Universities want to double tuition fees from next year

Kenya has revived plans to increase fees for students enrolled at public universities from next year. Private institutions are considering similar plans, spelling doom for students who could be paying at least double the current charges next year.

Vice-chancellors and chairs of university councils have asked parliament to sanction the proposed fees increment which is supposed to guarantee institutions’ sustainability.

The vice-chancellors want all state-sponsored students to pay annual tuition fees of US$600, up from the current US$265. This could earn public universities at least US$450 million annually, which is expected to fund their operations and development expenditures. Private universities are also seeking to double their fees from the current US$700 to US$1,400 a year.

“We have sought parliament’s approval on how to address the funding gaps we are experiencing. The cost of training a student has gone up and must be shared appropriately between the university, parents and the government,” said Geoffrey Muluvi, the chairman of the Vice-Chancellors’ Committee.

The decision by the vice-chancellors to seek parliament’s intervention follows years of haggling between them and the ministry of education, which is opposed to the increase. Should parliament sanction the proposal, the ministry will have to implement the decision.

Late last year, Kenya’s Education Secretary, Professor George Magoha, asked universities not to increase tuition fees and, instead, execute austerity measures aimed at freeing up funds for investment in academic projects.

Current model not viable

Parliament is expected to give its verdict about the increase in the next month.

Kenya’s public universities are currently financed by the government under the Differentiated Unit Cost (DUC) system, whereby funding is based on the cost of offering a degree programme. For private universities, the agency also issues conditional grants for specific programmes.

The vice-chancellors now argue that the current model is no longer viable and most of the institutions are facing significant financial difficulties occasioned by rising financial pressures. Other higher education sector players also believe there is a need to restructure the current arrangement.

“There was good intention in instituting the DUC. It focuses on funding a student in a specific programme, but that arrangement has proved to be inadequate because of the different levels of the cost associated with training students. It may seem like we are providing equity with the DUC arrangement but it costs more for a university to train a student in a subject using a full-time professor than to use a part-time lecturer,” said Mwenda Ntarangwi, the chief executive officer at the Commission for University Education, in a recent interview with University World News.

The Universities Fund – the agency charged with providing funding to universities on behalf of the government – has, in the recent past, said it was reviewing the current model to bring in a more equitable and sustainable approach.

Public universities rely largely on government subsidies to run their operations. The government capitation, however, currently covers only 57% of the learners, instead of the target of 80%. But the subsidies have not been growing in tandem with student numbers.

For the current financial year, which started in July, the government cut funding to public universities by US$400 million. Universities will have to make do with US$1.13 billion, down from the US$1.53 billion the government planned to spend on institutions earlier in the year.

The 26% reduction has been necessitated by a cost-cutting drive by the government, with the coronavirus crisis also significantly hurting revenue collections and reducing economic activity.

Payroll gap

Beyond this, universities have been struggling to fund their operations as the lucrative parallel (self-sponsored) degree programme was curtailed when the government dropped the university entry grade from a B to a C+ for state-funded students two years ago. This resulted in a decline in student numbers in the parallel programme, then the biggest revenue generator for public institutions besides the government subsidies.

As earlier reported by University World News, a recent World Bank policy report has also recommended a review of the national tuition fees policy applicable to Kenyan universities – to address both financial sustainability and the equity of the higher education sector.

“The implementation of the DUC model resulted in the reduction of government capitation in large universities, causing a huge payroll gap. I implore the government to review the universities’ funding model with a view to capturing the uniqueness of each university,” said Professor Stephen Kiama Gitahi, the vice-chancellor of the University of Nairobi, at a recent media event.

“For instance, our staff comprises very senior and seasoned professors who have to be remunerated as advised by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, the government agency which determines pay for government officers,” he said.

The Kenya Association of Private Universities chairman, Kisau Mumo, said that parliament also had to provide guidance on whether the government should continue funding students in private universities.