17 May 2007

Kenya: Plan to Raise Varsity Fees By 150 Percent

Nairobi — Tuition fees for most courses in public universities will be doubled next year if new proposals on higher education are implemented.

Students pursuing medicine and dentistry will be worst hit since they will be required to pay annual fees of Sh540,000 and Sh660,00 respectively.

These proposals are contained in a report by the Public Universities Inspection Board, which was presented to President Kibaki last month.

It recommends that the Government adopts a unit-cost approach to financing university education. This means fees will be charged according to the materials and equipment needed to offer a course.

Currently, all students on the regular programme at the public universities pay a flat rate of Sh200,000 a year, out of which the Government pays about Sh140,000 directly to the institutions. The students pay the rest, but are entitled to a loan and grants from the Higher Education Loans Board.

But should the proposal be adopted, students could pay up to 150 per cent more beginning in the 2008/2009 academic year.

According to the new report compiled by the task force headed by Prof Kabiru Kinyanjui, fees for veterinary medicine will increase to Sh480,000 while students pursuing agricultural courses will pay Sh300,000. All students pursuing the arts and social sciences will pay Sh180,000 per year.

These costs do not include accommodation, meaning that students will have to pay much more.

"The introduction of differential unit costs will imply high costs especially for programmes that require expensive equipment, teaching and learning materials as compared to the current funding mechanism where each student is approximately allocated Sh200,000 a year," says the report.

"This will in turn put more pressure on the government and other stakeholders that finance higher education."

About 80,000 students are enrolled in the seven public universities of Nairobi, Moi, Kenyatta, Egerton, Jomo Kenyatta, Maseno and Masinde Muliro.

Also to go up substantially will be fees for students pursuing postgraduate degrees.

The report titled: Transformation for Higher Education and Training in Kenya says the current mode of university funding does not distinguish between expensive and less expensive courses, and that makes it difficult to give adequate resources to programmes according to their needs.

"As a result of applying this uniform cost, public universities with relatively expensive programmes are under-funded as compared to those with relatively less costly programmes," says the report.

Worst affected is the University of Nairobi whose programmes are more expensive, especially medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and engineering. Kenyatta University on the other hand has less expensive programmes.

Under the proposed structure, the Government would be required to establish a formula for determining the number of students it would sponsor for each programme and then fund them based on the new fees.

The remaining vacancies in the degree programmes would then be opened up to qualified but self-sponsored students. This would be modelled on the current parallel degree programmes, although their fees would be much higher.

"This approach will ensure that there is only one programme as opposed to existing regular and self-sponsored programmes," it says.

The report brings to light the fact that sexual harassment is common in public universities. Not only were female students harassed by lecturers, but also by male students.

Male students also told the board that sex pests threatened the real meaning of scholarship.

Some male lecturers awarded high marks to female students who would otherwise have failed in exchange of sexual favours, the report says. Worse, some students manipulate or harass lecturers through sexual advances.

"Some of the universities have had to deal with cases of sexual harassment. These kinds of situations compromise serious scholarship and discredit the whole institution where even honest students' results could be cast in doubt," says the report.

Sexual harassment was also reported to be common within the university management, indicating abuse of office by both genders.

Despite the vice, the universities did not have policies that prohibited sexual harassment. Such policies would define proper conduct procedures and provide penalties for sexual harassment.

"The board received presentations that often, management tries to cover up incidents of sexual harassment to safeguard the image of the institutions," the report says.

It recommends that universities without sexual harassment policies urgently develop them for immediate implementation. The board set up the 2006/2007 as the year to implement the policies in all the seven public universities.

It also recommended the establishment of three new public universities at the Coast, North Eastern and Eastern provinces. "The guiding principle is to locate at least one public university in regions where it would be a catalyst for exploitation of potential resources," it says.

The aim, says the report, would be help absorb some of the 60,000-plus students who miss university entry each year. It would also help open up development of strategic resources within those areas.

Besides, the team proposes the establishment of community-based colleges and institutes to address local needs while providing courses that could be transferable to other universities in form of accrued credits.

The report notes that there is low productivity from university staff, who also happen to be lowly paid.

"Criteria and procedures for recruitment and promotion are not implemented in a transparent and accountable manner," it says.

The report recommends that the Higher Education Loans Board be transformed into a financial institution that would lend loans to students at higher interest rates than the current four per cent.

Under one law

Similarly, it calls for the enactment of Higher Education Act, to replace the various universities' Acts and bring together all pieces of legislation on higher education under one law. Through the new Act, the Commission for Higher Education will be empowered to take charge of admission and quality assurance in public universities.

The inspection team was formed by President Kibaki in April 19, 2005 under the leadership of Prof Kinyanjui. Among the other members were former Moi university vice-chancellors Prof Justin Irina and Prof Raphael Munavu.

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