In between elections, universities brace for disruptions

After resuming operations last month after a four-week closure to accommodate the recent presidential elections, universities are bracing themselves for further disruptions as academic staff are due to strike next week.

Thirty-one universities re-opened at the start of the 2017-18 academic year on 28 August after they shut in early August to allow students and staff to participate in the 8 August polls. The results of the election were overturned by the Supreme Court which called for new elections to be held within 60 days.

The re-opening was postponed three times as the government waited for the presidential election petition ruling. The delays have resulted in further disruptions to the academic calendar. Universities were already paying the price in terms of lost time owing to earlier lecturers’ strikes in May and July.

At the University of Nairobi, the second semester, scheduled to end in August, has now been delayed to November.

Dr Samuel Siringi, associate director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, told University World News that students are yet to sit their examinations for the second semester.

“The [end of] semester has been pushed to November and the second semester will be shortened to the end of December to enable us to finish the year on time,” said Siringi.

Moi University has postponed admission of first-year students into some courses such as medicine to November instead of this month, although this does not apply to campuses such as Eldoret which has already admitted its first-year education students.

Professor Bonaventure Kerre, Kenya National Qualifications Authority chairman and a lecturer at Moi University, said the university is taking a number of measures to make up lost time.

“Since the opening of the university last week, we are fast tracking the lectures to ensure that we cover everything left within the shortest time possible,” said Kerre.

“We have teaching timetables running from early morning to late evening to make up for this.”

The Kenyan electoral commission announced that the country's new presidential elections will be held on October 17. The decision around the date followed a request by the Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i that it should not disrupt final examinations and learning for primary and secondary students.

According to the Ministry of Education, the upcoming elections will not affect universities this time round.

“No university will close for the presidential elections this time because the universities are behind schedule to finish the year,” said a ministry official.

However, the impending lecturers’ strike is likely to impact universities’ operations.

Universities Academic Staff Union Secretary-General Constantine Wasonga told University World News that the national executive council has approved the union’s strike notice to be issued on Monday, 11 September. The union is striking over the failure of government to implement the 2013-17 collective bargaining agreement, as agreed in July.

Although the National Treasury granted authority to the Ministry of Education to incur the expenditure of KSh5.2 billion (US$50 million) to implement the collective bargaining agreement, lecturers say they are yet to receive the whole amount.

The government had already released KSh4.77 billion (US$46 million) to the university lecturers and other workers but they rejected it, demanding release of the full amount.