Private universities seek state-funded students share

Private universities in Kenya are pushing to be allowed to admit state-funded students, in a bid to help ease an admissions crisis in public institutions. Currently – and despite a government directive – private institutions can only admit self-sponsored students.

A policy allowing private universities a quota of ‘regular’ – that is, state-funded – students was first mooted in 2014, and a government directive to that effect followed. But state-funded students are still only being admitted to public universities, which are battling to cope with rising student numbers while private universities have unused capacity.

The Kenyan Association of Private Universities, a lobby group, has written to Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i demanding implementation of the policy, and stating the regulations and requirements of such admissions.

“All universities and colleges were invited to become members of the universities placement agency which selects students, and were required to pay a membership fee of US$1,000,” says the letter seen by University World News. “We want the policy implemented so that regular students can get access to private universities.”

New placement service

The demands have gained ground with the formation of a new body – the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service or KUCCPS – which will have representatives from private universities and colleges. This is a departure from the past when central admissions was the preserve of public universities.

It is expected that KUCCPS will more fairly distribute qualified school-leaving candidates in both public and private universities.

At least 70,000 regular students are expected to join Kenya’s 31 public universities during the course of this year.

According to the deal between the government and private sector, private universities would admit at least 25,000 extra students in the next two years. The state would fund students who opted to join private universities at the same level as those in public universities: should a university charge more, it would have to foot the bill for the balance.

But private universities said that while they have submitted a list of courses and the enrolment capacities of the different institutions, the placement agency has only allocated slots to public universities and colleges.

Budgetary burden

Sources within the Ministry of Education said the plan had faced headwinds due to the huge budgetary burden it would generate.

Already, funding has trailed far behind enrolment growth in public universities, compromising quality as infrastructure remained inadequate and the number of lecturers did not grow in tandem. Over the past five years, enrolments have been rising by at least 40% annually while subsidies have increased by 4% to 5% over the period.

For the current fiscal year, which ends in June, Kenya set aside USS$588 million for spending in public universities, down from US$627.2 million the previous fiscal year. Meanwhile, enrolments have more than doubled since 2012, when there were 218,628 students, to 443,783 students at public and private universities last year.

Confusion over concessions

It is not clear what concessions the government would have to give private universities, which four years ago made wide-ranging demands if they were to admit government-sponsored students.

The thinking was that the government would make use of the idle infrastructure capacity in private universities to teach more students.

Administrators and owners of private universities had asked for incentives to encourage their expansion including tax reductions, soft loans and the elimination of work permit fees for international faculty. They see the deal agreed as opening up a new revenue stream as well as expanding access to higher education.

Admitting government-sponsored students to private universities is expected to increase the government’s interest in the management of the institutions, which have for years had a free hand in running their affairs.