Extensive reforms in university sector take shape

Kenya is pursuing a raft of far-reaching reforms in the university sector, which will see institutions barred from offering certificates and diplomas.

In changes proposed by a Presidential Working Party on Education Reform (PWPER), tens of administrators could lose their executive jobs and be deployed to teach.

The taskforce appointed by President William Ruto and led by a former university don, Professor Raphael Munavu, has asked the president to restrict universities from offering certificates and ordinary diplomas so that they can focus on degrees. He handed over his report to the president earlier in August.

In making a case for differentiation, the report argues that universities should strictly offer degrees. Universities have contributed to the low number of students enrolling in colleges because they compete by offering similar courses. This will mean lecturers teaching diplomas and certificates, who do not qualify to teach degrees, will be dropped.

“Universities in the country have occupied the same niches. All of them seem to be teaching almost the same courses, irrespective of the areas that the university was founded to pursue,” said Munavu at the handing over of the report.

The task team has proposed the need for rationalising administrative positions as a cost-containment measure in a bid to strengthen institutions’ internal fiscal management systems for their sustainability.
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The task force noted that the push and pull and the division between administrative organs and the faculties in universities has also contributed to the dismal worldwide ranking of universities in Kenya as this has negatively impacted on the core mandate of teaching and research, thus hindering innovation.

Amendment to act proposed

The report, Transforming Education, Training and Research for Sustainable Development in Kenya, proposes an amendment to the Universities Act, 2012.

PWPER proposes that university councils be allowed to carry out recruitment and the appointment of vice-chancellors and deputy vice-chancellors, principals of colleges and deputy principals in public universities without involving the Public Service Commission.

Moreover, the team proposes further amendments to the act to allow deans of schools and faculties to be recruited through a competitive appointment process rather than elections.

Concerning qualification to be a chairperson of a university council, the team proposes an amendment to section 36 (20) of the act to reduce the minimum qualification from a doctorate degree holder to a masters degree holder with at least 10 years of experience in management.

Furthermore, the Munavu-led team proposes the deletion of section 26 of the act that provides the establishment of a university in every county in Kenya. This echoes the words of the late education cabinet secretary Professor George Magoha, who termed it unsustainable, since most institutions are deep in financial woes.

This was in response to the passing into law of the University Act in 2012 that stated that every county should have at least one public university.

PWPER proposes that the ministry of education operationalise an Open University in Kenya by the end of the 2023-24 financial year.

Furthermore, it proposes that the ministry should develop a national policy framework that will guide Open Distance and eLearning, or ODeL.

Support for research and students

For digital learning, the task force proposes a collaboration between the ICT authority and the ministry of education to expedite the availability of affordable broadband high-speed internet connectivity to tertiary education institutions.

To strengthen research and innovation in universities, the task force recommends that the government exempt universities from paying scholarly research and innovation levies.

Also, the team proposes an amendment to the State Corporations Act, 2015 to include universities in the list of exempted entities to make them autonomous.

“In addition, income-generation entities by universities should be allowed to operate under respective universities,” PWPER proposes.

The Munavu-led task force proposes the implementation of the Variable Scholarship and Loan Funding (VSLF) model by the government in place of the Differentiated Unit Cost, or DUC, model.

This will enable the government to directly fund students based on the course they are pursuing as opposed to funding the university directly based on the number of students admitted.

The VSLF model combines scholarships and loans based on the category a student falls into, ranging from vulnerable to extremely needy, needy and less needy.

The scholarships and loans will be availed to students joining universities, technical, vocational and training institutions and teachers’ training colleges, whereas those joining private universities will be eligible only for the Higher Education Loans Board loans.

Vulnerable students will get 82% scholarships and 18% loans to cater for their education. Similar to the vulnerable, students who are categorised as extremely needy will also pay 0% as they will get 82% and 30% in the form of loans from the government.

Those categorised as the needy and the less needy will get 53% and 38% in terms of scholarships from the government. Their households will contribute 7% towards their education to supplement the 40% and 55% of loans that they will get respectively.

This comes at a time when the government of Kenya has rolled out a portal for the new financing model for students who qualify to join higher institutions of learning come September 2023.

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