Vice-chancellors’ fee hike call – Students threaten action

Students have threatened to strike if the call by Kenyan university vice-chancellors for tuition fees for government-sponsored students to be tripled this year goes ahead.

The Kenyan Vice-Chancellors' Committee presented the proposal to the parliamentary Committee on Education in a meeting called by parliamentarians on 22 February to discuss the status of higher education in Kenya.

The meeting brought together the top management of public and private universities, representatives from the Higher Education Loans Board (HELB), the Commission for University Education, Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service, and the Universities Funding Board.

The university chiefs want the current annual fees of KES16,000 (US$160) per government-sponsored student increased to KES48,000 (US$480) per student annually, effective from September 2019.

In response, students issued a seven-day strike notice. Addressing journalists in Nairobi on 25 February, student representatives threatened that students would storm the streets if the proposal was approved. They also objected to the call during the launch of HELB’s strategic plan 2019-23 on 20 February by Kenya’s then cabinet secretary for education, science and technology, Amina Mohamed, to have defaulters of HELB loans arrested.

Cash crisis

However, universities, especially public institutions, are experiencing a cash crisis and cannot carry out their core mandates, according to vice-chancellors.

“We need to ensure that universities are fully funded so as to fulfil their mandate of teaching, research and service to the community,” Professor Francis Aduol, vice-chancellor of Technical University of Kenya, told University World News.

Aduol, who is also the chairperson of the Vice-Chancellors' Committee of Public Universities, said the huge funding gap would compromise universities’ ability to produce quality graduates with the necessary skills to drive the economy.

He said that the increase in tuition fees was long overdue as the current formula was set 30 years ago when the government paid three-quarters of the total fees of KES102,000 (US$1,020) and students paid the current KES16,000 per student annually.

But based on the differentiated unit cost calculated four years ago, the cost of a degree programme in Kenyan universities has risen to KES250,000 (US$2,050), yet students still pay the same amount they paid in 1989, leaving a considerable gap.

Additionally, he says the expansion of universities from seven in 2012 to the current 31 has increased the funding required for universities. As much as the government has increased allocation to universities, said Aduol, this increase has not kept up with the expansion.

“It’s not for the vice-chancellors to determine; Kenyans will decide on this,” said Aduol, noting that the funding crisis required all stakeholders including government and students to ensure that tuition fees are fully covered to bridge the gap.

He said currently students pay a quarter of the fees while the government covers the remaining three-quarters. Government could pay the fees fully, or pay a fraction with the other fraction paid by students, said Aduol.

Students have to repay loans issued, while some government-sponsored students pay a quarter from their pockets without applying for a loan, he said.

University fees lower than school fees

Professor Kubasu Kwashe, secretary general of the Universities Academic Staff Union (UASU) Masinde Muliro University chapter, said a fee increment in Kenyan public universities in the face of dwindling government capitation was inevitable.

In an interview with University World News, Kwashe said fees paid by government-sponsored students were far lower than fees for Kenyan secondary schools, from which most university students were drawn.

“The low fees charged by our universities prevent the institutions from breaking even in any of the necessary operations of the universities,” said Kwashe. He noted that students’ ability to pay fees could be boosted by increasing HELB loans.

“If we expect universities to offer quality education they must be properly equipped with modern science laboratories, libraries and other relevant study centres,” said Kwashe.

Kwashe said there was a need to root out theft and corruption from Kenyan public universities which have caused a loss of funds meant to transform higher education.