Parliament revives push for merger of public varsities


Busia Woman Representative Florence Mutua, who is also the chairperson of the National Assembly Education Committee. FILE PHOTO | NMG

A parliamentary committee has revived the push to merge public universities aimed at reducing the operational burden of the cash-strapped institutions on taxpayers.

Florence Mutua, chair of the National Assembly Committee on Education, urged lawmakers to revisit the merger plans that would lead to 27,000 job cuts.

The National Treasury first announced plans to merge the financially struggling public varsities in June 2019 but the plans flew into headwinds after the Education ministry instead said it would pursue comprehensive reforms.

“As a country, we need to have a serious conversation on whether we require the many public universities given the constrained resources,” Mrs Mutua said on Wednesday.

“This is a discourse that needs to be re-opened for members to discuss” she added.

The plans will lead to the merger and closure of some of the 74 universities and their campuses as the State moves to reduce the burden for the institutions with billions of shilling in debts, tax arrears, and un-remitted statutory deductions.

The Ministry of Education had two years ago directed the vice-chancellors and Commission for University Education (CUE) — the State agency that accredits and supervises universities — to separately prepare merger proposals.

Vice-chancellors of the public varsities have in the past opposed the merger plans, saying they were being undertaken without their involvement.

But Education Secretary George Magoha made a U-turn on the planned merger in August 2019 and told Parliament that the ministry would instead implement comprehensive reforms whose nature he did not disclose.

Public universities are stuck with over Sh34 billion in un-remitted National Hospital Insurance Fund, National Social Securities Fund, pension schemes, insurance premiums, and Sacco contributions.

The institutions last December sought a Sh20 billion bail-out from the National Treasury, highlighting their dire financial state.

Some of the varsities that requested additional funding included the University of Nairobi, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Kisii University, Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology, Egerton University, and Kabianga University.

A drop in the number of students enrolling for the parallel degrees programme has added to the financial woes of the institutions that are also grappling with budgetary cuts from the National Treasury.