The quest by public universities to triple fees is ill-timed. Parents are struggling with dwindling household incomes due to the negative impacts of Covid-19, which has resulted in massive job losses and collapsed businesses.
Vice-chancellors have proposed Sh48,000 tuition fees up from Sh16,000 for fresh students to “ease cash flow challenges”. And the Treasury agrees.
The institutions of higher learning are indeed in dire financial straits. They suffered a blow after the self-sponsored (parallel) degree programmes that they had heavily relied upon to supplement government funding were scrapped.
However, the vice-chancellors should address the root cause of the financial troubles at the public universities. For starters, some of universities have prime assets that are idle. They could invest in such properties to generate income through public-private partnerships.
The institutions also need to address poor governance that has sparked disputes involving vested interests.
The systemic dysfunctions at the universities only serve to divert their focus from their core mandate as centres of academic excellence and research. Very little is heard of innovations from the public universities. Meaningful partnerships with donors could not only help the public universities to fund research but also offer solutions to different sectors of the economy. A vibrant research and innovation ecosystem is key to the institutions’ financial freedom.
A bloated workforce and corruption are also to blame for the wastage of taxpayer funds injected into the universities. The institutions need to restructure operations to ensure efficiency and a lean workforce.
Going ahead to raise tuition fees may be counter-productive in the long run. This is because the Higher Education Loans Board, which funds students, also plans to reduce allocations due to a surge in defaulters.
The unintended consequence of the move could be higher drop-out rates.
The public universities should think beyond the Treasury capitation and tuition fees to stay afloat. Also a debt reduction strategy is long overdue.