Radical new universities funding model to start in July

Kenya’s public universities have been notified that from July this year they will be funded by government on the basis of student numbers and the nature of courses offered, ushering in a new era for the cash-strapped institutions.

The new system will also see a radical review in the degree programmes offered in state universities. It is intended to produce greater specialisation of offerings by institutions and encourage the emergence of centres of excellence aimed at producing specialised skills to drive Kenya’s industrialisation agenda.

This is part of a wider change of strategy that will see university students pay school fees based on the courses they are pursuing—the differentiated unit cost, or DUC, system.

The new funding model, according to Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto, will be rolled out in the next financial year which begins in July, following the completion of the framework being worked out by the University Funding Body – a government agency formed to lead the university sector’s financial agenda.

Ruto said the government was convinced that the new model would bring equity in the sector and boost access.

“We want in future to make sure that funding is based on courses that meet the country’s skills needs to fuel Kenya’s industrialisation targets by 2030. We are focusing our investments in training targeted at industrialisation to create job opportunities for millions of Kenyans,” he said.

“It’s time we review how we are running the universities. Academicians should therefore align their programmes to target job creation, wealth and opportunities for the graduands. We can’t achieve this through guesswork, but by design,” he said.

University administrators, under the Vice-Chancellors' Committee, agreed on the funding formula last year. The new model marks a departure from the current set-up where each academic programme is allocated a flat rate of US$1,200 per student and has not been reviewed for the past 25 years. The formula has traditionally favoured older and larger institutions such as the University of Nairobi and Kenyatta University, at the expense of newer smaller universities which are seeking funds to build infrastructure.

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

Once the new model is in place, the government will be expected to provide between US$4,000 and US$6,000 annually per student taking a medicine course – funds which will go into teaching requirements and lecturers’ pay. For arts courses, the state will fund universities to the tune of US$1,440 per student per year.

The new formula is expected to raise Treasury allocations to state universities by at least US$700 million, effectively easing the funding pressure plaguing universities, which are said to be operating at a deficit of over US$100 million, with serious consequences for education quality, according to a government audit.

For the current financial year, the government allocated US$982 million to public universities, a figure university administrators said was over US$200 million lower than the amount requested.

Government data shows that about 80% of Kenyan students are enrolled in the humanities and social sciences. The same trend can be seen in the teaching discipline, where the number of tutors taking science-related courses is growing at a slower rate than in the arts.

The country has been keen on building a bigger pool of quality skills with science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses which have been cited as some of the top competences needed to deliver on Kenya’s industrialisation aspirations.

A study by Nation Newsplex, a Nairobi-based data analyser, showed that because of lack of facilities and resources at universities to facilitate high quality learning some of the graduates under this category lacked requisite skills. The new funding model is expected to put more resources into the science and mathematics related courses, effectively sealing these gaps.