Fight over slots at private varsities to hurt students

Thousands of university students may miss out on their dream courses as vice chancellors renew their push to stop government funding to private universities.

It has emerged that since 2016 when President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered that students be placed in private universities, they have received about Sh9 billion.

VCs are now eyeing the billions sent to private universities annually to plug their budget deficits that have seen many of them wallow in debt.

The National Treasury has also supported the review of the policy of students’ placement further throwing the process in a spin.

“Reconsider admitting of new students to private universities thus redirect the resources to public universities,” said Treasury Principal Secretary Julius Muia.

Unserviced debts

The details emerged when Ministry of Education officials, the Treasury officers and VCs appeared before the National Assembly Education Committee chaired by Florence Mutua on Wednesday.

The presidential directive that aimed at expanding access to higher education has so far seen some 61,000 students placed in private universities between 2015 and last year.

Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS) data seen by the Saturday Standard shows that some universities have been allocated up to 9,000 students.

VCs, however, said that this money should be ploughed back to fund students in public universities.

“Let it be clear that we are opposed to placing students in private universities,” Vice Chancellors Committee chair Geoffrey Muluvi told MPs.

He said KUCCPS should only admit government-sponsored students to private universities to pursue programmes that are not available in public institutions.

“KUCCPS could also consider admitting government-sponsored students to private universities once the capacity in public universities is filled,” Prof Muluvi said.

But Agnes Wahome, the KUCCPS acting CEO, noted that the process is fair and gives all children equal chance.

The Universities Act (2012) mandates the agency to “co-ordinate the placement of the government sponsored students to universities and colleges.”

“The Act does not mention whether public or private,” argued the Kenya Association of Private Universities (Kapu) chairman Kisau Mumo. “They are all Kenyan children who choose to study in private universities for various reasons such as availability of courses and quality.”

Kapu said students can only access some courses in private colleges as most public institutions do not have enough capacity.

KUCCPS data shows that many students have been enrolled in private universities to pursue programmes such as medicine, law, nursing, public health, media, international relations, hospitality and pharmacy that do not have adequate spaces in public institutions.

Prof Mumo said an empowered and supported Universities Fund would resolve the impasse.

The policy on placing government-sponsored students in private universities has been a sticky issue with a growing push to use the money to support public universities.

Many public universities are unable to pay Third Party deductions of about Sh32 billion with most of them on the radar of Kenya Revenue Authority.

Others are unable to service debts or even raise workers salaries as they face huge financial crisis that has affected smooth running of the institutions.

The pressure to raise more funds for the universities has pushed the institutions management to revive the tuition funding debate, with proposals to MPs to immediately increase students’ fees to Sh48,000.

The push to reverse the presidents’ directive means that most students will now miss higher education opportunities, as public universities do not have adequate capacity in the various courses.

Mumo said students should be allowed to choose courses across all universities with the competitiveness of the programmes determined by the quality standards of each institution.

“Let the government make policies and allow an independent institution, such as the Universities Fund, to determine funding criteria in consultation with stakeholders,” he said.

Under the programme, the government pays Sh70,000 for all the selected students on a similar rate with those in public universities.

Students only top up Sh16,000 in fees per academic year.

Private universities said that some of the programmes the students are enrolled in are expensive and the money has not been enough.

“We top up so much money for these students to stay with us because we feel the need to work with the government and support State initiative to build critical mas of professionals,” said a VC in one of the private universities.

Duplication of accreditation

In 2017, Strathmore and United States International University (USIU) declined to take in more students saying the money paid by the government was not adequate as some courses were expensive.

Parents were asked to pay additional fees, which strained the relationship between students and the universities management.

The Wednesday sitting was meant to look into the mandate of the Commission for University Education against the various professional bodies in accreditation and supervision of academic programmes.

It also sought to find ways of eliminating the duplication of accreditation roles and the fees charged to universities.

VCs who spoke to Saturday Standard yesterday however said that the elusive students fees debate will return to the table as one of the ways of generating monies to fund the broke institutions.

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