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Unrest looms in varsities due to funding delays

Friday, November 3rd, 2023 03:19 | By
Universities Academic Staff Union (UASU) Secretary General Dr Constantine Wesonga. PHOTO/Print

Public universities and colleges are facing a major financial crisis following the government’s delay to release funds for new students.


Almost three months since public universities, technical, vocational education and training institutions (TVETs) and other middle level colleges were ordered to admit students without any fees, the Ministry of Education through the Universities Fund and the Higher Education Loans Board (HELB), is yet to release the money.


Managements of public universities and colleges are now grappling with the challenge of keeping the more than 275,000 students in their institutions for the last three months without money for operations.
Of this figure, over 175,000 are undergraduate students, with an additional 70,000 enrolled in TVET programmes who were scheduled to benefit from the loans, which fall under the Old Higher Education Funding Model (OFM).


Besides struggling to source for funds for their operations, some of the 39 public universities and several TVETs have not paid their lecturers for the last three months, a situation that has prompted them to consider going on strike.


Yesterday, Prof Daniel Njiru, the Vice Chancellor of Embu University, who is also the chairman of the Vice Chancellors’ Committee, said the directive to admit students without financial backing had left them struggling to maintain their operations.


“Some of us have been forced to divert funds from parallel degree programmes to finance our operations. Thankfully, the government has released some funds for second, third and fourth years which we have been relying on,” Prof Njiru told People Daily.


Restless students


Prof Njiru, like his colleagues, has found himself in a Catch 22 situation – whether to ignore the government’s directive and send students home for fees or devise ways of surviving against all odds.


“It is a government policy that we cannot contravene. So we have to keep the leaners with us as we continue praying that the government will release the funds soonest,” says Prof Njiru.


The Universities Academic Staff Union (UASU) Secretary General Dr Constantine Wesonga wondered why the government sent learners to universities without providing funds to the institutions.


“The situation is dire and unless the government moves with speed to address it, the lecturers will not take it lightly. Even our students are becoming restless and sooner than later, we may start witnessing unrest in some institutions,” he warned.


The Kenya Universities Staff Union (KUSU) warned that operations in the institutions were almost grinding to a halt unless urgent measures are taken to address the situation.


KUSU Secretary General Dr Charles Mukhwaya said besides the effects on staff emoluments, many students are not turning up in lecture halls.


“We have been engaging respective university councils with a view to coming up with a holistic solution to the problem. Thousands of students are not attending lectures due to the funding issue. A hungry person cannot attend classes,” Dr Mukhwaya said.


People Daily learnt that tension was rising among the students who accuse the government of failing to release funds to enable them secure accommodation, food, transport, stationery and other basic needs.
Yesterday, HELB Chief Executive Officer Charles Ringera attributed the delay in the disbursement of funds to lack of resources.


“Probably by next week things could be okay. Our main problem has been lack of money, but once Parliament approves the supplementary budget sought by the National Treasury, we will sort out the universities,” Ringera said.


Scholarships and loans


Last week, National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Prof Njuguna Ndung’u sought Parliament’s approval of an additional Sh187 billion to fund government expenditure in the 2023/24 financial cycle.


Out of the total, Prof Ndung’u has allocated Sh29.31 billion to cater for scholarships for first year students in universities and colleges.


In July, President William Ruto’s government rolled out a new funding model, the Variable Scholarships and Loan Funding for universities and Technical, Vocational Education and Training Institutes.


Under the new model, students from vulnerable and extremely needy households were to receive 100 per cent funding while the needy and less needy were to get 93 per cent government funding with parents/guardians meeting the remaining seven per cent.


The new model, that combines scholarships and student loans, which will be determined by an individual’s level of need as well as the cost of the programme, is expected to cost Sh39.4 billion for the 2023/24 financial year.


HELB is expected to handle the loan component while the Universities Fund will grant the scholarships.
But a few days before the institutions admitted learners, Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu directed all public universities, colleges and TVETS to admit first year students and trainees from the 2022 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE).


“Universities and colleges shall admit all students from the 2022 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education cohort as placed by the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service, pending the processing of their applications for funding,” Machogu’s circular stated.


When he appeared before the National Assembly’s Education Committee, Machogu promised the lawmakers that no student would be dismissed for lack of funds.


Moreover, the CS promised that universities and colleges would receive the necessary funds within the first week of September to ensure admission of first-year students.


Tension is building in most of the public universities and TVETS, with students threatening to take matters into their own hands should the government fail to disburse the funds immediately.


Severely affected are students from the vulnerable, extremely needy and needy categories of the funding model, who had expected to use the funds from HELB to meet their basic needs such as food, accommodation, stationery and transport.


September salaries


Students from vulnerable families say they have defaulted on their rents, are being forced to skip meals and have to do everything possible to survive under the harsh conditions.


Under the current arrangement, all students cater for their accommodation (whether inside or outside the institution), buy meals, stationery, equipment for technical and science subjects and other basic items.
Student leaders, who attended a stakeholders forum in Nairobi, threatened to stage countrywide protests to call for immediate release of funds.


The students are also lamenting that the recent review of the new higher education funding model will have far-reaching effects on thousands of learners.


Early last month, students of Multimedia University in Rongai, Kajiado County, held a demonstration over the funds delay which they said had affected their studies and living conditions.


Last week, Technical University of Kenya (TUK) lecturers held a demonstration in Nairobi’s city centre to demand the release of funds to enable the university pay them their September and October salaries.

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