Varsities plan to tap innovations for more revenue


The University of Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Public universities are targeting commercialisation of their innovations and research, and creation of endowment funds to help diversify revenue and ease the cash-flow woes that have forced them into painful reforms.

Vice-chancellors of the institutions say that inability to sell their innovations continues to deny them an opportunity to reap from their intellectual capital, prompting the push for deals with the government and private sector.

The university chiefs also say there is need to create endowment funds that will provide the institutions with funds to ramp up their research facilities and also invest in the market for additional revenue.

Public universities have sunk into cash-flow woes on reduced government funding and a sharp drop in the number of self-sponsored students that have left them in a financial hole of at least Sh68 billion and prompted a freeze on infrastructural projects, closure of campus and scrapping of courses.

The institutions have also defaulted on statutory obligations, cut salaries by up to half and laid off staff highlighting their financial woes.

“Students be involved in government projects for learning experience and there should be endowment funds for Universities,” reads part of resolutions made by the Vice Chancellors. “Universities should be funded for research conducted.”

Commercialisation of research mirrors the practice in the Western world where private sector partners with universities to develop innovations in sectors such as medicine and engineering, earning the universities extra revenue.

For example, the Oxford University inked a deal with AstraZeneca Plc— a British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical and biotechnology— two years ago to produce the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine following the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Vice-chancellors reckon that a core function of universities is to develop innovations that if commercialised can earn them vast financial returns.

Endowment funds draws cash from wealthy benefactors and other private institutions, and the university can then use the funds to build research laboratories or undertake innovations without relying on funding from the government.

In the United States for instance, the most successful tertiary institutions majorly fund their programmes and scholarships through longstanding endowment funds running into hundreds of billions of dollars, but the concept remains relatively new to most of the Kenyan universities.

The University of Nairobi launched its endowment fund two years ago.

The two proposals that Vice-chancellors are eying under the new government mark the latest funding shift by universities that have for years over-relied on Treasury.

The Treasury has over the years failed to match budgetary allocations for student capitation with the growth in student numbers leaving public universities with a funding gap of at least Sh5 billion.

A drop in the number of students enrolling for parallel degree programme has worsened the woes given that self-sponsored students had for years been a key revenue plank for the institutions.

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