After elections, what can higher education expect?

With Kenyan elections done and dusted, the focus is now shifting to how President Uhuru Kenyatta and other elected officials will implement their ambitious election promises in relation to higher education and science, technology and innovation, or STI.

Among other things, Kenyatta's Jubilee Party manifesto promises to double the allocation to the Higher Education Loans Board, or HELB, and introduce a government-sponsored apprenticeship programme of up to 12 months for all university and technical and vocational education and training or TVET institutes or TVET graduates.

It also promises to push ahead with the establishment of a centre of excellence in the automotive sector and position the nascent Kenya Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, or KAIST, at the proposed Konza Technopolis, Kenya’s much hyped ‘Silicon Savannah’, into a world-class science and technology research university to “nurture a technologically advanced population”.

Formal linkages between the private sector, academia and government are promised as a means to solve national challenges – along the lines of Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology’s successful bid for a government contract to produce thousands of laptops for primary schools under the national digital learning programme.

While plans for the higher education and STI sectors received the least public attention and analysis during the election campaigns, it was the introduction of a state-sponsored 12-month internship programme that attracted most attention, largely from the Kenyan youth, and received relatively prominent coverage in local media.

Massive budgetary allocations needed

The promises made in the Kenyatta manifesto in relation to doubling of amounts allocated to HELB, and the commitment to introduce an internship programme, will require massive budgetary allocations, say experts, considering that Kenyan universities and TVET institutions enrol approximately 200,000 students annually.

Concerns are particularly high considering that HELB’s allocation for the 2017-18 financial year was US$100 million, slightly higher than the US$91 million the state had allocated it in the 2016-17 financial year. But the amount fell short, by a whopping US$90 million, of the US$190 million requested from the national treasury to facilitate, among other things, the implementation of the proposed differentiated unit cost model of funding university programmes.

“It would require the state to commit massive resources to the board for a doubling of allocation to be realised and this could probably mean reduction of funding to other sectors of higher education,” said Patrick Mbataru, a lecturer at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.

According to Mbataru, the increased allocation would most likely be implemented after September 2018 when the national budget estimates for the financial year 2018-19 are tabled in parliament and are approved.

Considering that the term of office is five years, he said, the proposal could be implemented either next year or in any other year between now and 2022 when the term expires.

Construction of the proposed KAIST, with funding from the Korean government and modelled on a similar Korean Institute, was set to begin in April this year, but so far there are no signs of building.

According to Sekou Otondi, a PhD student of political science at the University of Nairobi, the Kenyatta government should invest in technical courses by modernising or establishing technical colleges across Kenya, to help upgrade the skill set of workers in the informal sector.

More funding, he says, is also needed for research in universities in biological, physical and social sciences, something the Kenyatta manifesto is silent about.

Academics turned politicians

And what can be expected from those former academics – at least three – who have secured political office in the recent elections?

They are among more than 10 academics or students from various universities who stood for elective seats.

According to Dr Samuel Nyandemo, a senior lecturer of economics at the University of Nairobi, relatively poorly-paid lecturers are likely tempted to run for a political seat because of the monetary rewards rather than political ambition. However, he said that while it caused a serious loss in academic expertise, there were likely to be very few benefits in the policy arena.

“The phenomenon of lecturers slowly moving into politics is adding to the already existing challenge of too few experienced lecturers in the universities as most of these lecturers are PhD holders,” Nyandemo said.

“We expect nothing much from them in terms of policy change or development to the benefit of the university. This is based on the history of former lecturers who have joined politics and have even held the position of minister of education.”

Herman Manyora, a political analyst, said political parties tended to rely on academics as their political strategists and advisors in politics.

“As advisors to the politicians, some of the lecturers are rewarded with nominations for a seat by the main political parties and because they have more privileges and better pay, they later tend to choose politics over teaching,” said Manyora.

One academic-turned-politician is Dr Joyce Laboso who was elected governor of Bomet County in Rift Valley.

Education standards

The 56-year-old is a former academic from Egerton University who was elected as a member of parliament representing Sotik Constituency in 2010, and became the first female deputy speaker of the Kenyan National Assembly. She told University World News that as an educationist she will focus on improving the standard of education in her country.

“My priority in education is to create an educational fund to cater for unprivileged students in secondary and higher education who drop out for lack of fees.”

Laboso said she would leverage key partners to set up a revolving fund for standards in technical training institutions, colleges and universities to finance their fees.

In addition, she would support infrastructural expansion for the upcoming University of Bomet and establish broad linkages with the university for training, research and other services to solve local challenges.

She will also equip technical and vocational training institutes in Bomet County to enhance basic training for artisans, she said.

Former higher education cabinet minister Margaret Kamar – also a former lecturer and soil scientist at Moi University – won the senate seat in Uasin Gishu County.

“I will use my experience as an expert in agriculture and political status as a senator to engage more on food production, an area that has not received much attention,” Kamar said.

Working with girls

Lilian Gogo, a food security expert and former lecturer in dairy and food technology at Egerton University, was elected as a member of parliament in Rwangwe Constituency, Nyanza region. In her victory speech, she pledged to work with girls, linking them up with role models who are successful professionals and business people.

Another successful candidate was the outspoken former Students’ Organisation of Nairobi University chairman Paul Ongili, more commonly known as Babu Owino, who was elected as a member of parliament for Embakasi East, Nairobi. He has pledged to ensure that the rights of university students are protected and that all students have access to loans.

“I will ensure that the unions are respected to serve their mandate for the benefit of students without interference,” Ongili told University World News, adding that he will table a bill in parliament that will ensure that students who have been expelled or suspended from the universities are given a second chance to continue their studies.

John Paul Mwirigi, a 24-year-old second-year student at Mount Kenya University who became a member of parliament (the youngest in Kenya) on an independent ticket, told University World News he will finish his degree in education.

“As an MP who understands the challenges of students from poor backgrounds, I will ensure that they get the financial support needed to finish their education both at the secondary level, college and university.”