There will be no setting up of new universities, colleges or campuses in the country for the next five years if the government adopts the recommendations of a parliamentary committee that has also proposed a raft of reforms aimed at stabilising the funding and provision of higher education.
The measure is intended to curb spending on expansion and focus the available resources on existing programmes and staff to reduce the financial pressure most universities are under.
In the proposals, “non-viable” campuses will be merged and some programmes scrapped.
University students will also welcome news that the National Treasury, the Ministry of Education and the National Assembly Education and Research Committee have agreed to enhance allocations to the Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) to support more students in universities instead of increasing fees.
“Any fees review should take into consideration the performance of the economy at that time given the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the economy,” the chairperson of the committee, Ms Florence Mutua, said in a statement.
Students are opposed to a proposal by the Vice Chancellors Committee to increase tuition fees in public universities threefold, from Sh16,000 to Sh48,000.
The fees have remained the same since 1989.
The VCs are also pushing for a differentiated unit cost formula, where fees and government subsidies would be dependent on the cost of offering the courses.
They argue that most universities offering science, technology and mathematics courses have been steeped in debts as they spend more to offer the courses.
Universities will also sigh with relief if the Ministry of Education and the National Treasury agree to give them waivers on statutory payments to the Kenya Revenue Authority such as income tax, commonly known as Pay As You Earn, as recommended by the committee. The two are expected to prepare a Cabinet memo to authorise the waivers.
Lay off staff
There is also the proposal that universities be provided with conditional grants to support them clear outstanding debts such as pension, sacco and National Hospital Insurance Fund deductions, said Mrs Mutua.
However, even as the committee canvasses for extra funding from the Exchequer, it has recommended restructuring of university functions and staff, expected to lead to job losses in the public institutions.
Already, the United States International University – Africa is in plans to lay off staff due to reduced income.
Egerton University has also announced plans to send home 400 members of staff. The plan has stalled, however, as it does not have the money to pay them.
Many institutions of higher education are in financial woes, heavily in debt and have not remitted statutory payments, attracting the attention of the KRA and the office of the Auditor General.
Universities had been surviving on money earned from Module II (parallel) programmes that were popular with qualified students who missed out on government placement.
However, since 2016 when the Ministry of Education clamped down on cheating in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exams, there have been fewer qualifiers for university education.
Currently, all those who qualify are eligible for government sponsorship.
In the statement, Mrs Mutua said stakeholders involved in the deliberations had unanimously agreed that the Ministry of Education should introduce a “five-year moratorium on establishment of new universities, colleges or campuses as well as explore the possibility of merging non-viable campuses, rationalisation of programmes and institutions to create centres of excellence.”