Government sets the stage for higher tuition fees

The Kenyan government has ruled out any future increase in funding to universities, setting the stage for a sharp rise in student fees.

The country’s Cabinet Secretary for Education Amina Mohamed said the government can no longer afford to increase funding to state universities and institutions, which should come up with long-term plans for bridge financing.

In a blow to a sector reeling from a financial crisis, university administrators have said the most practical response will be to increase fees.

“Most universities will be severely crippled if the government stops remitting cash to them under the capitation model, so there is a need to ensure you are stable and stop relying on government funding,” said Mohamed in a meeting with vice-chancellors of all Kenyan universities.

In a proposal presented by vice-chancellors to parliament last week, students could pay up to three times more for annual fees from 2019.

All state-sponsored students will be expected to pay US$600 annually as tuition fees, up from the current US$265, in a plan that is expected to be rolled out in annual phases. This could earn public universities at least US$450 million annually which is expected to fund their operations and development expenditures.

This will be a major reprieve coming at a time when they are facing a financial crunch over budget constraints and increased enrolments.

Education quality affected

“At the moment, what the government gives universities is not enough to run them. The funds are not even enough to pay staff. Vice-chancellors are forced to run up and down and ensure the institutions still operate. This hurts the quality of education,” said Vice-Chancellors’ Committee Chairperson Francis Aduol.

Currently, the government spends about 27% of its budget on education with US$1.03 billion going to university education, compared to the US$2 billion that is spent on basic education.

For example, the government has allocated US$982 million to Kenyan public universities for the current financial year. University administrators have however said the allocation is over US$200 million lower than the amount they had requested for the period.

Because of budgetary constraints, capitation to public universities as a percentage of total revenue has been on a declining trend, dropping from 62.4% in 2012-13 to 44.9% in 2015-16.

The contribution of capitation to expenditures of the public universities declined from 67.4% in 2012 to 45.4% in 2018. During the period, staff costs have increased and funds disbursed to universities were not adequate to fund salaries.

“Given these scenarios, it is imperative that we find solutions to meet these challenges. We must discuss these financing challenges and explore innovative approaches to bridge the financing gap and diversify income generation.

“I believe that there are opportunities in every crisis. We have to review and possibly re-engineer the dominant financing model for our public universities and propose a different funding model,” Mohamed said.

Rapid growth

Kenya’s university education has witnessed rapid growth in the past five years which has increased the numbers of student enrolments, programmes and faculties.

In 2012 the country had seven public universities, compared with 31 today. Student enrolments have also increased from 122,847 in 2008 to 586,434 in 2018, with the largest number of enrolments (507,554) being in the public universities.

The sector is expected to play a central role in developing a critical mass of a highly skilled workforce that will drive the economy’s economic agenda under the Vision 2030 plan, seeking to transform Kenya into a middle income country in the next 12 years.

“Our progress towards achieving this vision is proportional to the advancement in the university sub-sector,” said Mohamed.

University leaders such as John Struthers, chancellor at Mount Kenya University, Kenya’s largest private university by student numbers, said the trend of declining funding would require institutions to seek private sector funding.

“Universities the world over have to be committed to their core business – teaching, research and community outreach. I wish to underscore the role of partners in contributing towards the universities’ capitation,” said Struthers.