University students from the EAC member states will start paying the same fees as citizens by the end of the year.
This means a Ugandan student enrolled in a Tanzanian university will pay the same fees as a Tanzanian student.
This is part of plans by the Inter University Council of East Africa (IUCEA) to harmonise higher education in the region to increase student mobility.
Under the harmonised fees structure, students from member countries will pay the same tuition fees in any university in the region.
The model for harmonising the fees structure has been approved by the IUCEA executive committee and has been tested by the partner states. It was validated in Kampala in May and is awaiting endorsement by universities in all partner states before being rolled out.
Currently, foreign students are charged between 10 -30 per cent more than what local students pay for a course, depending on the university. Foreign students are required to pay their fees in dollars.
According to Benedict Mtasiwa, IUCEA chief principal for exchange programmes, links and partnerships at IUCEA, the harmonised fees structure will be implemented in both public and private universities before the end of the year.
"The harmonised fee structure model is expected to improve institutional efficiency and quality of education because of its linkage between costs, university functions and considerations for levels of transferring or attribution of the costs of the university functions to students' fees," said Dr Mtasiwa, adding that the new model aims to provide an equitable way to fund higher education while encouraging institutions to be more productive and efficient.
Samuel Nyandemo, an Economics lecturer at the University of Nairobi said that although no university has complied order on harmonised fees, they have no choice in the matter.
Currently, universities in the region set their own fee structures as per their guidelines. However, East African universities have disparities in fees for students studying different courses.
For example a course in medicine at the University of Nairobi costs $5,230 a year compared with $1,065 at Dar Es Salaam University in Tanzania and $1,000 at Makerere University in Uganda.
A bachelor of law or LLB degree at the University of Nairobi costs $1,925 a year compared with $890 at the University of Dar es Salaam and $950 at Makerere University.
Bonaventure Kerre, Kenya National Qualifications Authority chairman and lecturer at Moi University, Kenya, said the biggest challenge to harmonising the fees is the variation in the quality of learning, curricula and length of courses in the region's universities.
The EAC fee structure model is based on a 2013 study focused on a funding model linked to unit cost.
The study found that Uganda was attracting more foreign students than any other country, which was attributed to the quality of education and low fees in private universities.