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VC Kiama: Radical surgery at UoN painful but necessary - VIDEO

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Summary

  • Vice-Chancellor Stephen Kiama, the man tasked with turning around the fortunes of the institution, says the challenge is all about the sustainability of the university.
  • From his office on the 18th floor of the University of Nairobi Towers that soars above the Norfolk Hotel, Prof Kiama talked to the Business Daily on the cash woes, increment of fees and other plans by the institution to reclaim its fading glory.

The University of Nairobi, like other public universities, has found itself in a debt trap blamed on drops in government funding and students enrolling for the self-sponsored or parallel degree programmes.

Its debts, including taxes and statutory deductions, are estimated to be more than Sh34 billion. Vice-Chancellor Stephen Kiama, the man tasked with turning around the fortunes of the institution, says the challenge is all about the sustainability of the university.

From his office on the 18th floor of the University of Nairobi Towers that soars above the Norfolk Hotel, Prof Kiama talked to the Business Daily on the cash woes, increment of fees and other plans by the institution to reclaim its fading glory.

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RECENTLY, YOU INCREASED FEES FOR THE POSTGRADUATE AND SELF-SPONSORED DEGREE COURSES AND ALSO ACCOMMODATION RATES. BUT THIS HAS CAUSED UPROAR AND LED TO COURT CASES. IS THE UNIVERSITY CONSIDERING RESCINDING THE DECISION?

As we continue discussing how to get more money let us try as much as possible to live close to within our means. Let us cut costs as much as we can but let us also see how to improve the revenues.

That is why we said even though we will not charge the students who are with us an extra fee. But for those joining us in the future we will tell them that the fee is this one. They can tell us ‘no, I will join next year when I have the money’.

It is just like how you go to a shop to get sugar, you check your pocket and if you don’t have the much the shopkeeper wants, you go and come back when you have more.

As much as we are offering a social service we also need to be there to offer education to those who come tomorrow. We need to discuss with you so that you leave us alive, that we give you education but you don’t suck us like a tick. When the animal dies the tick dies too.

Even the new accommodation rates cannot solve our problems. We are only trying to reduce the deficit and if we were to charge market rate, then it will be too high. We are trying to see how the rates can meet the electricity charges and other services.

APART FROM INCREASING TUITION AND ACCOMMODATION FEES, WHAT ELSE IS THE UNIVERSITY DOING TO PULL ITSELF OUT OF THIS FINANCIAL HOLE?

We are looking at how many courses we want to continue teaching so that we do not increase staff.

We were offering like 500 plus courses but we reduced to 300 or thereabouts. I believe because we want relevance and vibrancy, we can still push them down further.

Senate is engaging and will see which ones we continue to downsize so that we focus where we have a competitive edge. We cannot just do what everybody else is doing.

We have also said that we will now not be bringing new people into the university. We will be retraining those we have to take up new responsibilities so that in the near future we will begin to see the benefits of the decisions we have made.

We will only hire in the departments that are critical and where we cannot retrain staff to take up new tasks.

THE AUDITOR-GENERAL HAS IN REPORTS TABLED ING PARLIAMENT SAID THAT PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES SHOULD BE INNOVATIVE AND GENERATE MORE REVENUES TO REDUCE RELIANCE ON EXCHEQUER TRANSFERS. WHAT IS THE UON DOING ABOUT THIS?

The University of Nairobi has a huge asset base, of over Sh200 billion and we are in discussions with the Treasury to see what will be the appropriate way to put them into profitable use.

We have an immediate need now, but the problem is how to unlock them without releasing them to the private investors.

We are also looking at the exploitation of intangible assets like copyrights, patents and trademarks because here we have the best brains. We must tap this innovative culture. We have an IP office fully working and led by a professor on this path.

Within one year we should start getting some of these things happening.

YOU RECENTLY GOT A LOAN TO BUILD A SCIENCE COMPLEX. WHAT IS THE MOTIVATION BEHIND THE SH3.8 BILLION COMPLEX?

We want to see how to make it comfortable and interesting for our students. We want them to see the connection between what they are studying and industry, not just exams.

The complex will help us with space for innovation so that manufacturers, for example, will get hubs here and students get the attachment.

You need to create a community of researchers, learners and innovations and the industry. You need to put them in one place. We conceptualised the best way is to put them together. This complex will enhance innovative culture.

This unique training of engineering and science students will also help us attract more international students.

UON INKED A DEAL WITH PROPERTY DEVELOPER ACORN IN BUILDING TWO NEW HOSTELS. HOW BIG OF A LIFT IS THIS DEAL TO THE UNIVERSITY?

The University of Nairobi, with all the campuses, can only accommodate 9,000 to 10,000 students. The university has nearly 50,000 but only 10, 000 can get accommodation, and this is a drop. This will change due to the new hostels.

They [Acorn] are also looking at another piece of land within the main campus to build another hostel once they complete this one.

THE UNIVERSITY LAST YEAR ANNOUNCED PLANS TO WEED OUT STUDENTS WHO HAVE OVERSTAYED MAINLY ON DISCIPLINARY ISSUES. WHERE ARE YOU WITH THE PROCESS?

We started that exercise mid-last year and we took through Senate the names of those who have overstayed, those who are not active. By the time we were closing the year in December, we had expunged slightly above 30,000.

We have to ensure that we have active students. If you have not been active then we remove you from our system so that we focus on those who have registered with us and are spending their time here.

It is deliberate. We said we have to remove you and then you have to make a commitment that you will follow through our programme so that we can keep you here.

YOU HAVE PREVIOUSLY SAID THAT BESIDES STUDENT CAPITATION, THERE ARE OTHER MONIES THAT THE TREASURY HAS DENIED UNIVERSITIES AND THIS HURTS THE PRIMARY PURPOSE OF UNIVERSITIES. DO YOU STILL HOLD THAT POSITION?

Yes, and that is hurting research and innovation at universities. Why do we privatiSe research where people doing PhDs and Master’s finance themselves in a country like this one? They do it just to get a paper for promotion.

We have National Research Fund (NRF), National Commission for Science, Technology & Innovation (Nacosti) and the Kenya National Innovation Agency (Kenia). These bodies are only funded to pay salaries for staff and nothing for the research they are meant for.

THE MONIES ARE PROVIDED FOR IN THE SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION ACT, 2013. HOW MUCH ARE THESE AGENCIES ALLOCATED TO GIVE UNIVERSITIES FOR RESEARCH YET?

The research done at universities is meant to solve a problem in this country. If that money is given to the universities, then this country is getting in the right direction.

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