That some cash-strapped private universities, hit by dwindling number of students in the wake of recent tightening of exam rules, are selling key assets to settle debts is sad, but revealing.
This is as closest as we could ever get separating institutions that were built on quick sand from those sitting on solid quality foundation.
It all begins from the fact that nearly all KCSE exam students, who got the minimum admission mark of C+ in the past couple of years, have been admitted to public institutions.
As a result, a number of private universities are struggling to pay staff, remit statutory deductions and pay loans.
Higher admission grades to public universities and the appetite for university education created an artificial demand that fuelled rapid expansion of the private universities —making them a key player in Kenya’s property market.
The expansion blitz saw the universities duplicate mostly liberal arts courses that are easy to mount, deepening the saturation of the job market with skills that are in short demand.
Even more important is the fact that the expansion was never matched with facilities and other resources as well as quality tutors.
This was catastrophic as we presently find out. The falling pool of learners available for private varsities has ushered in a period of financial difficulty for these institutions.
The Commission for University Education has flagged Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA), Presbyterian University of East Africa (PUEA) and Kenya Methodist University (KeMU) as struggling institutions and threatened to revoke their licences should their financial standing fail to improve.
KeMU has in turn announced that it is selling its office block in central Nairobi to settle a Sh1.7 billion Co-operative Bank loan, tax and staff dues while Catholic University has placed its three-floor Kisumu campus property on sale. The asset sales should guarantee the long-term existence of the universities.
In the new dispensation, private universities will have to restructure and make their programmes attractive and competitive to remain relevant.
These must be niche courses that can attract parents willing to pay more for their children’s education.
This will be welcome news for a country where the quality of graduates has been on the decline even as their numbers have continued to grow.