University bosses agree on new tuition fee model

Kenya’s public universities have agreed on a new tuition fee model that will see students pay fees based on the courses they undertake. This ends years of haggling over a differentiated unit cost system, which vice-chancellors said last week would promote equity in the funding of public institutions.

The new funding system “proposes the use of a standard objective formula that will ensure equity in allocation of funds to universities and constituent colleges based on a standard rate per course per student”, said the vice-chancellors in a communiqué after a meeting with Kenya’s Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i.

Under the new arrangement, students pursuing sciences will for example be charged more than those studying arts. Lecturers will draw salaries based on the courses they teach, with those specialising in arts earning less than those teaching courses such as engineering and medicine.

With this resolution, the newly constituted University Fund is expected to release the new fees structure, ushering in the first review of the tuition fees system for public universities, which has remained unchanged for two decades.

Fee rise expected

Educationists and university administrators have predicted an upward adjustment in fees to factor in current economic conditions like the cost of goods and services.

The impending rise will see state-funded students charged more than the US$189 in tuition fees that they currently pay annually. Fees are highly subsidised for state-sponsored students, who are now in a minority as most students are on self-sponsored courses and pay higher fees.

The differentiated unit cost, or DUC, system is expected to harmonise the allocation of government subsidies to public universities as it will be based on the courses a specific university is offering and the number of students taking the courses.

“We support the implementation of the DUC [system] and therefore, going forward, funding to universities and constituent colleges should be done on this basis,” said Professor Richard Mibey, chair of the Vice-chancellors Committee and head of Moi University, Kenya’s third largest public university by student numbers.

Over the years, student organisations have opposed the roll-out of the DUC model, arguing that it could lock students from poor backgrounds out of higher education.

But government officials and university administrators believe the system will not only introduce equity in funding but also boost access to higher education for learners from all income levels.

Under pressure not to increase fees, public universities have turned to commercial activities to raise funds for expansion.

Subsidies from the state have been lagging far behind growth in enrolments and inflation. In the last financial year, allocations to state universities were cut by 6%, while in the coming financial year public universities will only receive a 3% raise in state subsidies – which was less than an expected over 10% increase in enrolments and than inflation.

Central admissions service

The vice-chancellors also resolved to support the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service – the agency that admits students to universities – which faces being scrapped following proposals to amend the University Act 2012 under which it was formed.

Proponents of its disbandment argue the agency had failed to introduce equity and transparency in the way students are admitted to universities and therefore the country should return the admissions role to individual universities and colleges.

But vice-chancellors have a different view: “The centralised placement offers a common platform to avoid duplication of admission which in effect would deny other deserving Kenyans opportunities in universities and colleges, as provided in the University Act,” they said in the communiqué, adding that they would “vehemently oppose” the amendment.

The admissions agency as currently constituted has representatives from both public and private universities and colleges, a departure from the past when central admissions was the preserve of public universities.

It distributes qualified school-leaving candidates across institutions while also selecting those who will take self-sponsored courses.

In the past five years, Kenya has been grappling with a rising number of students seeking university admission. This has made attaining a place a highly competitive affair that has been riddled with concerns over favouritism and unfairness.

Students from rich families, who can afford ‘parallel’ self-sponsored programmes, have been securing places at the expense of those from poor backgrounds, with universities more focused on raising income than on equity.