Universities funding rise of 5% is far short of needs

Kenya has upped spending on public universities by a meagre 5% for the new fiscal year starting in July, potentially slowing down expansionary projects. Allocations to universities will increase from US$624 million to US$658 million, according to new budgetary estimates.

At least 90% of the funds will go into recurrent expenditure so only some US$66 million will be put towards development spending, denying the country the leeway to achieve several targets that it had set to push up enrolments and improve the quality of learning.

But the raise, although seen as paltry by university managers, pushes state capitation of public universities to a new high. Treasury estimates show that subsidies have nearly tripled over the past three years, rising from US$247 million in 2010 to last year’s US$624 million.

During this period, enrolments have grown four-fold, challenging university administrators as they have had to raise more funds to keep every student in class.

Data from the government shows that enrolments to state universities rose by 41%, from 195,428 in 2012 to 276,349 by the end of last year.

The number is expected to grow by the same margin this year, riding on a plan by the government to start admitting state-funded students to private universities. Currently, state-funded students can only join public universities.

Key projects

Key projects Kenya has lined up for the coming fiscal year include launching an open university, doubling the number of universities of technology and training 1,000 PhDs a year within five years.

The Open University of Kenya was approved last year to enhance access to university education and the institution is expected to launch in the next financial year.

The funds are also expected to finance expansion of the Pan African University’s Institute of Basic Science, Technology and Innovation – PAUSTI – at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, which started in 2012 with the admission of the first cohort of 58 international students from more than 10 African countries.

The Higher Education Loans Board or HELB, the agency that disburses loans to students on behalf of the government, has been allocated US$68 million for the coming fiscal year, up from US$63 million currently.

According to its strategic plan for the next five years, the agency plans to set up a sustainable and larger revolving fund that will ensure continuity and availability of loans. It plans to grow the student financing budget from US$63.5 million to US$224.7 million in 2018.

Next year, the first group of beneficiaries of free primary education will enter university. Educationists have argued that absorbing a much larger number of students will backfire unless there is a commensurate rise in funding to enable institutions to expand infrastructure and hire extra lecturers.

Skills and research challenges

“The State Department of Science and Technology faced numerous challenges during the period under review. These challenges included inadequate alignment of the planning of human resources to development needs mainly due to lack of reliable and timely data on the demands of the labour market,” said Treasury in the budget statement.

“This was aggravated by the absence of a skills inventory that would indicate the distribution of skills and industry trends necessary for planning the country’s future training programmes.”

Treasury also warned of a mismatch between skills possessed by the job seekers and those required by industry, which leads to underuse of existing human resource capacity.

Its conclusion confirms last month’s findings by the Inter-University Council for East Africa, or IUCEA, that at least half of university graduates across the region are ‘half-baked’. The study, which polled employers, concluded that graduates lacked employability skills – technical mastery and basic work-related capabilities.

Treasury said there was low funding for research, leading to non-alignment of the research agenda with national development goals and market needs. As a result, funding on research is below the 2% of gross domestic product envisaged in the Science, Technology and Innovation Act.