to admit more students and offer degree programmes on their own.

Kenya hopes that the new universities, although relatively deprived of facilities, will help admit an additional 10,000 students and thus ease the country’s admissions crisis.

The government launched an accelerated admissions plan last year to admit students who previously had to wait for 15-21 months after leaving school before joining public universities as government-sponsored students.

Kenya’s universities currently enrol 183,497 students, and admissions in the new universities are expected to help push enrolments to the 200,000 mark by the end of this year.

The colleges were not adequately financed in the 2012-13 financial year, the Treasury admitted in its Education Sector Report 2013, which details spending plans, including for the higher education sector.

It said the new universities were to be financed to the tune of KSh350 million each for recurrent expenditure and KSh280 million each for development spending to upgrade their physical infrastructure.

Funding boost insufficient

Policy-makers hope that the funding boost will help address some of the challenges that continue to cripple Kenya’s higher education sector, limiting access to and quality of learning and frustrating the country’s ability to produce more graduates.

These challenges include inadequate financing of public universities, lack of capacity, a mismatch between skills acquired and the demands of industry, gender imbalances, rigid admissions criteria and limited opportunities for credit transfer.

However, university administrators said the increased funding was way below the current financial need of institutions.

“We are not yet there on the issue of funding. There is much to be done. Everything is going up and the demand for more facilities is rising by the day,” said a public university vice-chancellor who did not want to be named.

Faced with rising student numbers and inadequate state funding, Kenya’s public universities have been venturing into commercial activities to raise money.

“As a university boss, you have to do serious fundraising otherwise your institution won’t cope. But still, there are few options to raise funds since the government has to sanction most of these avenues, like bank loans and sale of assets like land,” said the vice-chancellor.

Late last month Kenyatta University, Kenya’s second largest university by student numbers, announced that it was seeking investors to build accommodation for students in a KSh1 billion ($11.6 million) tender.

The university has provided eight hectares on its main campus outside the capital Nairobi on which the investor will construct a hostel to accommodate 6,000 students. Over the past five years, Kenyatta University has seen student numbers triple from 15,000 to around 45,000.

The Higher Education Loans Board (HELB), the agency that disburses loans to students on behalf of the government, is also expected to receive increased funding.

Increased demand for loans for students in technical colleges, public and private universities, and from within the East African community, along with expansion of the sector and rising inflation, means that HELB requires an additional KSh1.5 billion, said the Treasury. In the current fiscal year, HELB received KSh3 billion.

Also, the rising cost of living is expected to push HELB into hiking the current amount being awarded to university students. This will lead to an increase in the amount required – of KSh1 billion a year, the Treasury projected.

According to its strategic plan for the coming fiscal year, the Ministry of Higher Education plans to start constructing and equipping new technical training institutes in 17 of Kenya’s 47 counties, to enhance access and equity in vocational training.

Each new college will require an extra KSh3.5 billion, totalling KSh59.3 billion over five years, starting this year. The ministry will need an addition KSh11.9 billion from July next year to be able to undertake this programme fully.

What about election promises?

It is not clear where the government will find funds for some of the promises made by presidential candidates ahead of the 4 March general election.

Uhuru Kenyatta, who was elected president, heralded far-reaching changes to higher education during his campaign.

In his manifesto, he proposed restructuring higher education and making it free, setting up new vocational and technical colleges in every constituency, and raising lecturer salaries. He said he planned to establish a business bursary scheme and encourage companies – through tax incentives – to contribute to the scheme to fund needy higher education students.

Last Tuesday Kenyatta, who beat his rival and current Prime Minister Raila Odinga, handed the manifesto to the Ministry of Finance for implementation.

Now higher education leaders are wondering what Kenyatta's plans will mean for the sector – whether current strategies will be thrown out or the new president will raise spending on post-school education further, although the latter seems unlikely given the government's chronic lack of resources.